Bell One Of Several Rookies Hoping To Make Noise For Steelers
By Marc Jenkins
Following a down 8-8 season in 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers are definitely looking to bounce back this season in a major way. The division appears to be up for grabs with the notable roster decline of the 2012 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the questions surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals ability to step and grab the division’s bull by the horns and the Cleveland Browns appearing to still be a little ways away from being labeled as contenders.
The Steelers look to regain control of a division which was theirs for several seasons over the past decade. One facet that could improve their chances this season in the AFC North is the addition of some fine, first-year players via the NFL Draft. Three of the first-year players that leap out as possible impact rookies are OLB Jarvis Jones, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Justin Brown. All three players could not only fill voids at the positions immediately, but could also become difference makers on the field for Pittsburgh for years to come.
Ideally, Jones will step in and start at the right outside linebacker position for Pittsburgh in Week 1. At 6-3 and 245 pounds with a bit of a mean streak in his game, Jones fits the mold of what a Pittsburgh linebacker should resemble both in physical appearance and style of play. Referred to by some as “Dawg Bones” Jones because of the bone-shattering tackles he dished out during his collegiate career at Georgia, the two-time Consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC honoree should make an almost-effortless transition into the pros thanks to his experience in the 3-4 defensive scheme. In his two seasons with the Bulldogs, Jones recorded 155 tackles, 28 sacks, 44 tackles for a loss, an interception, six passes defended and forced nine fumbles. In 2012, Jones was named the Jack Lambert Trophy winner (awarded to the best linebacker in the nation) due to his stellar performance and the Steelers hope he will have a similar rookie season to that of the two most recent award winners – Luke Kuechly in 2011 and Von Miller in 2010. Both players went on to be named Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year in their respective rookie season (Kuechly in 2012, Miller in 2011).
Bell will be another rookie the Steelers will allow to step in and make an impact with their starting unit immediately. Bell was taken with the 48th overall selection and was the second piece in the team’s plan to bring another division title to the “Steel City”. A big, physical back in the mold of many great Pittsburgh rushers, Bell has a clear path to a heavy workload and an impressive resume when it comes to production and durability. During his final season at Michigan State, Bell was named first-team All-Big Ten after rushing for 1,740 yards and 12 touchdowns on 382 carries while catching 32 passes out of the backfield for 167 yards and another score. Bell has unusual feet and elusiveness for a 6-1, 244-pound back, combining the power to make defenders bounce off of him with the ability to make a jump-cut to make others miss in the open field. The Steelers have had influx of players rotate in their backfield over the past few seasons, but Pittsburgh is at its best is when they have a back such as Bell eating up both carries and yardage while their offense controls the tempo of the game.
With the Steelers transforming into more of a pass-orientated offense over the past few seasons, it is imperative that they keep the cupboard full at the wide receiver position with young talent. Enter Brown – a sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma – who possesses the skill set to play much better than his draft position indicates. While speed isn’t one of his top attributes, his size and hands are. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he can provide a big target for QB Ben Roethlisberger in the short and intermediate passing game as well as goal-line situations. After transferring from Penn State following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Brown hauled in a career-best 73 receptions for 879 yards and five touchdowns in his only year with the Sooners. If he can fit in well with this team during camp and in the preseason, then he has a legitimate shot at being either the team’s third or fourth receiver this season.