The outside zone-blocking schemes the Steelers will implement this season require more than just the offensive linemen to be lighter, athletic and able to run to the edge.
The scheme also requires a running back who is patient, has vision and can cut back against the flow. Just like Le'Veon Bell.
Bell, the team's recent No. 2 draft choice, said he ran the stretch play repeatedly at Michigan State and thinks his style is a perfect fit for a zone-blocking scheme.
"You got to be patient," Bell said. "That's what coach [Kirby] Wilson is always teaching me. It's something as a runner I've always been blessed with. I'm a patient-type of runner. A lot of guys look at me and think I'm a big, physical guy, but I'm more patient than anything. That what makes me successful up to this point."
Bell showed how effective he might be in a zone-blocking scheme with one carry Wednesday in the afternoon practice. Bell cut back against the flow on a stretch play and got to the sideline for at least 30 yards before he was tackled out of bounds.
"That's why they drafted me -- to come out here and make some plays," Bell said.
The purpose of the stretch play is to get the defensive linemen and linebackers flowing vertically to the sideline, eventually creating a gap in the defense for the running back to find. The Steelers want to use more of that this season after spending a number of years trying to stop it with Houston's Arian Foster and Baltimore's Ray Rice.
"I ran the stretch a lot at Michigan State," Bell said. "I'm patient on it. I see the defense kind of flowing. It's a great complement to the inside run game. Teams can't just load up the box. We can run outside now. That's when cutbacks happen."
Bell has tried to be a better fit for the zone-blocking system by reporting to training camp at 232 pounds, approximately 10 pounds lighter than his playing weight his senior season in college.
He still feels he has the size and power to run over defenders, which is what Bell did when safety Ryan Clark came into a hole to tackle him during team drills.
"I wanted to be lighter; I feel like I move a little better," Bell said. "I'm still strong, I'm still a big back -- 230 is still big. So I don't feel like I need to be 240. Looking at my film, when I was lighter, I made cuts a lot quicker, I was faster. I feel better around that weight, so I'm going to stay around that weight."
Hold that praise
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress electrified the crowd when he got behind the secondary and caught a deep pass down the middle from backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.
But coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the catch, saying rookie safety Shamarko Thomas bit on Gradkowski's play-fake and got caught out of position.
"It might have been what the defense didn't do as opposed to what he did," Tomlin said.
A hamstring injury to backup cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke might be more significant than feared. "It looks like it could be a while," Tomlin said.
He also said there is no change in the injury status of cornerbacks Cortez Allen (knee) and rookie Terry Hawthorne (knee). Rookie defensive end, Nick Williams, the team's seventh-round pick, did not finish practice because of what Tomlin said was a knee injury.
Practice site is changed
The Steelers moved their annual Friday night practice, originally scheduled for Latrobe Memorial Stadium, to Saint Vincent College. Issues with the grass field at the stadium necessitated the move.
The practice will start at 5:25 p.m., earlier than originally scheduled, but there will be no charge to attend.
Players will sign autographs for fans around the fields from 5-5:20 p.m. and fireworks will still be held.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published August 1, 2013 4:00 AM