Pittsburgh Steelers second round draft pick running back Le’Veon Bell takes part in a drill during NFL football practice, Wednesday, May 22, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Will Graves
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Le’Veon Bell wants the ball in his hands. Always.
First down. Fourth down. First quarter or overtime. The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back figures the best chance for his team to be successful is with the ball tucked under his right arm and his legs churning upfield.
“I just want to win,” Bell said. “I can do a lot of things. I’m a smart player so I can pick up things quick. I don’t have many weaknesses and a lot of strengths.”
The second-round draft pick will get a chance to showcase them this fall after Pittsburgh selected him with the 48th overall pick in last month’s draft, drawn by Bell’s versatility and unusual size. Listed at 245 pounds during his career at Michigan State, the most startling thing about Bell — who has shed 15 pounds in the last five months — is his height.
At 6-foot-2, he looks like a wide receiver. And for a time as a kid, he figured that’s where he was headed.
“When I was 4 years old, my uncle was throwing the ball to me, just working on me catching the ball,” Bell said. “Eventually we got to the point of running routes and being able to get open. I just kept running them and kept getting better at it.”
Bell idolized Randy Moss. One problem: even on his best days, Moss would only touch the ball a dozen times. That wasn’t nearly enough for Bell. Give it to him 40 times and he’ll wonder why he didn’t get it 41.
That certainly wasn’t an issue while playing for the Spartans. The defining moment of his career came against Boise State last fall, when he rushed for 210 yards on 44 carries and added another six receptions for 55 yards in a 17-13 comeback win.
“I didn’t even know I got the ball 50 times,” Bell said. “I didn’t ever realize I had the ball that many times because I was so in the zone just wanting us to win this game. I was looking up at the scoreboard and I see we’re losing and I’m like, ‘Give me the ball, I’m just trying to score.’”
Bell’s 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter propelled Michigan State to victory and sent him shooting up NFL draft boards. Now Bell finds himself tasked with trying to make sense of a crowded Steelers backfield searching for a starter after Rashard Mendenhall left for Arizona in the offseason.
Pittsburgh struggled to find any consistency in the running game last fall as Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman took turns getting injured or finding a spot in coach Mike Tomlin’s doghouse. The Steelers finished in the bottom six in the league in 2012 in yards rushing (26th), rushing touchdowns (27th) and yards per carry (27th). Not exactly the way offensive coordinator Todd Haley drew it up.