Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was asked this past week what he\’s looking for out of second-round draft pick Le\’Veon Bell moving forward as the team wrapped up their final week of offseason practices and his response was pretty straight forward.
“Just the ability to grasp the entire offense, the entire package, from a protection standpoint, ball security, running the right route on pass plays,” said Wilson. “We are looking for all phases from him in order to be able to compete at the highest level. The fundamentals have to be there.”
Wilson also reiterated this past week that none of his running backs are given playing time until they are able to protect the quarterback.
“That\’s anybody. That\’s any running back,” Wilson said per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You have to be able to protect the quarterback, or you won\’t play. That\’s not just in Pittsburgh. That\’s in every NFL city.”
While Bell was an adequate blocker at Michigan State, the jump to the professional level won\’t allow for him to be just adequate and especially when it comes to having to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has taken enough of a beating over the course of his first nine years in the league. Bell, however, thinks his size will help him.
“I am looking forward to it,” Bell said. “I am a big guy, too. There are other running backs that are a lot smaller than me who can protect great. I am going to watch technique, learn technique and use my size to my advantage. I know how important it is.”
While it took him a little while to master it, fellow running back Jonathan Dwyer has made incredible strides in the pass protection portion of his game since his rookie season, and I pointed out several times last season how far he has come. As a second-round draft pick, however, Bell will be expected to master his blocking skills much quicker than Dwyer did.
While he certainly isn\’t the coach, and his opinion won\’t dictate when Bell gets to play, center Maurkice Pouncey said this past week on NFL AM that he thinks all the Steelers running backs are looking good in the pass protection department so far.
“Right now we could put any back in there, and he could really go in there and do the job as far as running the ball and pass blocking,” Pouncey said. “I think all the guys are really doing a great job.”
While Bell certainly appears to have the want factor when it comes to pass protection, Wilson also pointed out what the rookie already said he needs to learn, and that\’s technique.
“There is so much more technique involved,” said Wilson. “You are dealing with skilled pass rushers opposed to guys in college.”
Staying square and possessing a good anchor is a must when it comes to any kind of blocking, as is leverage, which Bell might struggle with the most since he is so tall. On top of that, recognizing where a free blitzer is coming from is also a bigger chore than most realize. A late read can end with a quarterback laying flat on his back at any level, and the speed of the NFL is a lot less forgiving than college.
Up until now, Bell hasn\’t proven anything at the NFL level when it comes to pass protection as contact isn\’t allowed during the offseason practices. In other words, everybody blocks pretty well in shorts when there isn\’t any hitting taking place. Once the team is allowed to put the pads on in training camp, however, head coach Mike Tomlin won\’t waste any time getting to the backs on backers drill, and that\’s when we\’ll really know if the rookie has not only the want to pass block, but the necessary technique in addition.