Le’Veon Bell returned to Pittsburgh Steelers OTAs last month after suffering serious injuries to his MCL and PCL in his right knee. Bell, who has recently turned into some kind of rap star, is in line for a week one return but could find that his touches get eaten into in 2016.
For the sake of his health coupled with DeAngelo Williams’ fine running in the 24-year-old’s absence Head Coach Mike Tomlin may want to split the touches up a bit more evenly. It will perhaps make the Steelers attack more balanced and even more efficient in the run game – having two good backs pound away at you, wearing down the opposition front seven while keeping the runners’ legs fresh is a sure fire way to set a tone in a game.
Williams will be entering his age 33 season but showed last year that he still has some tread left of the tyres averaging 4.5 yards per carry on his way to 900 rushing yards – having four 100+ yard rushing games in the process. That is of course much easier to achieve when you have a passing attack like the Steelers but it’s still impressive.
Before his injury Bell was on course for nearly 1,300 rushing yards and around 300 receiving yards and while he only played in six games the fourth year pro had three games where he rushed for over 100 yards.
The knee will represent a huge question mark for the Steelers – while Bell has reportedly looked sharp in OTAs the big tests are yet to come. Training camp, pre-season and then the regular season will be the real acid test to see if Bell can take up the mantle of being the bell cow – some pun intended.
However the production of Williams will see him eat into Bell’s touches and the Steelers could be looking at more of a committee. Not the kind of committee most teams have – where they have two backs that are not productive enough to be feature backs – but a system where both could easily go large stretches of plays without being taken out before switching out and keeping the defense on their last legs.
When healthy Bell is arguably the best running back in the NFL but the nature of his injury is cause for pause when thinking about how many touches he gets. A back who can do everything Ben Roethlisberger will more than likely want Bell in on passing downs due to his ability to shake defenders out of their boots and his impressive pass protection skills.
Goal line touches may go to Williams although again, Bell has shown he can run between the man mountain nose tackles and defensive tackles.
On paper it is a real thunder and lightning combination. Bell outweighs Williams but the thick build of Williams makes him a load to bring down. Bell has the elusiveness, speed and cutting ability (although both of those traits will be tested on the repaired knee) – he has it all really but like many quality players coming off a serious injury it may take them a while to get back up to speed.
It’s a call that will anger Fantasy Football owners of Bell and it’s a decision that may irk Bell a touch too but it could pay dividends down the stretch and into the playoffs making the Steelers perhaps the biggest contenders for the Lombardi trophy.