The league office recently handed down a three-game banishment for Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back Le’Veon Bell, as those of you who follow this site regularly would no doubt already be aware of.
You will also know that the three games were more than was widely anticipated, though not wholly surprising. Nor is it in the least bit surprising that Bell immediately appealed the suspension in the hopes, at least, of getting it reduced.
Should the three-game suspension stick, however, that will create an interesting, if not worrisome dynamic for the Steelers early on in the season as they attempt to navigate the early portion of the season without him.
The Steelers have a different offense from the one that Bell first played in two years ago, during which he just so happened to also miss the first three games, albeit due to injury. The Steelers lost those three games without them. How well prepared will they be when it comes to the backfield this time?
While DeAngelo Williams was obviously signed in no small part to fill that role, I do believe that the first three games of the season will be an interesting period for second-year running back Dri Archer, which could help set up his future place in the offense based on how he performs.
This is not a new theory, although the fact that his trial period without Bell has been extended to perhaps three games does somewhat magnify the significance of the snaps that he will get early in the year, at least for me.
You will remember that it was actually Archer who saw the most snaps among the Steelers’ running backs in the Wildcard game that Bell was absent for due to a knee injury that he suffered in the regular season finale.
Obviously, that was partly dictated by game circumstances, and in fact well over 90 percent of his snaps came as a receiver, with the vast majority of those lined up in the slot or out wide, rather than coming out of the backfield.
The Steelers do believe that they will see growth from Archer in year two, particularly when it comes to adjusting to the speed of the game and in anticipating the defense’s moves, but also perhaps, ever so slightly, in muscle as well.
The speedster will no doubt see a greater number of snaps than he normally would with Bell on the field during the first three games of the season. I also believe the fact that he will be absent for three games means that the coaching staff would like to ease Williams’ workload, as carrying the load at his age for two games versus three games is actually a notable difference.
With that in mind, it would seem logical to me that the importance of the early period of the season for Archer has been raised. What he is able to do with the snaps that he gets during this time will help the coaching staff determine how much he should get the ball later on in the year.