The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Michigan State running back Le\’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft on Friday and they also signed free agent running back LaRod Stephens-Howling to the roster earlier in the day. With both players being known for their pass catching abilities, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked on 970 ESPN Radio following the selection of Bell if he was planning to use his running backs more out of the backfield in 2013.
“Yeah, I think that was the intent last year and we made progress, but not near the progress that we as a staff wanted to make,” said Haley. “So it\’s an ongoing deal. I like to have the running backs involved in the passing game other than just blocking. So I think going into last year, the way that you looked at the backs around here was, can they pick up the blitz, period, when it came to passing situations. Now we\’re starting to make a movement more to getting them out, free releasing them, keeping other people in at times for protection, and letting the backs get out and create matchups on linebackers, which are ideal matchups a lot of times if you get the right ones.”
This is certainly music to everyone\’s ears and more than likely one of the main reasons that the Steelers chose to draft Bell instead of Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who was still on the board by the time the pick was made.
Last season, the Steelers running backs and fullbacks were targeted a total of 112 times in the passing game and that resulted in 79 catches for 640 yards and two touchdowns. Looking ahead to 2013, should Stephens-Howling makes the roster as a third down back, those target numbers could quite possibly increase with Bell also now on board.
Bell caught 78 passes for 531 yards during his three years of college ball, while Stephens-Howling caught 87 passes for 534 yards during his four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
“With Rashard Mendenhall no longer here and with Chris Rainey no longer in the mix, it was a position that we needed to bring in competition,” said Haley. “We have two totally different type guys with LaRod and Le’Veon. We are all excited and I think it puts us back in a place where we can have a chance to run the ball and throw the ball out of the backfield successfully.”