Steelers

Colin Dunlap: Le’Veon Better Answer The Bell

By: Colin Dunlap
Le'Veon Bell

Rookie Le’Veon Bell is trying to earn a job with a Steeler running game that ranked just 26th in the NFL in per-game yardage in 2012. (Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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The Steelers held a fourth-quarter lead in 11 of 16 games in 2012.

The Steelers finished 2012 with an 8-8 record, missing the playoffs.

Know what’s the easy takeaway from the previous two sentences? The Steelers couldn’t churn through and melt away that clock as the game neared an end, gutting the hope of the opposition by keeping the ball on the ground and squeezing the last bits of life from the contest.

Enter rookie running back Le’Veon Bell. Or, well, at least that should be a heavy dose of the plan for the 2013 season.

When the Steelers drafted Bell out of Michigan State in the second round — with the 48th overall pick — the chatter immediately began about whether or not he would be the starter this season.

While such a role is pivotal (and I think he will start) there’s much more interest from where I sit on whether or not Bell will be the finisher.

Preferably, he can be both. Man, I sure hope so.

Because, that’s precisely what the Steelers need.

At 6-feet-1-inch, 244-pounds, Bell is a brawny back who has the ability to run behind a guard to grit out the tough yards, but also showed a counterbalance at Michigan State, where he was just as apt to bounce the play to the edge and make yards along the hashmarks.

Such versatility is needed in a ground game this year for the Steelers; a ground game that amassed just 1,537 yards last year as Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and the since-departed Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey were the primary players to carry the football.

Certainly, the Steelers don’t have much of a recent track record with entrusting the run game to a first-year man, as Tim Worley came out of Georgia in 1989 and served as the last rookie running back to start for the franchise.

But, in all honesty, why not Bell? Why not now?

Again, I’m far more concerned with making him the unchallenged finisher, because, to me at least, that role will probably be just as important, but the Steelers would do well to anoint him the No. 1 back coming out of camp if all continues to go as it has at St. Vincent.

In three seasons, Dwyer has played in 21 games and, at least from this vantage point, has underwhelmed. While his back-to-back games of 122 and 107 yards against Cincinnati and Washington in late-October last season were impressive, he never again gained more than 56 yards in a game.

Might it be time to realize that Dwyer will, forever, be a complementary piece in the NFL and never a feature back? That’s the way I think.

As for Redman, he had that marvelous showing against the Giants in early-November of last season, ripping through them for 147 yards. In eight games he played thereafter, he had a combined 136 yards.

You want to put your ground game hopes in him? I sure don’t.

When the Steelers went out in the offseason and drafted Bell, they made a concerted effort to get better in the run game, to safeguard against going 8-8 again this season.

Here’s the thing though: Head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley should use Bell right from the jump, make the unopposed go-to guy on the ground as the starter.

If they are unwilling to put that much trust in the rookie, if they learned anything from last season, they would at least make him the closer.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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