By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell heard it all from his detractors last season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers should have taken Eddie Lacy with their second-round choice, as the former Alabama star running back was still available. Lacy went to the Green Bay Packers 13 picks later and, after the Steelers started 0-4 with Bell on the bench with an injury, that talk intensified.
"I heard it a lot last year, but I hurt my foot and there were a lot of things going on,'' Bell said. "But I'm just glad I got picked where I did and who picked me. And I'm just glad Coach Tomlin, when we played the Packers last year, he stood up for me and said that if we had to do the draft all over again, I would still take No. 26.
"So, for him to have that confidence in me, that's all that really matters to me. I'm glad they feel that they made the right pick, and I'm glad that I'm here. I'm glad I'm part of this team and this organization, and I want to help this team win games.''
The Steelers' commitment to Bell has paid huge dividends this season, as he leads the AFC in yards rushing and has tied an NFL record set in 1977 by Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Walter Payton with three straight games with more than 200 yards from scrimmage.
"Some of the potential things that we saw from him, even watching him in college, we were all excited that he was sitting there for us to get him with our second pick,'' Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "We were all excited about him coming on board.
"It didn't come to fruition immediately because of the early injuries, but before the injuries we were all really excited in training camp. It just was a slow start last year, but the evidence that we had once he got going was that he continued to get better each and every week. That carried over into the off-season when he came back in that kind of condition. He dropped the weight."
"He had done some of the things that he thought would give him the best chance to be at his best, and that was even more exciting,'' Haley added. "He's a young player that has done some tremendous things for us, but at the same time it looks like he can keep getting better in a lot of different areas. He is hungry in that way. I think we have ourselves a good one.''
Bell ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns and added 50 yards receiving with another score in the Steelers 42-21 AFC North Division win against the first-place Bengals. It was Bell's fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season, which earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors.
"It's the first one in my career, so it's definitely an honor,'' Bell said. "Obviously, I couldn't have done it without my teammates, especially the offensive line, the entire offense and the coaching staff.''
Bell leads the AFC with 1,231 yards rushing (5.1-yard average) and five touchdowns, and is second on the Steelers with 71 catches for 693 yards and three more scores. If Bell also surpasses 1,000 yards receiving, he'll be just the third NFL back to accomplish the double-century feat, joining Roger Craig and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk.
"It would be a great accomplishment, as an individual, but all I care about is winning,'' Bell said. "If that comes along with a rushing title, or whatever else, that's all good for me. But the main thing is to make sure we win these last three games and get into the playoffs.''
Bell arguably is the Steelers' most complete back since Franco Harris. Barry Foster, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker were strong runners, while John L. Williams was a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield. Rashard Mendenhall could do a little of both, but none was as complete a back as Bell.
"The things he can do in all three phases of the game, to run, catch the ball and block are some of the most special things I've ever seen a running back do,'' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "(And) he's grown fast. We feel that we can do anything with him.''