Le’Veon Bell was solely being relied upon to return the Pittsburgh Steelers to their true roots when he was selected in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Cut in the mold of a big back that Steelers fans relish, he came out of Michigan State known as a true workhorse. Nobody carried the ball more than Bell during his junior year, with 383 carries. Facing Boise State, he touched the rock 50 times. He wants the ball all four downs, whether running up the gut first down, or lining up out wide on third down. He wants the ball on carry number one just as much as number 25. After a strong finish down the stretch of 2013, Bell’s talents were crystal clear, but he took it to another stratosphere this past season. After showing up in training camp leaner and more explosive than ever, he received All-Pro honors, his first Pro Bowl nod and racked up 2,215 yards from scrimmage, a new Steelers record.
It’s often said in football that throwing the ball scores points, but what wins games is running the football and milking the clock late in games, something that prior to Bell’s arrival, seemed to be an Achilles’ Heel for the team. In a November come-from-behind win over the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh got the ball back with 6:58 left in the fourth quarter. Led by Bell’s 204 yards rushing, it never gave it back either, grinding the clock out to a 27-24 victory.
“In the fourth quarter, that’s grind time,” Bell said. “That’s when you have to bring it home. That’s when you know your team is going to look to you to make plays, and that’s something you look forward to. You have to take pride in that and get the job done.”
Bell’s magical season came to a close during the team’s AFC North-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, when a questionable low hit by safety Reggie Nelson left Bell with a hyperextended right knee. Left with a gaping hole in the backfield, their Wild-Card opponent, Baltimore, used this to their advantage, as it made Pittsburgh a one-dimensional team, losing 30-17. Had the Steelers won, it would’ve been off to Denver for the Divisional Round, possibly with their star tailback.
“I think I would have been able to play this weekend,” Bell said following the season. “It’s unfortunate that we lost the game. I feel terrible about it.”
So what can fans expect for an encore performance in 2015? Well, for starters, finding a backfield mate who isn’t 160-pounds soaking wet or a teammate who abandons the team during games should be high on the priority list. Also, after 373 touches this past season, it’s safe to wonder whether the team isn’t riding their young runner too hard.
“I’m a young guy,” Bell said. “I feel like all of the training I’ve done prepares me for the season. I know next year I might not even need to play more.”
Often being compared to Eddie George due to his height and stature, it’s important to lessen the wear-and-tear on such an integral piece of their offense. It’s clear to anyone watching that Bell truly is a special back with the football in his hands.
Finding a suitable backup is also key, based on Bell’s DUI/marijuana possession-charge stemming from a training camp incident with former-Steeler LeGarrette Blount. So it’s safe to say the team could be looking at a one, if not more, game suspension for Bell. Marijuana is serious business for Roger Goodell and company, so one can assume one or more of Bell’s game paychecks will go “up in smoke.” That, coupled with the team’s harsh schedule next year, could make for a rocky start to the 2015 campaign.
One thing Steelers Nation can hang their hat on is a healthy Bell entering the 2015 season and beyond, in hopes that one day he may be a Hall Of Fame hopeful much like the beloved Jerome Bettis.
“Growing up, my family was hard-core Pittsburgh Steelers fans,” Bell said. “I know the Steelers love revolving their offense around the running game. This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement. There’s still a lot of things I can work on and get better at. I just want to continue to try to be as productive as possible.”
The future is bright on offense in the Steel City, and with a talent like Bell in the backfield, chances are more records will fall in coming seasons.