Blount aims to factor into Steelers backfield with Bell



Le'Veon Bell is no small running back, not by any measure. At 6 feet 1 and a lean-muscled 230 pounds, he is a combination of surprising power and deceptive speed.

But even Bell, who enters his second season as the focal point of the Steelers offense, admits he looks small compared to the newest member of the backfield -- LeGarrette Blount.

"He's a big guy, and he can roll, too," Bell said. "It's going to be good having him in the backfield."

Make no mistake, Blount is big and thick. At 6 feet, 250 pounds, he is the Steelers' biggest and most powerful back since Jerome Bettis, only faster. What's more, he plays with a similar attitude -- one of the reasons the Steelers signed him in free agency to serve as a backup to Bell.

Toward the end of last season with the New England Patriots, Blount, 27, looked like one of the most unstoppable backs in the league, rushing for 355 yards and scoring six touchdowns in back-to-back games against the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts.

"I'm more of a balance type runner," Bell said. "I don't look at myself as a scatback, I don't look at myself as a power back. I do a little bit of both. He's a power runner.

"When he's in the game, it's going to bring a different look than I bring. It's going to be showing the defense a lot of different looks. I'm excited about it. I definitely can't wait to see what he can do when we get the pads on."

With Bell, Blount and a young offensive line being tutored by Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, the Steelers believe they can be a top-five rushing team in 2014 after ranking 27th in the NFL last season when they averaged a puny 3.5 yards per carry.

"I totally feel that way," Blount said. "I agree with that 100 percent."

Blount is in his fifth NFL season with his third team after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010. Despite rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 17 touchdowns as a junior at Oregon, Blount was not drafted because he missed most of his senior season after being suspended for punching an opposing player in the 2009 opener.

His best season at Tampa Bay was his rookie year when he rushed for 1,007 yards and averaged 5 yards per carry in 13 games.

But what is most attractive about Blount is his career rushing average -- 4.7 yards per carry -- which, at the very least, makes him a dependable back in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The Steelers signed him to spell Bell and get six to eight carries a game.

And that is acceptable for Blount.

"I feel like every running back in this league wants to be a starter," he said. "Obviously I want to start, and I knew that when I went to New England. I wasn't the starting guy. When I come here, I know I'm not the starting guy. But you work hard and go out there and do everything as though you are the starter. Sometimes it plays out that way, sometimes it doesn't.

"I like Le'Veon. I like his running style. He rushed for 800-plus yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. I wouldn't mind complementing him at all."

In his only season with the Patriots in 2013, Blount rushed for 772 yards, averaged 5 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns. But in back-to-back games -- the season finale against the Bills (189) and a playoff victory against the Colts (166) -- he rushed for a combined 355 yards, averaged 7.4 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns, including a 73-yarder.

Blount lasted longer than anticipated in free agency, eventually signing a two-year, $3.85 million contract with the Steelers March 28.

"They liked my running style," Blount said. "They liked how tough, how hard-nosed I ran. They liked how I get downhill, get my shoulders down and get extra yards after contact."

And what did he like about the Steelers?

"I like the mentality they have here -- hard-nosed football," Blount said. "The defense is really tough, and a really good defense that plays well and makes big hits and makes plays is what gets the offense hyped to run the football. And the tradition of winning. They always find ways to get it done."

Bell is glad to have his new backfield mate.

"He's a guy I used to watch growing up when he was at Oregon," Bell said. "It's crazy now I'm in the backfield with him."

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac.


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