Position preview: Running back

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
12:00
PM ET
This is the next in a series that looks at every Pittsburgh Steelers position on offense and defense with training camp approaching. Our second look is at running back.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsLe'Veon Bell says the Steelers are primed to get the rush game back on track after a somewhat disappointing 2014 season.
Returning starter: Le'Veon Bell. The former Michigan State standout established himself as the Steelers' feature back last season despite missing the first three games of his rookie season with a mid-foot sprain. Bell's all-around skills translated into the 2013 second-round pick gaining 1,259 rushing and receiving yards combined. That broke the team record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie previously held by Franco Harris. Even with the upgrades the Steelers have made at the position, Bell is still clearly their No. 1 back.

New faces: LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. Blount signed a two-year, $3.85 million contract in March after emerging as the New England Patriots' best running back in the latter part of last season. The 6-feet, 250-pounder provides more thump to the backfield, while Archer, a third-round pick, adds sheer speed. The 5-8, 173-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in February, posting the fastest time in that test.

On the bubble: Alvester Alexander. The former undrafted free agent spent all of last season on the Steelers' practice squad. That may give the 5-11, 213-pounder an advantage over the handful of players who will compete for a roster spot assuming the Steelers keep four running backs. They could go with just Bell, Blount and Archer and stash a running back on the practice squad.

By the numbers: Only four NFL teams averaged less rushing yards per game than the 86.4 that the Steelers mustered last season. They also ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per carry as the Steelers gained 3.5 yards per tote in 2013. Only two teams averaged less than that per rushing attempt.

Did you know: Only two players have rushed for at least 1,000 yards since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. Willie Parker rushed for 1,316 yards in Tomlin's first season while Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 1,108 yards in 2009 and 1,273 in 2010.

Quotable: “He felt disrespected by that as he should. Like I told him we just have to go out there and prove it and show people what we're ready to do and get the running game back to how it should be.” -- Bell on Blount taking issue with the Steelers' not being included on an NFL.com list of the league's top 10 backfields.

Outlook: It will be interesting to see how the division of labor shakes out with the Steelers trying to feature Bell in the offense while also finding touches for Blount and Archer. Two of the three could play together in different packages given their respective skill sets. And the trio provides offensive coordinator Todd Haley with an opportunity to get creative with his running backs. What is certain is the Steelers are much better equipped to deal with an injury to Bell this season and that they've significantly improved their overall talent at running back.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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