PITTSBURGH – Le’Veon Bell knows he’s being compared to other rookie running backs.
He knows this because he’s doing it, too.
Bell admitted to having a little extra jump in his step for Sunday night’s 30-20 victory by the Steelers over Cincinnati, and not just because he grew up near Columbus, Ohio, a couple of hours away from Cincinnati, or because the Bengals are an AFC North opponent.
“I was looking forward to playing these guys,” said Bell, who had 107 total yards – 57 rushing and 50 receiving – and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s victory. “It was my first time playing them. It was a divisional opponent, so I definitely wanted to make a good impression on them the first time. I wanted to show them that this is a player they’ll be dealing with for a couple of years. I did whatever I could.”
Those things helped inspire the 6-1, 244-pound rookie. But so too did the fact that standing on the opposite sidelines was the Bengals’ Giovanni Bernard, the first rookie running back selected in this year’s draft.
Cincinnati took Bernard in the second round with the 37th pick. The Steelers selected Bell 11 picks later, making him the second running back selected.
“That was like a little personal opponent for me,” said Bell of a chance to be on the same field with Bernard. “He’s a competitor. I’m a competitor. He was the first running back taken in the draft. I was looking at him. I followed him a little bit, watched him. He’s a good player. I took that and went in there and competed.”
Bernard and the Bengals won the first round in September, as Bernard scored both Cincinnati touchdowns in a 20-10 victory. He gained 38 yards on eight carries and caught one pass for another 27 yards.
Bell did not play in that game because of a foot injury that forced him to miss the first three games, but has played in 11 consecutive games and clearly outperformed Bernard Sunday night.
Though Bernard scored a touchdown and had 46 total yards – 33 rushing on 13 attempts and 13 receiving – Bell’s 107 total yards and a touchdown pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He joined Franco Harris and Bam Morris as the only rookie running backs for the Steelers to record 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Bernard also has gone more than 1,000 total yards this season, but is averaging 76.4 yards per game with eight touchdowns. Bell has averaged 94 yards per game with six scores.
Up next for Bell and the Steelers is another rookie running back Bell has kept an eye on, Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy.
Like Bernard and Bell, Lacy was a second-round pick by the Packers, and many considered him the top running back in this year’s draft.
Lacy leads all rookies with 1,028 rushing yards, including 141 in the Packers’ 37-36 come-from-behind win over Dallas Sunday. He’s added 236 yards receiving, giving him a slight edge in total yards per game over Bell, 97.2-94.
“Yeah, I watch Lacy, too,” Bell said. “Lacy had a big game. I watch all of the rookie running backs.”
Bell’s yardage totals haven’t been the traditional way Steelers fans are accustomed to seeing their running backs gain yardage, but it’s been effective.
He has gained 646 yards on 198 carries, an average of just 3.3 per carry. But his 43 receptions are the most by a Steelers running back since John L. Williams led the team with 51 catches – a team record for a running back – in 1994.
“I am not going to start carving the bust in Canton, but at the same time, we’ve been excited about him from Day 1 with the things he has shown us,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “He had some setbacks, and he handled those in a positive manner. He has continued to make progress. I think you’ve seen that correlate to us being a little more successful. If you have a guy back there that is a big dog, he gives you a chance to by multi-dimensional.”