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? That’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.