“I wouldn’t want to run behind any other offensive line. I wouldn’t want to run behind anybody else. I see how hard those guys work. I couldn’t imagine anybody else working that hard. I am happy with my guys”.
That is what Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell told reporters recently when discussing his blockers up front, which this season have included a total of nine different players, though one who has only been used exclusively in a tackle-eligible tight end role.
But if he really meant what he said, then perhaps he should keep that in mind when it comes to free agency. He should know, after all. The former 2013 second-round pick has been here for a while now. He has watched this offensive line grow right in front of his eyes. He knows how good they are and how good they can be.
If he passes up a chance to stay with the team, to continue to play behind this offensive line unit, which has a large core group of players, and a position coach, who understand how to block for him and his unique style of running, a group that he called “the best offensive line in the world”, then he should do so aware of the potential risks that entails.
Of course, Bell was not the only one talking up the group. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has only been sacked 32 times in his past 25 games played over the course of the past two seasons, credited them for keeping him upright, and said that the offense can go as far as the group up front takes them.
That group was really taken to the shop for repairs starting in 2010, when the Steeler used their first-round draft pick that year on center Maurkice Pouncey, who since then has made the Pro Bowl every year in which he has been healthy.
They added Marcus Gilbert at right tackle in the second round the following year, who has been a mainstay since then. While they bumbled in the second round the next draft with Mike Adams, their first-round selection, David DeCastro, was another homerun.
Supplementing that high-drafted and well-compensated right side of the offensive line is a pair of former undrafted free agents on the other, including 32-year-old Ramon Foster at left guard, who has been here even longer than Pouncey, and has started over 100 games, but who had not become a designated starter until 2013.
Then there is Alejandro Villanueva, who was a complete shot in the dark find, literally having been drawn to his attention by seeing him and his gargantuan frame as a defensive end on the opposite sideline in a preseason game.
And let’s not forget Chris Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted free agent, who has been the primary right tackle this year and has done well. And B.J. Finney. And even Matt Feiler, and Jerald Hawkins, who made his NFL debut last week. This is the group Bell wants to play behind. Whether he will in the future is largely up to him.