State of the Steelers: Running Back

Le-Veon-Bell-7Any time a player’s name is mentioned in the same sentence as someone like Franco Harris, people are going to take notice.

That’s exactly what Le’Veon Bell did in his rookie season…

He put everyone on notice, and solidified himself as the Steelers feature back, breaking Franco Harris’ rookie record of most yards from scrimmage along the way.

There’s no question that Bell will be the Steelers starter when the 2014 season starts.

As for who the primary backup will be?┬áThat’s a tougher question. Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and LaRod Stephens-Howling are all set to hit free agency.

Chances are probably pretty good that a couple of those guys come back on a small contract, but I wouldn’t think that any are guaranteed to make it through training camp.

Jonathan Dwyer is the only one I could see getting much interest elsewhere given that he’s still only 24 years old and has some good games in the past.

I get the feeling that the Steelers don’t value Dwyer all that much however, given that they released him in favor of Felix Jones last pre-season, despite Jones only being on the roster for a couple of weeks.

Jones was also the first one off the bench late in the season when the team wanted to give Bell a breather. For that reason, I think Jones probably makes the team in some capacity.

I would expect Stephens-Howling to at least get a camp invite if he’s healthy enough to practice. Whether he makes the team or not depends on how he comes back from his knee injury.

Here’s just a theory I have where things could get more interesting either in the draft, or in free agency…

Todd Haley throughout his coaching career has shown an affection for smaller, pass catching, elusive backs.

When he was offensive coordinator in Arizona he had Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington.

When Haley was in Kansas City he spent a high on second round pick on Dexter McCluster; a combo RB/WR with some serious moves in the open field.

Since Haley has been with the Steelers they’ve drafted Chris Rainey, signed Larod Stephens-Howling, and briefly added Ray Graham to the practice squad.

I’m seeing a pattern of a certain kind of running back, aren’t you?

This Steelers team not only needs a backup RB, there’s also a serious need at kick returner. I could see the Steelers killing two birds with one stone and possibly going after McCluster in free agency.

They could also look in the later rounds of the draft at a guy like De’Anthony Thomas out of Oregon.

Now, before you all tell me that McCluster will cost too much, or Thomas will be drafted too high… Keep in mind that with new kick return rules, return specialists have been devalued.

Josh Cribbs is older than McCluster, but 30 years isn’t exactly ancient, and it seemed like nobody wanted him this past off-season.

I would expect to see a few familiar faces at running back, as well as some new ones when the Steelers return to Latrobe this spring.

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8 comments on “State of the Steelers: Running Back

  1. Finally an every down running back. Le’veon Bell is impressive. Without the foot injury early in the season he easily would have had 1,000 yards rushing. He can pound short yardage and is an excellent receiver.
    I liked your article but got to thinking, I hope Haley doesn’t try to be too cute at running back. The Steelers were guilty last year (’12) of giving away the play call based on who was in the backfield. With Le’veon Bell we can go no huddle and exploit mismatches.
    I’d like to see a back up running back who too can play every down so that in case of an injury to Le’veon the offensive scheme can remain. That being said, I am positive on Dwyer and Jones as backups. Stevens-Howling will be back. It was emotionally crushing to lose him this year, not because he was the #1 guy but because everybody was so exited for him. I really felt the emotion of the players when he was injured and he had the splash play potential.
    I’d like to keep our guys and bring in some competition. Let the cream rise to the top.

    • I guess I should’ve clarified… I’m with you. I personally am not a fan of 180 pound running backs carrying the ball between the tackle regularly. I agree they need someone who can tote the rock if Bell were to go down (or even if he doesn’t, we don’t want to kill him with too many carries). Personally I think Dwyer can be that guy. He’s definitively talented enough to be our starter if Bell were to go down.

      That being said, I wouldn’t be opposed at all to versatile guy as the number 3. The Steelers drafted Rainey but he very rarely took hand offs up the middle. Honestly your 3rd RB doesn’t see the field much anyway so you might as well grab a guy that can contribute as a return man, and in certain packages.

  2. Be very careful thinking we are set at rb . Remember only 3.5 ypc and an o-line that’s not very good at run blocking and a o/c that only runs draws up the middle. I think that if Ben comes back calling 90% of the plays we will be fine but if Haley is given a chance he will sink this ship again.Everyone likes to compare players styles and when i see Bell i don’t see a power runner, i see a Chuck Foreman, Chuck Muncie type of rb, It’s not a bad thing i just don’t see that quick lateral step that most great backs have, but he does have a very good forward lean at the end of his runs.

    • I didn’t say anywhere I think we’re set… Far from it… We only have 1 RB under contract!

      As for your comments on Bell, I think you’re off there. Bell has more than enough power. No, he’s not the Bus but those RB’s just aren’t needed or wanted anymore. Isaac Redman was a bulldozer, but he’s essentially useless in today’s game.

      • Saying there no question would be the same as saying we are set at RB. I’m pretty sure there is still a need for quality RB’s in the NFL.BTW Issac Redman never bull dozed anything it was just implied that he could by M. Tomlin. All i’m saying is Bell really hasn’t proven anything yet, at 3.5 ypc he’s average, he seems to be more of a complementary back [Shane Vereen type] than a feature back. It’s going to take this kid 300 carries to get to 1,000 yards alot like when he was in college. That would would mean[ NOT FOR LONG]. I think we should take a look at what the Patriots and Chargers are doing at RB. Sometimes having several different styles of RB gives you an advantage on how you can attack a defense.

        • Ah ok. No I don’t think we’re set at RB… We are set at STARTING RB.

          What more can you really ask of Bell? The kid had more yards from scrimmage than any Steelers RB EVER. I wouldn’t say there’s a weakness if any part of his game. He fits today’s NFL perfectly.

          While his rushing numbers don’t blow you away, he most likely would’ve rushed for over 1000 yards if he had been healthy all year. He also came on stronger as a rusher towards the end of the season, which obviously bodes well for next season.

          My ONLY concern with Bell is how much use he got in college. They need to be careful they don’t kill him.

  3. I have been a Steeler fan since 1969 i pay for NFL game day just to watch the Steelers play. That being said i feel the need to express myself. First i would like to agree with Bob Graff about Todd Haley as long as i’ve been a Steeler fan i would have to rate the firing of Bruce Arians (coach of the year last year) as one of the worse moves we have ever made. We turned the season around when Ben was given more freedom to call his own plays HELLO. I would also like to know why a Jonathan Dwyer who had back to back 100 yard rushing games and lead the team in average yards per carry this season isn’t good enough to make the team he’s twice the back of Felix Jones with all the help the Cowboys need why isn’t he still their??? When Cowher was our coach we were a linebacker factory now we can’t find one??? We need to go back to the basics play defense and power run the football and when needed let Ben make a play.

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