Friday, December 05, 2014

No need to worry, get Steelers' Bell the ball

Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

Le'Veon Bell stepped into a tub filled with ice water after the Steelers practiced Thursday afternoon. He slid into that ice water and submerged everything but his head for 20 minutes. He shivered in misery for 1,200 seconds.

That is something no normal person would every consider doing. Bell does it six days every week.

He can carry the Steelers' offensive load Sunday at Cincinnati, and each of the next three weeks, and for perhaps who knows how long into January.

Of course, I'm not a running back taking hits from NFL defenders. Bell is, so I'll trust him when it comes to knowing how many touches are too many for a second-year, 22-year-old running back.

Somewhere between 35 and 40? Bell laughed at that suggestion.

“Whatever it takes to win,” he said.

Obviously, as coach Mike Tomlin has said.

But, let's just say the Steelers will need Bell to average at least 25 carries and 10 receptions to really have a chance to sweep their final four games and win the AFC North. Is that an unrealistic expectation for Bell's workload?

“No,” he said.

Well, I guess the only thing left for me to worry about the next few Sundays is how “The Newsroom” will finally get Jim and Maggie together.

I'm not worried about Bell's workload. In fact, I'm suggesting it increases, which doesn't seem possible. He has participated in 97 percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps the past two weeks.

Let's get that percentage up to 100.

It's not like the Steelers possess a better blocking back, or a better pass-catching back, or a better third-down back, or a better offensive player.

It's not like Bell can't add more ice baths. That is what he did after witnessing former Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery make a habit of ice bathing after practices and games last season.

“I wondered why he was doing it all the time,” Bell said. “But he'd been playing in the league 10 years, and I could see it was really helping him. I want to be one of those guys whose longevity is good. I want to make sure I'm always fresh, always comfortable.”

Bell started taking ice baths during training camp. He also changed his stretching routine, intensifying the actual stretches (with band work) and increasing the time.

“You've got to make sure your legs stay fresh,” Bell said.

Tomlin should let those legs carry the Steelers.

Bell should be run until the wheels fall off, until the alternator goes bad and until the engine stops turning. There is no point owning a Challenger — the car analogy I'll use for Bell — and not beating it up along Thunder Road.

The Steelers are in the race for the AFC North. They're trying to win it. Why wouldn't they try riding Bell in the closing stretch?

He is built for the abuse he will absorb along the way.

Bell stands 6-foot-1, weighs 225 pounds, and appears to be carved out of stone. He can bruise and burst through holes, making him look at times like Jerome Bettis, then sometimes like Franco Harris.

However, Bell is already more dangerous than either of the Steelers' two greatest running backs.

I suspect Steelers Nation isn't fully aware of what Bell is accomplishing because the actual Steelers are saddled with a sad defense, a boom-or-bust passing attack and maddening overall inconsistency.

Bell could realistically rush for 1,400 yards, joining only Bettis, Willie Parker and Barry Foster as Steelers to reach or surpass that total. Bell also might shatter the franchise mark for yards from scrimmage: Foster's 2,034 in 1992.

With 1,046 (rushing) and 643 (receiving), Bell is on pace for 2,252 total yards. He also has a chance to become only the third NFL back to top 1,000 yards in rushing and receiving in the same season.

Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk make up that club, and nobody ever fretted about them touching the ball too much in December.

Bell is more than the NFL's best current back. He is its best offensive player who isn't a quarterback. He was a second-round steal by a franchise that has not won many of its recent drafts, and he is absolutely the Steelers' best bet to end a playoff drought at two seasons.

There is evidence — Foster was never dominant after carrying 390 times in 1992 — that weighing too heavily on a back in one season is a mistake, but Bell is not close to the dreaded Curse of 370 carries that ruins runners for the next season.

A bigger mistake for the Steelers would be to think about Bell's future. They should think about the present and how to make it look like their glorious past.

Ring the Bell. Then do it again and again and again.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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