Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is going to be reporting soon…ish…we think. Most likely, he will be here within the next week, practicing with the team in preparation for the Steelers’ first regular season game a week from Sunday.
One of the questions that the team, and in particular first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, will have to try to answer is how much of a workload the workhorse running back should receive in his first game(s) back on the field after missing the entirety of the offseason process.
Or perhaps more accurately, how much of a workload he can receive while remaining effective. It took him several games last year to get into rhythm and on the same page with the rest of the offense.
While some may want to fault the blocking being out of sync with him, the blame doesn’t matter. If it takes time to build that rapport between the runner and his blockers, then it takes time. The offensive line has been blocking for James Conner (and enjoying it as well). That is what they have become accustomed to this offseason.
Fichtner was asked recently about what sort of workload he envisioned for Bell in the opener against the Cleveland Browns. After all, he was here last year as the team’s quarterbacks coach and was around Bell. In fact, he got some work calling plays during the preseason and was already being groomed as a potential future offensive coordinator. He should have some insight.
“That’s a hard question because it’s Le’Veon”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You’d like to think that he’ll be in good shape. But we’ll have to evaluate where he’s at — conditioning, health, things like that. Using him in the best way to help us win early will be the most important thing”.
While Bell has proven year in and year old that he keeps himself in phenomenal shape, as his usage rate in games played attests to, even the team felt last season that while he reported in shape a year ago, he was not in football shape. General Manager Kevin Colbert made clear that there was only one way to get into football shape: by doing football activities.
“There will be some things he can do that quite frankly most people who play his position can’t do”, Fichtner said, speaking to the reluctance to take him off the field. “But that’s not anything against the running backs that have gone through training camp with us because they’ve done a heck of a job, including James [Conner].”
In the season opener a year ago, the offense under Todd Haley did gameplan around Bell. They used the 01 personnel package (featuring one tight end and four wide receivers with no running backs) on nine snaps and even gave the rookie Conner an entire drive. He would only play 44 of 61 snaps, and that includes three victory-formation snaps. He played 67 of 78 snaps the following week.