By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — While growing up in Ohio, running back Le’Veon Bell and his family’s favorite NFL team was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And once Lisa Bell got to meet Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, she just knew they would select her son in the 2013 NFL Draft. So, when the Steelers took the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Michigan State product with the 48th overall pick in the second round Friday night, the Bells were ecstatic.
“I’m just so excited to get there and get ready to get to work,” Bell said. “This is the happiest day of my life. No words can describe it. I had no idea, but my mom always said that the Steelers were going to draft me. And it’s crazy that it actually happened. It’s crazy. … She always was saying it.
“I have no idea, but she grew up being a Steelers fan. My whole family did, and especially when Mike Tomlin met us. That’s when she started saying that the Steelers were going to draft me. I guess she just had a feeling.”
Bell said that he and Tomlin bonded very well during their dinner meeting, and he believed Tomlin liked him a lot. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley also was impressed by Bell on and off the field.
“With Rashard no longer here and Chris Rainey no longer part of the mix, it was a position where we needed to bring in competition,” Haley said. “So, we brought in two totally different guys with LaRod and Le’Veon … so it puts us back in place where we can run the ball and throw the ball out of the backfield successfully. (And) now, we have a couple guys who can be the guy.
“And on top of that, we should have some real good competition at the position. Running back is a position, probably more so than most, where a guy can come in and make an impact. Obviously, all the work is ahead of (Bell). He’s a young guy (21 years old), but he comes from a pro-style offense. So, a lot of the runs that he had will be similar, so we’re anxious for him to get into the mix and be a factor.
“As the process went on, it became pretty clear that this was the guy that we would be most excited about if he was available when it came to our pick,” Haley added. “Without getting into specifics, he was our top-rated back at the end. There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but that was the case. … He’s mentally very mature and we were all impressed by him. (And) he’s not a guy who you would shy away from giving the ball 30 times a game.”
The Steelers had Bell listed at 244 pounds, but the player said he was at 230 for the NFL Combine and generally played between 230 and 235 pounds. And this was extremely helpful in short-yardage situations.
“I can get in there and get the tough yardage, (but) I’m not just a short-yardage back, though,” Bell said. “I can get outside and beat you with my speed, too, and I can do a lot of other things. I can return punts or return kicks, whatever they need me to do. … I want to come in and do the best that I possibly can and compete with the other backs. I’m going to make them better, and they’re going to make me better. So, that will make the team better.”
Haley compared Bell to Eddie George, since he is a tall, power back, while NFL runner Steven Jackson compared Bell to, well, Steven Jackson. But in the end, it was Bell’s size and athleticism that steered the Steelers toward him when more high-profile backs Eddie Lacy and Montee Ball.
“We think he’s a big back, No. 1,” Haley said. “And we think he’s a three-down back, which is a big thing for us. … He has very good hands and catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He’s a young kid who doesn’t have a lot of (wear) on his tires, so he has a lot ahead of him. And we’re real excited to get him in here and make him part of the mix.”
The Steelers must still make a third-round pick tonight. Rounds 4-7 are Saturday beginning at noon.