Skip Trash Heap And Draft Bell's Backup

Why should the Steelers sort through the trash bin for Le'Veon Bell's backup? Not when this year's draft crop of RB prospects is so rich.

The idiot commissioner certainly has his hands full with real issues this offseason, but he'll no doubt take the time to hand Le'Veon Bell a suspension for his marijuana arrest last September.

It will leave the Steelers, at the least in the opener, with Dri Archer and Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison.

Or Josh Harris, as GM Kevin Colbert no doubt meant to say during a group interview a week before the combine.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans have seen this movie before. It ended their season. Badly. So they're scanning a list of street free agents that's expanding by the day.

In fact, the metropolitan headline last week read "Which Vet RB Should Steelers Want?"

The candidates are impressive -- at least on paper: Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice and Peyton Hills.

Picking one of them up wouldn't cost the Steelers anything more than a minimum wage contract, and the deal wouldn't even factor into next season's compensatory-pick equation.

Still, I'll pass.

To tell the truth, I'm really not much interested in the more expensive free agents, either. Dale Lolley, in his free-agency preview for us, suggested Roy Helu and Daniel Thomas.

I liked Helu coming out of Nebraska but don't see the need to spend money there when the crop of draft prospects is so talented and deep. The Steelers should instead invest their money in their own free agents and maybe some depth for both lines come March 10.

Running back, in fact, is a position at which a rookie should have the least problem starting an opener. And it seems these rookies would have no problem going back to being No. 2 behind Bell, who has become the rage of the next generation of runners.

"I pretty much like Le’Veon Bell’s running style," T.J. Yeldon told the combine media when asked to name his favorite back. "I watch his highlights and I just look at him a lot."

"I grew up being a C.J. Spiller fan," said Todd Gurley. "But I’ve definitely started to like Le’Veon Bell’s game this past couple of years."

“Growing up, a big Adrian Peterson fan," said David Cobb. "Eddie George is kind of why I wore the 27. Terrell Davis, I used to like Terrell Davis and dad was a big Terrell Davis fan. But right now, I love watching Le’Veon Bell.”

The last Steelers player to be so "in" with the combine cool kids was probably Troy Polamalu. Even the old-timers are impressed with Bell.

"I challenged Le'Veon this year at the Super Bowl," Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk told TV viewers, "I said, 'Listen, you have it in you to do a thousand (rushing)/thousand (receiving). I want to see it. And he looked at me and said, 'You know what? That's my goal.'

"I believe he can accomplish the feat," Faulk continued. "He has the endurance to do it, we've seen him in the passing game, and he can tote the air out of the football. So I'm looking forward to seeing him this year. Last year, coming back slimmed down, just imagine what he would've done at the combine, the slim Le'Veon Bell that we saw last season."

Bell, who played last season in the 220-225 range, actually was down at the combine from his Michigan State playing weight of 244. He checked into the 2013 combine at 6-1.3, 230 and ran the 40 in 4.56 with an impressive 10 split of 1.52. He also impressed scouts with a 3-cone time of 6.75.

The college prospect most similar to Bell, both physically and in play style, is Northern Iowa's David Johnson, a 6-0.5, 224-pounder. He ran his 40 in 4.50 with a 1.58 10-yard split. He also impressed with a 6.82 3-cone time, 25 bench reps, and had an eye-popping 41 1/2-inch vertical jump.

Johnson showed at the Senior Bowl that he's similar to Bell in running style, particularly on his 19-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. It came at the end of a practice week in which he was named Top Running Back while impressing scouts with both his running and receiving skills.

In four years at UNI, Johnson rushed for 4,682 yards (5.4 avg.) and 49 touchdowns, caught 141 passes for 1,734 yards and 14 touchdowns, returned 12 kickoffs at a 36.5 average (which included a 98-yard touchdown), and even completed both of his passes, one for a touchdown.

Johnson didn't compile those gaudy stats against just the small D-1 schools of the Missouri Valley Conference. He once rushed for 199 yards against Iowa State, had 107 receiving yards against Wisconsin, and this past season had 203 receiving yards against Iowa.

"That's something I work on a lot," Johnson said of his receiving skills. "Going into college all I was working on was receiving. My college actually recruited me as an athlete to play receiver. I played receiver for the first week of camp. That’s where it came from, training for that."

Another college back who would fit seamlessly into the Steelers' backfield as Bell's replacement is Yeldon, who checked in at 6-1.2, 226. His times were slower, 4.61 (40), 1.70 (10) and 7.19 (3-cone). Still, Yeldon met with Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin in a formal sitdown interview after completing his career at Alabama.

"I have good vision, good cutting ability," said Yeldon. "I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can split out wide and catch the ball. It just depends on how somebody wants to use me in their offense."

If they're using him to replace Bell, that's the precise job description. Yeldon also professed his preference for outside zone plays, which the Steelers want to use more often to suit Bell's style.

To that end, Johnson and Yeldon would fit perfectly into the Steelers' offense as early-season replacements. They're probably third-round prospects and will test the Steelers' patience at that point in the draft because there are so many quality running backs, one of whom should be available in the fourth.

Like Jeremy Langford. Bell's former backup at Michigan State has obviously filled that niche in the past.

"I've watched a lot of running backs in the NFL," Langford said. "I like Le'Veon. He's a good running back, a real good running back."

Langford, who's two-and-a-half months older than Bell, went to MSU as a running back but bounced around at cornerback and wide receiver before backing up Bell in 2012. After Bell left, Langford rolled up 2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns rushing the last two seasons and had 15 consecutive 100-yard rushing games in Big Ten games. He also caught 39 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown the last two seasons.

What does he bring to the proverbial table?

“I think my versatility, being able to catch the ball out of the backfield, is huge in the NFL, to be a three-down back," he said. "I also feel I can run the ball between the tackles and get the short yards.”

What does he need to work on?

“My technique: pass blocking and being able to run through contact better, which always comes with more experience.”

And what might NFL teams not know about him?

“My ability to hit the home run, my speed," Langford said.

Two days later he proved it by posting the fastest official RB times this year in both the 40 (4.42) and 10 (1.56). He jumped 34 1/2 vertically, but at 5-11.5, 208 posted mediocre agility times of 7.22 (3-cone) and 4.32 (short shuttle). He didn't bench because he's recovering from an injury to his AC joint that's not considered to be a long-term problem.

"I was in the same room with (Bell) for a year, but I think I learned more when he left and I watched his previous games," Langford said. "I learned a lot from his previous games: How he ran the ball, his patience."

Has Langford noticed that Bell needs a backup?

"They've got Dri Archer," Langford said. "And I forget the other dude."

No worries. So did the GM.


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