There aren’t many players who are as naturally gifted as Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. When you think about it, Bell has completed changed the way the running back position is played. No longer is it “get the ball and hit the hole”, but “wait and pick your spots”. You know you are impacting the game when you hear young players trying to emulate your style of play.
Nonetheless, as dynamic and versatile as Bell is, will he be able to sit out all of training camp, assuming that is his plan, and report to the Steelers just weeks before the Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns and be effective?
Here is what Merril Hoge told Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews about just that:
“Well, listen, I always feel like it still takes a few weeks that there is no body as gifted or talented as you are and walk in and play with missing all of training camp. I’ve always believed there is a seasoning which goes on that’s important. So, in training camp there is a seasoning to get your ready for the season. Just like there is a seasoning in the season to get your ready for the playoffs.
“I’ve seen one of the best players I’ve ever played with was Rod Woodson, he held out the entire camp, played one week, came out and he just wasn’t the same. So, if Rod Woodson can’t do it, I don’t think anyone can do it. But I would say a few couple weeks for him [Le’Veon Bell] to get in and get ready for the season.”
Hoge brings up some good points, but the one thing which we have to lean on is the fact Bell has missed the early portions of the season for the majority of his career. With that said, taking a look at his production in the first two weeks back will certainly help shine a light on whether Bell is capable of being away from the team, and contributing at a high level early.
In 2013, Bell missed the first few weeks with a foot injury, and when he returned against the Minnesota Vikings in London he was held to 57 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. His production didn’t ramp up until his third week when he rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries against the Baltimore Ravens.
However, everyone who has watched Bell in the NFL knows 2014 was the year he exploded onto the scene. He didn’t miss any time that year until his Week 17 injury against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he was forced to miss the first three games of the next two seasons due to suspension.
In 2015, coming off suspension, he rushed for 62 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown against the St. Louis Rams, but followed it up with 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was smooth sailing after that as he rushed for 111 yards and the game-winning touchdown on 21 carries against the San Diego Chargers.
In 2016, again coming off suspension, he exploded for 144 yards on 18 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs in his first game back, but struggled against the New York Jets the following week rushing for only 63 yards on 20 rushes.
While Hoge’s comments certainly have their validity, there is no question Bell could step in Week 1 against the Browns and be dynamic, even after missing all of training camp. His style is something the offensive line is used to, and although they might not start off in mid-season form, they certainly could be very capable of putting up big numbers against the Browns on the road.
This is not to suggest the camaraderie built in training camp, and cohesion with the offensive line, isn’t important, but with Bell being a veteran, and working behind a veteran offensive line, he should be able to pick up where he left off and start seeing success. Will there be rust? Certainly, but only time will tell if Bell is able to start putting together not only a complete season, but a season which spurs a hefty contract after the 2017 campaign has come to it’s conclusion.