Part of the reason that the Pittsburgh Steelers fairly heavily pursued free agent running back DeAngelo Williams last season was because they knew, for a fact, that they would need a running back not named Le’Veon Bell to start the first two games of the regular season, and they needed a player who could give a full-game’s workload.
What they didn’t realize at the time, of course, was that they would end up needing a 10-game starter, as Bell suffered a torn MCL in his sixth game and missed the final eight games of the regular season, as well as the playoffs.
But what is notable is how little work Williams actually got while Bell was active and healthy. In the five full games that Bell played, the veteran Williams had just 13 carries, an average of less than three carries per game. In the final full game of both players healthy, it is notable that the Steelers tried to use Williams as a short-yardage back against the Chiefs, rushing four times for nine yards.
According to Dale Lolley writing for the Observer-Reporter, Todd Haley and the offense don’t plan for Williams to sit on the bench so much with their two running backs healthy this year—and for reasons that have little to do with the fact that Bell is continuing to recover from the knee injury that ended his season.
Lolley writes, “Haley said that it will be different this season”—meaning both running backs should get some playing time—not because they want to preserve Bell coming off an injury, but “because the coaching staff has seen what Williams can do on a weekly basis”.
In the 10 games in which he was the primary ball carrier, Williams averaged 19.2 carries for 86.4 yards per game—and better than a touchdown per game as well. He tied for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns last season.
Of course, part of the Steelers’, and Haley’s, mindset last year with respect to divvying up their workload was simply that it’s hard to justify taking a talent such as Bell’s off the field. While many might want to complain that Bell was listed at just the 41st spot in the NFL’s Top 100 Players of 2015 last night, I think that is a testament to how talented that he is given that he only played in six games.
Bell likely isn’t a big fan of coming off the field, either, but Williams is a teammate that he respects a great deal, a proper mentor with a similar skill set with whom he shares a lot in common, even if Williams is close to a decade his senior.
It is also worth keeping in mind that plenty of plans have been hatched in the spring that have never come to fruition in the fall, or were simply abandoned rather quickly. The strategy may be to give Williams some more work now, but if Bell is healthy and running on all cylinders, it will be difficult to keep him on the sideline for more than a series or two.