The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Pro

April 26, 2013

Pittsburgh drafts offense in rounds 2-3

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers insist they don’t draft based on need.

Funny, doesn’t look like it.

The Steelers took major steps toward replacing departed stars Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace on Friday, taking Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the NFL draft, then grabbing Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third.

Pittsburgh hopes the beefy Bell can stop the revolving door in the backfield the team endured last season as Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer all struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley believes Bell’s versatility and durability could give the Steelers the kind of bruising running back the club has lacked since Jerome Bettis retired after the 2005 season.

“He’s a three-down back with very good hands,” Haley said of Bell. “He catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He’s a young kid who doesn’t have a lot of tread (off) the tire.”

Something the Steelers need to boost a running game that has struggled to find consistency the last few seasons. Pittsburgh finished 26th in the league in rushing yards in 2012 as Mendenhall, Dwyer, Redman and rookie Chris Rainey all spent time working themselves into and out of coach Mike Tomlin’s doghouse.

Mendenhall headed to Arizona via free agency last month after five turbulent years. Redman and Dwyer signed their restricted free agent tenders for what amounts to a one-season audition to stick around. Now they’ll be joined by Bell, who needed just three seasons to become one of the best backs at Michigan State.

Bell ran for 3,346 career yards and 33 touchdowns with the Spartans and caught 78 passes for 531 yards and a score. He rolled up 1,793 yards in 2012, the second-highest single-season total in Michigan State history while being named to the All-Big Ten first team.

Though the 6-foot-1 Bell played at 245 pounds in college, he has already dropped 15 pounds to add some quickness. The Steelers also hope it will make him more durable.

“I’m going to come in and compete with the other backs and the other backs are going to compete with me,” Bell said. “They’re going to try and make me better and I’m going to make them better at the same time. That’s all going to make the team better.”

An improved running game would take some of the pressure off Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers best stretch in 2012 came during a four-game winning streak at midseason that included three consecutive 100-yard games, two by Dwyer and one by Redman. They took turns getting hurt or benched over the second half of the season and failed to really seize control of the position after Mendenhall aggravated a knee injury. Bell already caught the attention of new teammate Jarvis Jones. Pittsburgh’s first-round pick faced Bell while playing linebacker for Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. Bell ran for two touchdowns, including one that tied the game at 27 and sent it to overtime.

“He’s a big boy,” Jones said.

The Steelers think Bell can be more than that. So does Bell.

“A lot of people look at me like, ‘He’s just a short yardage back,”’ Bell said. “But I don’t look at myself like that. I can get to the outside and beat you with speed. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass protect ... There’s a lot of things that I can do to bring value to the Steelers and that’s what I plan on doing.”

While Bell could have a shot at starting this fall, Wheaton won’t have quite the same pressure. He set a school record by catching 227 passes in his career at Oregon State and added 631 yards rushing. He worked at all four receiver spots though it appears he would be a more natural fit in the slot in the NFL.

Though he averaged just 13.7 yards per catch, Wheaton can get deep. He ran a disappointing 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard-dash leading up to the draft and said he ran as fast as 4.3 in college.

Either way, that already makes him the fastest wideout on the Steelers, who have sure-handed Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders slated to start. Pittsburgh needed someone who can get behind cornerbacks and Haley is encouraged by Wheaton’s consistent production.

“When you put on the tape, he’s a fast player,” Haley said. “He’s an exciting guy to have around.”

Haley cautioned against making any direct comparisons between Wheaton and Wallace, noting Wheaton may be a more well-rounded player.

“The numbers aren’t huge from a yards-per-catch standpoint but he’s one of the guys we thought, that when the ball is in his hands he really will be more exciting,” Haley said. “That leaves the door open to do a lot of things with this guy, which kind of fits in with AB and Emmanuel.”

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Pro
  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0416 Penguins rally to wear out Jackets

    Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
    Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shelley and McElligot Series serves as reunion for former Chiefs personnel

    Not so long ago, Bob McElligott, like most Western Pennsylvania hockey fans, would savor a long Pittsburgh Penguins playoff run.
    The Somerset native followed the Pens’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1991 and 1992.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malkin nearing return

    The Columbus Blue Jackets are the closest NHL team to the Pittsburgh Penguins, at least geographically. The two franchises are separated by 185 miles of highway.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reds swing way past Pirates

    Mike Leake doubled and hit a two-run homer Tuesday night, ending Gerrit Cole's winning streak and leading the Cincinnati Reds to a 7-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates that completed two days full of homers and delays.
    First, the NL Central rivals completed a game that was suspended in the sixth inning because of rain the previous night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Pirates Game 1 0415 Pirates edge out Reds in suspended game

    After all those home runs and an overnight delay, it was settled by a single.
    Andrew McCutchen doubled and came around on Russell Martin’s single in the seventh inning on Tuesday, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates an 8-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the completion of a game that spanned two days and 10 home runs.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0414 Pressure on Penguins to capture Cup

    The statistics are gaudy.
    And if the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t find a way to extend their season into the final days of spring, ultimately forgettable.
    The same team that led the NHL in man games lost due to injury (more than 500) also earned 109 points, led the Metropolitan Division from mid-October on and received another peerless effort from star Sidney Crosby, who topped the league with 104 points and is a near lock for the second MVP award of his career.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0413 Brewers sweep away Pirates

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Senators dump Penguins in shootout

    April 13, 2014

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads