By Matthew Marczi
End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Le’Veon Bell
Position: Running Back
Experience: 1 Year
It seems unusual to me that there is a general sense, even immediately following the selection of Le’Veon Bell, that he will be the future at running back indefinitely to a greater extent than there ever was after the Pittsburgh Steelers used a first-round draft pick on Rashard Mendenhall in 2008.
Of course, that was at least partially influenced by the fact that the Steeler still had Willie Parker as their starting running back before he sputtered out in just Mendenhall’s second season in 2009. But even after he rushed for over 1000 yards in 12 starts are 4.6 yards per carry, nor even after he rushed for 13 touchdowns, and then another four in the postseason in 2010, was there ever truly a sense that he would be a long-term answer.
Of course, he later suffered a torn ACL and then proceeded to alienate people with unusual conspiratorial and/or misogynistic comments before finally capping it all off by failing to show for a game, which essentially bought him a ticket out to Phoenix. There he joined the rest of the Steelers’ retirees, now coached by a man who was forcibly retired by the team a couple years earlier in Bruce Arians.
All of that is neither here nor there at this point, given that Mendenhall is now gone. And for what it’s worth, he gained 687 yards on 217 attempts with eight touchdowns while also fumbling four times in 15 games last season.
Bell, meanwhile, recovered from a series of injuries, which derailed his development and caused him to miss the first three games, as he went on to rush for 860 yards on 244 attempts, adding another 399 yards receiving, also scoring eight rushing touchdowns, while he fumbled once.
He finished the year averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, yet there’s still a sense that he has shown a lot to be happy about leading into the future that I feel was never quite the same as with Mendenhall.
Perhaps much of this has to do with their respective levels of polish when coming into the league, and a sense that Bell was drafted with deliberate intent as a piece that the team intended to build around.
For me, much of that had to do with the collective improvement of the efficiency of the running game late in the season from all parties involved, including the offensive line and tight ends. A stat that I have mentioned a number of times now is that Bell averaged over four yards per carry in four of the last five games, while having done so only twice prior to that.
In the last five games, Bell carried the ball 101 times for 405 yards, which is of course just a touch above four yards per carry, but that’s about half a yard superior to his season average. The average is marred by the 24-carry, 57-yard performance in Week 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals, though in that game he also had five receptions for 50 yards.
In the other four games, he averaged 4.6, 4.1, 4.8, and 4.5 yards. Over the last two games, he carried 46 times for 214 yards. There was a clear and demonstrative upward trend in his performance from the beginning of the year to the end, not only running the ball, but also in picking up protection and running routes.
The Steelers already believe he can be a workhorse, as indicated by their 5-0 record in games in which he carried at least 20 times (also 7-0 in games in which he carried at least 18 times). Much of that can be argued to be projection of future improvement, but it’s hard to deny that his rookie season was a good start.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – QB Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – WR Antonio Brown
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – WR Emmanuel Sanders
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – TE Heath Miller
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – T Marcus Gilbert
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – G David DeCastro
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – G Ramon Foster
Steelers End Of Season Player Exit Meetings – T Kelvin Beachum