Reporting Colin Dunlap
The future is here; the wait is over.
Or at least it looks that way with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ backfield.
Certainly, it was just one superb performance from rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, but it appears as if the rookie could be the guy moving forward — for a long time.
I know what you are saying, I can hear it loud and clear: “Relax! This was just one game! Relax! Let’s wait and see what he does the rest of the season!”
Indeed, there is much merit to such a way of thinking.
However, there is also much merit to this: The Steelers haven’t had a guy move with the mixture of nimbleness and power, with the combination of fleetness and patience that he displayed in Sunday’s 19-16 victory against Baltimore since, well … we’ll just say a long time.
Bell ran for 93 yards on 19 carries, averaging 4.9 yards each time he toted the ball. He was tremendous on first down, gaining 62 of those 93 yards on that down and allowing the Steelers to circumvent the tough down-and-distance situations that have plagued this offense all season.
For good measure, Bell also caught the lone pass thrown his way for 6 yards.
But that is just part of the story in all of this.
Put yourself in the shoes of offensive coordinator Todd Haley for a moment; a man who, at the very least, is calling plays to garner respect in the locker room and, at most, calling plays to try to save his job as the Steelers entered the day with a 1-4 record.
What did Haley do? He had enough faith to put the offense in the hands on Bell — who this same weekend last year was playing for Michigan State against Michigan — and ride with a rookie.
Haley didn’t just hand it to Bell, either. The running back took direct snaps out of the Wildcat formation four times.
“We’ll do anything to win football games,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the victory. “That’s just the state we’re in.”
And the running game, with Bell, could be in a perpetual state of bliss as the Steelers move forward, which is something that was shrouded in doubt — and hampered by a deplorable offensive line — over the first month or so of the season. As he attempted to shake off injuries (while at the same time becoming acclimated to the NFL), Bell rushed for 57 yards against the Vikings and 34 last week against the Jets.
But, this performance was different. This time, he got up to full speed with an ease not seen before and powered through defenders with when necessary.
Bell also knew when to pump the brakes and wait for his blockers, setting up several runs with his tolerance for allowing the play to unfold as opposed to forcing it to happen.
It was all, truly, stuff of a veteran.
It was in late-April when Bell was selected by the Steelers in the second round and his initial conversation with the Pittsburgh media came via a teleconference.
At that time, he was asked, point blank, if he had eyes on being the starter for this 2013 season.
“That’s the goal,” Bell said the day he was drafted. “I’m going to come in there and compete.”
He’s done far more than just compete. Bell has become the far-and-away No. 1 option for this team in the backfield.
And if he runs like he did against the Ravens, he also could be on his way to being great.
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 email@example.com. Check out his bio here.