Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell attempts to avoid a tackle against the Ravens on Thanksgiving night.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Steelers drafted running back Le'Veon Bell in the spring, offensive coordinator Todd Haley saw a player who was capable of playing on every down. In addition to his power-back running skills, Bell was a quality receiver and capable of picking up blitzing linebackers, a must to play on third downs in the NFL.
After a foot injury forced him to miss the first three games of the season and the subsequent learning curve for a rookie, Bell is now in a position to be utilized in the manner the Steelers envisioned when they chose him in the second round out of Michigan State in April.
Bell was on the field for 61 of the team's 67 offensive snaps against the Ravens, and two of the plays he missed were after his concussion late in the fourth quarter of the 22-20 loss. After being eased into the offense in his first few NFL games, Bell has played 80 percent of the offensive snaps in the past three.
"We've been excited about him from day one with the things he has shown us, the attitude, his development and all those things," Haley said. "He had some setbacks and he handled those in a positive manner. He has continued to make progress. I think you've seen that correlate to us being a little more successful. If you have a guy back there that is a big dog, he gives you a chance to be multi-dimensional and helps a lot of people out."
Bell, who is 6 feet 1 and 244 pounds, has been a focal point of the offense in recent games. Only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger touches the ball more for the Steelers. Bell touched the ball 70 times in the past three games and amassed 322 yards from scrimmage, an average of 107 per game.
"I think they're more confident in me," Bell said. "I feel like I showed them enough for them to be confident in me in different situations. With me being a younger guy, when I first went in, they weren't going to trust me with everything. They eased me into it. Slowly but surely, I'm trying to get more comfortable in the offense, have the players more comfortable with me and keep moving forward."
Bell has not had a 100-yard rushing game this season, but he is the third-most productive rookie running back in the league when rushing and receiving statistics are combined. Green Bay rookie Eddie Lacy has 1,003 yards from scrimmage and Cincinnati's Giovanni Bernard has 875. Bell is close behind with 847 yards despite missing the first three games.
Bell is expected to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins despite the concussion against Baltimore, the result of a violent collision at the goal line late in the fourth quarter when he received a helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked his helmet off his head.
The NFL determined the hits by Ravens defenders Jimmy Smith and Courtney Upshaw were legal and no fines were administered.
Bell crossed the goal line and appeared to score a touchdown, but it was negated because of a new rule that halts play once a ballcarrier's helmet is knocked off.
"He had earned his stripes already, but that specific play and his willingness to lay himself on the line obviously earns more respect," said backup running back Jonathan Dwyer. "But we already saw what he could do. He makes plays when he gets the ball in his hands. He's doing well and playing a complete game each and every week."
In addition to Bell's teammates, several Ravens and others from around the NFL reached out via social media to make sure he was OK.
"I've been hearing that guys are giving me more respect," Bell said. "I was just trying to do what it took for us to win. I was just trying to get in the end zone. I really just wanted to tie the game up. That's the only thing that was going through my mind."
Bell, who still must pass concussion tests up until game time before he is cleared to play, said he won't alter his playing style.
"As a running back, you can't think about getting hit because you'll get hit regardless," he said. "If I'm thinking about getting hit, I'm not going to be effective as a runner. I'm going to get hit. There will be tough hits. That's not the hardest I've been hit. I'm sure I'll get hit harder. I'm just glad to be OK."
The Steelers are glad, too, and as long he is healthy, Bell can expect a heavy workload because he has the trust of his coaches and teammates.
"We design plays that make him a potential No. 1 read," Haley said. "But at the same time, the trust he has to develop with the quarterback is hard to measure. As coaches, you go through things with guys that you may like that the quarterback never can quite get on board with and trust.
"Le'Veon has made it easy. That's a very good sign. He's got a good feel for football in the passing game. Obviously he can run, but his ability in the pass game, his ability to pick up pressures and protect the quarterback, that's where trust starts first with quarterbacks and running backs. He understands and he gets it. He is making progress because of it."
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