The Bell Finally Tolls for Tomlin and the Steelers

With the playoffs looming, Le’Veon Bell could change the narrative of the past few seasons.

Mike Tomlin’s critics love to point out he’s won one playoff game in the last five seasons.

What they rarely mention: His last three primary ball-carriers in the postseason were Fitz Toussaint, Josh Harris and Isaac Redman.

Redman (17 carries for 121 yards) actually did himself proud in January of 2012 in Denver. It wasn’t his fault the Steelers got Tebowed.

But Harris and Ben Tate, who had been on the team for about five minutes, against the Ravens?

Toussaint and Jordan Todman (on an offense which also lacked Antonio Brown) against the Broncos?

With all due respect to the next-man-up mantra, those games deserve an asterisk. As for the one coming up, Le’Veon Bell is finally poised to deliver an exclamation point.

Bell was hurt in January of 2015 (in addition to Harris and Tate, the Steelers also gave the ball to Will Johnson and Dri Archer against Baltimore).

And Bell was hurt again last postseason, along with backup DeAngelo Williams. That was an issue the Steelers were able to work around in Cincinnati — and again in Denver, right up until Toussaint’s fourth-quarter fumble.

This time around Bell is not only healthy, he’s never been better.

His long-awaited playoff debut with the Steelers on Sunday against Miami drips with anticipation and with possibility, as Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is well aware.

Gase may be a first-year head coach in the NFL, but he knows an All-Pro running back when he sees one.

Especially one the likes of which Gase hasn’t previously seen.

“It’s tough for me to compare him to anybody else,” Gase said of Bell. “Just seeing him become the guy that he’s become, I’ve obviously paid attention to him in college, being a Michigan State grad myself. And seeing him go from what they did at Michigan State, power football, I just remember him being a big guy that was down hill.

“Just seeing him transform his body and become a guy that can do everything in the run game and then becoming the weapon that he is out of the backfield — and when he’s moved from the backfield and the empty [set] and all the different things they can do with him with the route tree he has — it’s been very impressive to just see how he’s grown as a player from the time he was drafted.”

Bell has become the player he has, in part, because he’s about 20 pounds lighter than he was in his college days.

The guy who first suggested Bell drop the weight was Tomlin, who is now finally in position to reap the rewards of the Bell metamorphosis.

“If he’s not the best [running back] in the league, he’s one of the top three,” Gase said.

A better alternative, clearly, than Toussaint, Harris, Redman, Tate, Todman and anyone else the Steelers have given the ball to in the postseason since Super Bowl XLV.

Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble in the fourth quarter was a factor in that game slipping away, so sometimes it takes even more than having the right back in the right place at the right time.

Tomlin will nonetheless be happy to take his chances with those exact circumstances.

He’s waited to see what that looks like when it really matters long enough.

 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section