Plenty of playing time
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is among the NFL leaders in touches:
Age Attempts Receptions Total
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 26 244 36 280
Le'Veon Bell, Steelers 22 195 57 252
Matt Forte, Bears 28 173 67 240
Andre Ellington, Cardinals 25 186 41 227
LeSean McCoy, Eagles 26 196 22 218
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks 28 177 24 201
An undersized rookie with five career carries.
A fullback who was converted to a tight end.
A rookie who was just added from the practice squad.
A guy who was playing for something called the Fall Experimental Football League two weeks ago.
The Steelers are rolling the dice that Le’Veon Bell will remain injury free and able to keep up his heavy workload over the final month by not giving him much in the way of an experienced backup following the release of LeGarrette Blount.
It’s a chance the Steelers are willing and, more appropriately, have to take because they don’t have many choices.
With the free agent market devoid of capable backups after Ben Tate was awarded to the Vikings off waivers Wednesday, the Steelers added LaDarius Perkins, who played for the Omaha Mammoths of the FXFL, to the practice squad a day after promoting Josh Harris to the 53-man roster.
Pair them with Dri Archer and Will Johnson, and the Steelers’ running back situation behind Bell is murky at best heading into the final month of the season — even though the team won’t admit that publicly.
“Each guy who sits in my room, their mindset has to be that you are not just a backup but a starter,” running backs coach James Saxon said. “That’s the way they prepare, and that’s how I expect them to prepare.”
But the Steelers don’t plan on dipping into their backup plans anytime soon, especially after Bell carried a career-high 33 times for 204 yards and a touchdown in the win Monday over the Titans.
The Steelers are going to ride Bell as much as they can.
“We will take all he can give,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “We will give all he can take.”
Bell, 22, has given plenty in his second year, but can he give even more?
“This is what I train for,” Bell said. “I was training in the summer to get the ball as many times as I need to. I didn’t feel fatigued in the game. I was completely fine. As long as I work and train as I have, I think I will be fine.”
Bell’s 633 snaps are eight fewer than Chicago’s Matt Forte but nearly a 100 more than the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy (538). Bell’s 252 touches trail only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray (280).
Bell’s numbers certainly will increase with Blount gone. Blount spelled Bell for about 12 snaps and seven touches per game through 11 games. Those all likely will go to the 225-pound Bell now.
“He is not a small person. That helps,” Saxon said. “I don’t think you worry about putting too much on his plate. Obviously, he has to take care of his body. He has to be available now to answer the call.”
Bell has rushed 195 times for 951 yards and two touchdowns and caught 57 passes for 484 yards and two scores. Bell had 54 touches over the past two weeks as the Steelers transitioned more toward him and away from Blount.
“We had kind of already made the decision to go with Le’Veon, as you could see in the game, from the situational aspect, goal line, short yarder and some of those,” Haley said. “We had already made the decision that he was going to be the guy.”
Still, the Steelers are taking a chance that Bell will stay healthy for the remainder of the season and then address their depth at the position in the offseason.
Even though Blount was used sparingly over the past month, he provided value with his experience as a starter. The Steelers could plug him into the lineup and give him 20 to 25 carries a game if Bell got hurt.
The Steelers don’t have that luxury now.
It’s Bell or bust.
“I’m not going to say I’m the guy or anything,” Bell said. “If they tell me to run routes and get open on third, I’ve got to got to do that. If I’ve got to go out there and bang out four-minutes drives for us to close the game out, I’m going to do that. Pass protection, I’m going to do that.”
He doesn’t have a choice anymore.
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.