After the expulsion of free agent signing LeGarrette Blount, and the promotion of running back Josh Harris from the practice squad, the Steelers now have a grand total of 12 carries’ worth of experience at the position behind starter Le’Veon Bell.
Rookie Dri Archer has carried the ball eight times this year in nine games, gaining 41 yards in the process, while fullback Will Johnson has had four carries over the last three seasons, for a total of seven yards. Harris has never been on a 53-man roster before now.
That certainly wasn’t the case last season, during Bell’s rookie year, when they surrounded him with more experienced players. Jonathan Dwyer carried the ball 156 times in 2012. Isaac Redman totaled 220 carries in the two years prior to Bell’s rookie year. Felix Jones had four straight seasons of over 100 carries prior to joining the Steelers.
Pittsburgh felt it was important to surround their young rookie workhorse back with experienced players who nevertheless didn’t pose a serious threat to his status as the lead dog, and it seemed to work out for the most part. This year, with all of those players gone, they turned to Blount to fulfill that role as Bell looked to make the jump from year one to year two.
That ‘jump’ had been so successful that he wound up leaving Blount in his wake, and now the veteran back is but dust in the wind as far as this city is concerned.
But that leaves the Steelers with no obviously credible options behind Bell for the first time in his young career, and that means he’ll be asked to take on an even greater workload for the remainder of this season, something both he and head coach Mike Tomlin suggest is not an issue.
But as far as toting the ball is concerned, would you believe that the Steelers had actually lightened the workload for Bell in his second season? Even after his 33-carry performance on Monday night, in only the second game of his career in which he took every designed run, he is still averaging slightly less carries per game than he had in his rookie season.
In 11 games so far, Bell has carried the ball 195 times, which translates to roughly 17.7 carries per game. He averaged 18.7 carries per game on 244 carries in 13 games as a rookie.
Of course, a lot of that work has been diverted to the passing game, where Bell has already caught 12 more passes than a year ago in two less games.
With his 57 receptions, he is averaging 22.9 touches per game. As a rookie, he actually averaged 22.2 touches per game, so overall, he is getting slightly more work, following his 35-touch performance.
The Steelers have been able to use his skill set as a receiver to keep him in the game while keeping him healthier, as running in space is less demanding than pounding it between the tackles. Nevertheless, one has to believe that there’s still meat on his bone as far as being asked to run the ball more is concerned, especially going back to his college tape.