PITTSBURGH -- A 100-yard rushing game is apparently the last thing that will come for Le'Veon Bell.
Everything else is falling into place for the rookie running back, and that is why Bell has completely changed the complexion of a once feeble ground game even though he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
Bell has earned the trust of offensive coordinator Todd Haley with his ability to pick up blitzes, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger raved about Bell's grasp of the offense even though Bell will play in just his ninth NFL game Thursday night in Baltimore. Roethlisberger used to check with Bell before snaps to make sure he knew his assignments.
And now? Bell apparently tries to look out for his quarterback instead of the other way around.
“He's telling me how much time is on the play clock and things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “I have to tell him, 'I see it. Don't worry, bud.' But that is the awareness that he has and you see the growth and maturation. I think it's great.”
So does Haley.
“He takes his job very seriously even though he is a young guy,” the second-year offensive coordinator said. “I think he wants to be good.”
Indeed, what may be most impressive about Bell is how studious he is.
The second-round draft pick has all of the attributes to be a quality if not star running back in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 244-pounder has size, and he is a patient yet decisive runner. Bell also has the ability to make people miss, and that's what also makes the former Michigan State star an attractive receiving option out of the backfield.
For all of his physical talent, Bell consistently studies film to help accelerate his acclimation to the speed of the NFL game. And he goes into every practice with the goal getting better in at least one area.
“I just want to get more comfortable with the offense,” said Bell, who has 711 rushing and receiving yards combined and four touchdowns. “I want to really become a focal point of the offense, make a lot of plays. There's a lot of guys who motivate me in this offense to try to be the best that I can be and make plays week in and week out.”
Bell said he watches film to help sharpen his reaction time for when he has to dodge a would-be tackler, and you get the sense that with his work ethic and talent Bell is on the cusp of breaking out.
The Steelers would love nothing better than for Bell to record the first 100-yard rushing game of his career Thursday night in Baltimore.
He came close to accomplishing that feat the first time the fierce rivals met, rushing for 93 yards on 19 carries in the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Ravens. Running room has been tougher to come by for Bell since that game, but the Steelers are pleased with the strides he has made on a weekly basis.
“He is by no means there yet, but there's enough for all of us to be excited about him going forward,” Haley said.
Haley shrugged off the importance of Bell getting a 100-yard rushing game just to bolster his confidence. The Steelers have to love the answer Bell gave when asked the same question that was posed to Haley.
“I really don't care about my stats,” Bell said. “If I've got 25 yards rushing but we win, I'm taking that all day rather than 150 yards rushing and losing.”