He looks like a bruiser, and he certainly has the frame to support that theory.
Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris played at around 230 pounds. Steelers all-time rushing leader Jerome Bettis came from the Midwest and played at around 240 pounds.
Harris and Bettis had size, but it was their quickness that made them stand out.
Heavy in the middle, light in the feet. That's a realistic description of all three of them.
It's both unfair and inappropriate to compare Bell to Harris or Bettis - but it's borderline impossible not to. The ties to Super Bowl champions, Pittsburgh and power running are digging into the fabric of the history of the league's predominant model of success.
Perhaps it's cliché to suggest flashes of Harris and Bettis popped out at Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin when they watched Bell, but the pre-draft attention the Michigan State junior was given made his selection in the second round a no brainer. He was the second running back taken, behind North Carolina's Gio Bernard, who went 11 picks ahead of Bell to Cincinnati. Many analysts, including some at Behind The Steel Curtain, saw him as a third round pick, even with the pre-draft attention the Steelers gave him.
He earned that attention likely due to his one-frame-ahead style, causing defenders to miss off subtle jukes and rolls. He doesn't have great top-end speed, and no one will accuse him of being the next Willie Parker in terms of speed.
The next Steelers' 1,700 yard all-purpose running back, though, is certainly a possibility. Parker hit that plateau at the height of his career, a Pro Bowl berth in 2006 when he rushed for 1,494 yards and added 222 receiving. In 2007, Tomlin made good on his promise in his rookie year as a head coach of riding his running back until the wheels fell off. They did early into the Steelers' Week 16 game, when Parker broke his leg, ending his season at 1,316 yards. It was the 344th touch that season, going along with 368 from the previous year. He ended up with 1,337 career touches.
Bell had 749 touches in three years in East Lansing, highlighted by 382 carries in 2012. Parker wasn't the same after his 2007 season ended, but he also wasn't built to absorb contact the way Bell is. Parker had blazing speed few in the history of the game have been able to top, but Bell is a better pure runner. He doesn't run away from contact, but he doesn't absorb big hits because he times the incoming defender impeccably. It's just a subtle move; nothing that will break ankles often, but just enough so he takes a glancing blow instead of a savage shot.
While his power is still an asset - he'll fall forward off those glancing blows - his quick feet and balance will help him be the Steelers' top rusher in 2013. His experience will also be a benefit. The Spartans ran Bell in an outside zone concept much of the 2012 season. While as a team they fell well short of expectations, Bell's star rose due to his ability to continue running for quality yards when they were hard to come by.
Running the football was as inconsistent for the Steelers last year as Pittsburgh weather in March. So it seems two outcomes are likely: 1.) Bell runs behind a much better offensive line, and that, combined with his ability, leads to a level of production that will rival anyone in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Or, 2.) Bell fits right in behind inconsistent blocking and is forced to find his own way.
Judging by Bell's success in college with Option 2, it seems like he's in a win-win situation with the Steelers.
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