Steelers feel they have a dynamic RB duo

June 15, 2014

PITTSBURGH – The NFL Network was filling time recently by having its hosts talk about the best running back tandems in the league for the 2014 season.

The list didn’t include the Steelers’ tandem of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarette Blount, much to the chagrin of Blount, who signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent this offseason.

“I don’t think they should (overlook us),” said Blount. “Especially when they’re just throwing names out there. They’re just throwing people out there in the mix, just because they got another player. Like LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles (in Philadelphia). McCoy just won the rushing title. He’s not going to split that many carries. I don’t know how they determined the best tandems.

“If you base it on the numbers, of course you’re going to have Fred Jackson and (C.J.) Spiller up there. But they just added people because of the names.”

For the record, the names the NFL Network had on the list included Philadelphia’s McCoy and Sproles at No. 1, Buffalo’s Jackson and Spiller at No. 2, Detroit’s Reggie Bush and Joique Bell at No. 3, Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory of the Jets at No. 4 and the San Diego trio of Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown at No. 5.

Blount might have a point.

Of those tandems, just two others finished in the top 22 in the NFL in rushing last season as the Steelers’ new duo did in 2013, though Blount’s 772 rushing yards for the New England Patriots, while Bell’s 860 came in his rookie season with Pittsburgh.

The Steelers made no promises to Blount about how many carries he would get when they signed him as a free agent this offseason to be Bell’s backup. But they did tell him why they coveted him to pair with the 6-1, 230-pound Bell.

“They want to get back to the old-school running style, the Jerome Bettis days,” said the 6-0, 250-pound Blount. “They had the big guy running downhill. I bought into that.”

And unlike what some of the teams listed with top five tandems will do with their running backs, the Steelers might look to split in the duties more evenly between Bell and Blount, to the point of using them in the backfield at the same time.

They’ve dabbled with it in their offseason workouts.

“Yeah, I’m at the tail most of the time when we’re both in,” said Bell, who set a Steelers rookie record with 1,259 total yards from scrimmage in 2013 despite missing three games. “But I’ll be more of an H-back, splitting wide and catching passes.”

The Steelers already expect Blount, who has a 4.7-yard per attempt career average on 579 carries, to be their short-yardage specialist. He might also wind up being their goal-line back, though Bell did a good job of getting into the end zone in 2013, scoring eight rushing touchdowns.

Regardless of how things shake out, the Steelers expect to have a more potent rushing attack in 2014 than they had in 2013 with Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones backed up Bell. The Steelers finished 27th in the league in 2013 in rushing at 86.4 yards per game.

“I just know that when we do run the ball, we’re going to be effective,” said Blount. “And young Dri Archer, when he’s in there, he’s going to be effective too.”

If that happens, when the NFL Network ranks the league’s best running back tandems, maybe Bell and Blount will make the cut.

“We’ve both been productive recently,” said Blount. “Like last year. But I don’t care. At the end of the season, they’ll all see.”

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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