LATROBE, Pa. (AP) _ DeAngelo Williams is used to splitting carries.
Just don’t call the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back a backup. The way the Carolina Panthers’ career rushing leader sees it, there will be plenty of work to do alongside Steelers star Le’Veon Bell.
“I got a lot of tread left on the tires and I don’t have as many miles,” Williams said. “For those running backs, I feel bad for them, but I don’t consider myself as one of those backs.”
Williams, a first-round draft pick in 2006, spent his first nine seasons in Carolina, where he held just about every significant rushing record in Panthers history. He teamed with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina to form one of the best backfield tandems in the NFL as the two, in 2009, became the first set of teammates in league history to each rush for at least 1,100 yards in the same season.
“All my career has been me and Jonathan, so I haven’t been taking the crash and burn hits,” Williams said.
Williams did endure an injury-riddled 2014 season though, appearing in just six games while rushing for 219 yards and zero touchdowns. The 32-year-old Williams, who, twice rushed for at least 800 yards since his 1,100-yard 2009 season, was released by the Panthers in March to save salary cap space and soon after signed a two-year deal with the Steelers.
Pittsburgh, after a failed attempt last year with veteran LeGarrette Blount, desired a seasoned back to take some of the workload off Bell, the 23-year-old All-Pro, who finished second in the league with 1,361 rushing and 2,215 all-purpose rushing and receiving yards last year.
They feel Williams is their man.
“He’s a veteran guy and he’s savvy,” Bell said. “He’s going to go out there and work, and he’s going to compete. He’s seen everything, so it definitely helps me out.
It helps the Steelers, too.
Williams is anticipated to fill in as the feature back for at least the first two weeks of the regular season while Bell serves a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. It stems from a DUI arrest and drug charges _ cited for marijuana possession _ when Bell and Blount were pulled over on their way to a team flight for a preseason game in Philadelphia last August.
Williams insists he’s focused on more than just the first two games of the season.
“I’m ready to carry the load for 16 games and then playoffs and then the Super Bowl,” Williams said. “Once I get in there, my production can’t drop off and once (Bell) is out there, the production has to keep up or they’re going to get somebody else in there.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey doesn’t think production will be an issue after blocking for the 5-foot-9, 215-pound bruising running back.
“I like DeAngelo a lot, he’s a power runner,” Pouncey said. “He runs like himself and doesn’t copy anybody else. You can really appreciate that in a running back. He’s going to get us some extra yards.”
It’s the only way Williams knows how to run, and he isn’t about to change 10 years into his career. But it will serve as a nice change of pace for Bell and the Steelers.
“I kind of got up their back a couple times and I was like `get out of the way,’ I’m not a shifty as Le’Veon,” Williams said. “They were like `you’re more downhill than we anticipated.’ In Carolina, it’s one cut and go. That’s all I’ve ever known and it’s how I’m going to continue to play.”
NOTES: Several Steelers didn’t practice or weren’t able to finish on Saturday, including Ryan Shazier (lower back), Jarvis Jones (bicep), Shamarko Thomas (shoulder), Josh Harris (shoulder) and Ross Scheuerman (left Achilles). Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t know the extent of the injuries.