Steelers backfield is beefed-up and balanced

Spring practices end today with the culmination of minicamp, which means there will be no no-huddle offense until the end of July.

Yet while coordinator Todd Haley has emphasized the no-huddle offense throughout the spring, it does not mean most of the action will shift to the wide receivers this fall.

The Steelers have loaded their backfield and intend to unload it on opponents this season, whether Ben Roethlisberger takes his snap under center or in the shotgun formation.

The Steelers added veteran LeGarrette Blount to compliment Le’Veon Bell at halfback, drafted little man Dri Archer to add some pizzazz and versatile fullback Will Johnson fills things out. It could be their most-balanced running attack since Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker teamed up in 2005.

“That’s big for us, because we used it a lot in the no-huddle, we used it a lot when we had Le’Veon back and healthy,” Roethlisberger said of the ground game. “Now, I think we have a great complement to him in LeGarrette and even Dri Archer, getting him some different kind of runs and things.

“I think it will be a good weapon for us. When you have a good run game, you can really open up some things down the field.”

The Steelers drafted Bell in the second round in 2013 to beef up a running game that had sagged even after team president Art Rooney II expressed his concern about it. They slipped from No. 11 in 2010 to 26 by 2012 to tied for 27th last season.

Yet Bell gave them hope with his performance in the second half of 2013. He missed the first three games with a sprained foot, and it took time for him to get into a groove. Once he did, his 1,259 yards rushing and receiving combined were the most by a Steelers rookie back.

He had 860 yards rushing. His 45 receptions were the most by a Steelers back in the past 19 seasons.

Roethlisberger predicted bigger things for Bell in his second season, saying he can “catch, block, run, do it all.”

“His growth already is tremendous. I pray he can stay healthy because he’s a big asset for us.”

The improvement Roethlisberger sees in Bell this year comes from him having played one season. He said when he talked to Bell about running a pass route last season, “I was just hoping he got to the right depth or did the right thing.

“Now, you can actually talk to him about reading routes instead of just ‘OK, when you get to 10 yards you have to break out.’ Now we’re giving him read choices, and he’s making great decisions off the defenses. When you get a guy who can understand defenses and who’s covering him, it just makes him that much more dynamic.”

After the Steelers signed Blount as a free agent, many suggested he would be used mostly in short-yardage situations. Yet they have mixed and matched him and Bell, even splitting them out wide. Archer gives them different dimension and flip-flops between working with the backs and wide receivers.

It all fits nicely into their plans to run more no-huddle offense.

“I don think you’ll be able to tell anything with the first two guys,” Roethlisberger said of what could become the B&B backfield. “I don’t think we’re going to run power with Dri — you never know, I guess — but I don’t think you’ll be able to tell the difference because we’re asking both to do the same stuff.

“The key for me is to not know which one is in there. To have that much confidence and faith in both of them, that both can get it done whether it’s running, catching or blocking.”

The Steelers want to get their no-huddle to a point where they do not have to change personnel on the fly, which means the defense won’t have time to change, either. If the offense substitutes, the defense must be given the opportunity to do so.

If the backs can serve different roles from snap to snap, that versatility makes them more valuable.

“The nice thing is we can start a series with certain personnel and we can keep that personnel on the field and go no-huddle,” Roethlisberger said. “So we can try to dictate what defense comes on the field so we can get in the best play possible.”

Spence making progress

Linebacker Sean Spence did something on a football field he has not done in two years. He intercepted a pass. And, although only in practice, boy, did it feel great.

“Just to get my hands on the ball again in a team environment felt pretty good,” Spence said after he intercepted a Landry Jones pass.

Spence has gone through his first full spring practices since his rookie season when he previously intercepted a practice pass. His long recovery and progress from a devastating knee injury has been well-documented. Three of his ligaments, including the ACL, were torn in the final preseason game of his rookie season. More crucially, there was damage to the peroneal nerve that required delicate healing.

Spence spent that 2012 season on injured reserve and 2013 on the physically-unable-to-perform list. This spring has been his most significant practice time in two years as he tries to come all the way back and play football again.

“Man, it felt good,” Spence said. “I made some huge strides. I’m still not where I want to be. I have time to do that and I look forward to doing it. Everybody tells me I’m looking good and moving well. I think my quickness is still there.”

The next steps for him will come in the more physical training camp practices and preseason games.

Draft picks are all signed

The Steelers finished getting their entire rookie draft class under contract with the announcement that second-round pick Stephon Tuitt signed.

Tuitt, a defensive end from Notre Dame, is 6 feet 5, 303 pounds. He has been working out and practicing with the Steelers since he was drafted.

All nine rookies signed four-year contracts with only the first-round pick, linebacker Ryan Shazier, subject to a fifth-year option.


The Steelers signed undrafted rookie halfback Jordan Hall of Ohio State and waived rookie cornerback Deion Belue of Alabama.

Ed Bouchette: and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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