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Friday, December 27, 2013
Le'Veon Bell off and running for Steelers

By Scott Brown

PITTSBURGH -- The headlines Mike Tomlin generated when he said it was an "easy decision" for him to pick Le'Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy surprised the Pittsburgh Steelers coach.

Le'Veon Bell
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell makes it look easy, leaping over Packers' Morgan Burnett during the second half of their Week 16 game.
"I just told the truth as I saw it," Tomlin said. "It's not a knock against Eddie Lacy. Oftentimes it seems like in this business we're scared to tell the truth for fear of providing bulletin-board material or offending someone. We like Le'Veon Bell. We like his well-balanced skill-set. We thought he was perfect for us."

It certainly looks that way even with Lacy a near lock to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Bell needs only 73 total yards on Sunday to break the record Franco Harris has held since 1972 for most yards from scrimmage for a rookie (1,235).

And the more you see Bell the more he just looks like a Steelers running back -- from his bursting up the middle and hurdling a safety as he did after losing a fumble last Sunday in Green Bay to blending the proper reverence with self-assuredness as he did earlier this week while accepting the honor named after one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Bell was the easy choice for the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, which is given annually to the Steelers' top rookie. And he seemed truly humbled to be linked with a second Steelers great just as he is with Harris, who retired nearly a decade before Bell was born.

When asked if there is significance for him to play running back for the Steelers, Bell said, "It means everything in the world. Running backs just come to your head when you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, running backs and cold weather."

The sturdy Bell is put together for cold weather. His physical running style and ability to handle a heavy workload make the 6-1, 244-pounder the kind of back the Steelers can especially lean on in cold-weather games.

And in the coming seasons.

"This is a guy that's continually been on the rise for us and gaining an understanding of what he's capable of and what we need from him," said Tomlin, who generally isn't very generous when it comes to praising rookies. "In the midst of that, he's staying humble and grounded and that's appropriate as well."

Bell hasn't always stayed so grounded.

Hurdling defenders has become one of his signatures even if it jangles the nerves of those ranging from his mother to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"It looks good on SportsCenter, but I get nervous for him," Roethlisberger said.

Not that Roethlisberger has any real gripes about Bell, who transformed what had been a sickly running game after making his NFL debut in the fourth week of the season.

"To me it looks like he's going stronger than ever and playing great football," Roethlisberger said when asked if Bell has hit the proverbial rookie wall. "Mentally, he's still real sharp because that's one of the first things to go, mentally you start to lag a little bit. He looks as good as ever."

Bell's lack of mental miscues is such that Roethlisberger said, "I have all the faith in the world when a blitz comes he's going to pick it up."

Bell has a lot of faith in himself but that confidence isn't likely to lead to complacency.

"I've still got a lot more things that I know I can get better at," said Bell, who has rushed for 770 yards and seven touchdowns on 224 carries. "I'm always going to find something to get better at."

Bell, who missed the first three games because of a foot injury, wants to become more consistent as a receiver by improving his concentration when catching the ball. He is also finding his way as a runner though he did receive congratulations on Twitter from Jerome Bettis after rushing for a career-high 126 yards in a 38-31 win at Green Bay.

Twenty-five of those yards came on the carry after Bell lost a fumble that led to a Packers touchdown.

Tomlin had enough faith in Bell to call his number after the costly miscue, and Bell rewarded the seventh-year coach by flashing through an opening up the middle and leaping over Packers safety Morgan Burnett on the way to his longest gain of the game.

Bell knowingly smiled later when asked if he had run angry on that play.

"I really wish there was something that can trigger me to get angry like that," Bell said. "If I could trigger that every carry I definitely would."

Call it another gear to work on for the rookie who is already off and running.