Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is entering his third season, and for the third time in his professional career, he is leading the charge of what feels like a completely retooled running back unit.
As a rookie, the Steelers tried to get away from some of their earlier roster, but were forced to reunite with Jonathan Dwyer after LaRod Stephens-Howling (remember him?) tore his ACL in the first game of the season. It was Dwyer and Felix Jones splitting duties as the ‘veteran presence’, showing Bell the ropes as he began his professional career.
Neither are, nor were, particularly good role models. Dwyer struggled to keep in shape throughout his career, while Jones was never much of a professional in the first place, even though both managed to fare reasonably well with their on-field performances, all things considered.
Following his rookie season, the Steelers wanted to partner Bell with somebody who could legitimately be a one-two punch, which is a plan that, as we now know, backfired, in large part due to the fact that Bell showed that the team would be best served by a true lead back.
That second punch was supposed to be LeGarrette Blount, but we all recall how that story went down. Blount became more of an ally, and a literal partner in crime, than much of a guide, and when it became apparent that his second fiddle to Blount’s solo wasn’t much needed, he made his dissatisfaction known as he was booted out of town.
Now, in his third year, the Steelers have partnered him with a true veteran running back in DeAngelo Williams, a 32-year old who has seen just about everything in the league at this point. A former first-round draft pick and Pro Bowler, Williams has served as the lead dog as well as the complementary piece in his long career, and has some tread on his tires still thanks in part to that.
That will make him valuable on the field, particularly when it comes to the early portion of the season while Bell serves his suspension, but it seems as though the Steelers have finally managed to partner him with the off-field influence that he should have had during his first two seasons.
We have already seen how amicable Williams is simply in general. He’s an easy person to like and to root for, and he was quickly embraced by the fan base. But listening to Bell talk about Williams in comparison to Blount is almost like the linemen discussing Jack Bicknell Jr. before being asked about Mike Munchak.
“He belongs in the running back room”, Bell said of Williams. “He fits in well”. The third year back sees in Williams what he hopes to see in himself 10 years down the line, describing him as “laid back” and “chill” after having “seen everything, done everything”.
More importantly, Williams has passed on his years of wisdom to the young back. Bell said that he “hit me with knowledge that I wasn’t really aware of and he has helped me become a better player”. I can’t recall anything similar to that being said of the other backs named in this article, can you?