By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- As an NFL fan growing up, Pittsburgh Steelers second-year player Le'Veon Bell loved to watch LaDainian Tomlinson.
It's no wonder that Bell's game emulates Tomlinson to a certain degree. At 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, Bell is much bigger than Tomlinson. And Bell likely will lower his shoulder to gain a couple extra yards more often than Tomlinson did during his lengthy NFL career.
But the biggest similarity is most positive for the Steelers, as Bell led the club in rushing with 21 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown. But he also had a team-best six catches for 88 yards to amass 197 total yards. Tomlinson had nearly 14,000 rushing yards during an 11-year NFL career, but he also tallied 624 receptions for nearly another 5,000 yards.
"I've said it before,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said recently. "I think Le'Veon is among the most well-rounded backs in the league. He can run the ball hard. He's a big back, but he also can catch the ball and run with it. That's why he's a big part of our offense.''
Bell came on strong during the second half of last season, but his opening performance was the best of his career.
"Well, maybe in high school,'' Bell laughed. "But, I guess in my NFL career, that probably was my best game so far. ... That was my best as a pro.''
Bell appears to have just scratched the surface as an NFL running back, but his top-level play already is a bonus for the Steelers offense and their running game in particular.
"From my perspective, I think we ran the ball pretty well,'' Steelers fullback Will Johnson said. "I thought the young Le'Veon Bell was well before his time. He showed some patience and great balance and athletic ability with the runs that he showcased. He's a good one.''
Johnson had just a few snaps against the Browns, but he likely will be used more often this week, as the Steelers face the Baltimore Ravens on the road Thursday night. They might need that extra blocker to key the running game against the Ravens. Still, the offensive line did a decent job against the Cleveland Browns in the opener with Johnson used sparingly.
"I think we've done a pretty good job so far,'' Steelers right offensive guard David DeCastro said. "It was just one game, but we had a 100-yard rusher and kept them off Ben pretty well, but we have a lot to work to improve on. It's going to be loud down there, so it's going to be tough.''
DeCastro and Roethlisberger believed hand signals will be used to help facilitate the Steelers no-huddle offense, because the loud Ravens fans might make it difficult for players to hear the calls.
"This is an intense rivalry, probably the best in the NFL,'' Bell said. "I guess you could say it's like Michigan State and Michigan in college, but it's bigger than that because it's the NFL and the next level.''
Bell doesn't remember his initial game in Baltimore this past Thanksgiving night, because he took a vicious goal-line hit while trying to score that caused him to be carried from the field with a concussion.
"I remember it by watching film, because I really don't remember playing in it,'' Bell said. "Obviously, from watching that film, I know that I played and what happened last year. But I don't really remember much about the game.''
Bell did not believe that hit changed his outlook on the game by any means.
"I still go all out, and probably in the same situation I probably would do the same thing,'' Bell said. "I would go right in there and try to get into the end zone for my team. That's what I needed. So, it didn't change the way I run or the way I think about football, because it's a violent sport.
"I'll just continue to play the way that I am. ... On the goal line, even in short-yardage, all the big guys are in the game. So, that means there are chances to get hit harder. All the guys are so much bigger, so there's a lot more collisions. But we still have to try to score.''
Notes: RB Dri Archer (ankle), DE Brett Keisel (coach's day off), TE Heath Miller (coach's day off), WR Lance Moore (groin), SS Troy Polamalu (coach's day off), CB Ike Taylor (coach's day off) and C Cody Wallace (finger, hamstring) did not participate in practice Tuesday. ... WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder), CB Brice McCain (groin), DT Steve McLendon (stinger) and S Shamarko Thomas (Achilles, ankle) were full participants Tuesday for Thursday night's game at Baltimore.