By now, Steelers fans are used to hearing about a rejuvenated running game in the Spring. They're used to being told "this is the year".
The Steelers finished a deplorable 27th in rushing yardage for 2013, marking a serious low point for the artist formerly known as "Steeler football", and completing a dramatic fall down the rushing charts in the past three years.
This time however, there is genuinely a lot to get excited about. With the no-huddle offense gaining momentum, the Steelers have acquired a very strong stable of runners with which to implement it.
Le'veon Bell is the versatile back, a powerful yet elusive runner who can catch and block with equal aplomb. LeGarrette Blount is the smash mouth, old-school power back brought in to share carries with Bell and grind down the defense, and Dri Archer is the flashy speed demon, drafted in the third round to make game-changing plays.
Well, that's what they were billed as.
Le'veon Bell, moving into his second year, is continuing to improve as a receiver and a runner. Per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been impressed so far.
"His growth already is tremendous. I pray he can stay healthy because he’s a big asset for us."
Discussing Bell's route running last season, Roethlisberger said "I was just hoping he got to the right depth or did the right thing...now, you can actually talk to him about reading routes instead of just ‘OK, when you get to 10 yards you have to break out.’ Now we’re giving him read choices, and he’s making great decisions off the defenses. When you get a guy who can understand defenses and who’s covering him, it just makes him that much more dynamic."
LeGarrette Blount has also taken the opportunity to show his multi-dimensional skills. The Steelers have been mixing and matching Bell and Blount, giving Blount bigger responsibilities in terms of pass-catching and blocking. Both runners have even been split outside on occasion.
"I don think you’ll be able to tell anything with the first two guys," Said Roethlisberger of Blount and Bell, "
because we’re asking both to do the same stuff."
"The key for me is to not know which one is in there. To have that much confidence and faith in both of them, that both can get it done whether it’s running, catching or blocking."
In addition, there is always the versatility Dri Archer brings to the table. Working out with both the receivers and running backs, Archer is a wild card who can change games from the slot or lined up beside Roethlisberger in the shotgun.
At least for the moment, according to Roethlisberger, Archer hasn't been running any power but the quarterback did say "you never know".
This versatility ties back to the no-huddle offense, the overarching theme for the offense this off-season.
The Steelers ran plenty out of the no-huddle in 2013, with Le'veon Bell taking the bulk of the carries. Having a stable of versatile runners who can do a lot of different things on the field is huge to a no-huddle offense, which is predicated on keeping the same defense on the field and exploiting the personnel they have.
To be at its most effective, the offense needs players who can do multiple things. Roethlisberger sounds confident that he's got the right running backs for the task.