PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent last season flip-flopping between big running backs, small running backs, ones who could catch and ones who could run, with varying levels of success.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley believes Le’Veon Bell is the one who could stop the revolving door for good.
The Steelers selected Bell in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday, hoping the 21-year-old can become the “workhorse” Pittsburgh has lacked since Jerome Bettis retired in 2005.
“He’s a three-down back with very good hands,” Haley said. “He catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He’s a young kid who doesn’t have a lot of tread on the tire.”
Something the Steelers need to boost a running game that has struggled to find consistency the last few seasons. Pittsburgh finished 26th in the league in rushing yards in 2012 as Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer all spent time working themselves into and out of coach Mike Tomlin’s doghouse.
Mendenhall headed to Arizona via free agency last month after five turbulent years. Redman and Dwyer signed their restricted free agent tenders for what amounts to a one-season audition to stick around. Now they’ll be joined by the precocious Bell, who needed just three seasons to become one of the best backs ever at Michigan State.
Bell ran for 3,346 career yards and 33 touchdowns with the Spartans and caught 78 passes for 531 yards and a score. He rolled up 1,793 yards in 2012, the second-highest single-season total in Michigan State history while being named to the All-Big Ten first team.
Though the 6-foot-1 Bell played at 245 pounds in college, he has already dropped 15 pounds to add some quickness. The Steelers also hope it will make him more durable. Steeler running backs Redman and Dwyer — both listed between 230 and 235 — had significant issues last season but Bell is taller than both players.
“I’m going to come in and compete with the other backs and the other backs are going to compete with me,” Bell said. “They’re going to try and make me better and I’m going to make them better at the same time. That’s all going to make the team better.”
An improved running game would take some of the pressure off Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers best stretch in 2012 came during a four-game winning streak at midseason that included three consecutive 100-yard games, two by Dwyer and one by Redman. They took turns getting hurt or benched over the second half of the season and failed to really seize control of the position after Mendenhall aggravated a knee injury.