Not many teams have two Pro Bowl running backs on their resume.
The Steelers are one of those teams, and Mike Tomlin is confident that newly signed backup DeAngelo Williams can get the job done if starter Le'Veon Bell misses the first two games of the season while serving his suspension.
"We will wait to hear what happens from a league level in regards to that [Bell's likely suspension]," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at the annual owners meetings in Arizona in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But, obviously, we will be prepared to move on without him for whatever time is necessary. The acquisition of Williams helps us in that regard."
The Steelers are familiar with Williams. Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner recruited Williams out of high school when he was an assistant coach at the University of Memphis. At Memphis, Williams enjoyed one of the best careers by a running back in NCAA history, rushing for over 6,000 career yards that included back-to-back seasons of rushing for at least 1,900 yards his junior and senior seasons. He scored 55 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry before being drafted by the Panthers in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
"This guy is an NCAA 6,000-yard rusher," Tomlin said. "That’s a small fraternity. I think that anybody that studies players in our business, that would end up on your radar. I’d say he’s been on my radar for over a decade."
A question mark surrounding Williams is his durability at this stage in his career. At 32-years-old, Williams is coming off a season in which he appeared in only six games due to various injuries. But like Marcus Allen, who joined the Chiefs at age 33 after spending his first 11 seasons with the Raiders, Williams spent the majority of his time in Carolina sharing a backfield. Teamed with fellow running back Jonathan Stewart since the 2008 season, Williams totaled over 200 carries just three times in nine seasons Carolina. If he fully recovers from last season's nagging injuries, Williams should have fresh legs and plenty of tread left on his tires.
Anther trait Tomlin likes in regards to Williams is the veteran's willingness to mentor Bell while accepting his role as his backup. Tomlin thinks that selflessness will be a positive for not only Bell, but for the entire team.
"I think his experience lends itself to our team makeup because we have a guy of the caliber of Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo has expressed his excitement about coming alongside Le’Veon and working with him and even helping him grow and develop as a player and a man," Tomlin said. "DeAngelo has some experience in that area, and I think there’s an intrinsic value in that."