It’s a Steelers’ record that has stood since 1972 – Franco Harris’ rookie total of 1,235 yards from scrimmage – but it might not see the New Year.
That’s because Le’Veon Bell will enter Sunday’s regular season finale against Cleveland just 73 yards shy of eclipsing Harris’ standard.
No one is comparing this season’s second-round draft pick out of Michigan State to Harris, a Hall-of-Famer and perhaps the most iconic offensive player in franchise history. But Bell’s Steelers teammates have seen enough from him this season to perceive him as special.
“He’s just an incredible talent,” veteran wide receiver
Bell faltered out of the gate initially, slowed by knee and foot injuries that limited him to one preseason appearance and kept him from making his regular season debut until the Steelers’ fourth game of 2013, against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29 in London.
He had to wait until last Sunday in Green Bay to enjoy his first 100-yard rushing game (26 carries, 124 yards), but the 388 receiving yards Bell had contributed prior to the trip to Lambeau Field long since had established him as a dual offensive threat. And it’s worth noting that Bell has exceeded 73 yards from scrimmage, the figure he needs to pass Harris, in 10 of 12 games this season.
“He’s grown in the run game and the pass game both as a receiver and a blocker,” quarterback
Bell has produced 770 rushing yards on 224 carries (3.4 average) and has 393 yards receiving on 44 catches (8.9). His seven rushing touchdowns have been bettered only by Harris’ 10 among Steelers’ rookies.
“He’s going to be really good,” Cotchery said. “He can do a lot of things. He’s a big guy who can beat you with the power game, he’s elusive, and he can run routes like a receiver out of the backfield. You don’t see many guys like that in the NFL.”
Harris started slowly in 1972.
Through four games that season, the No. 1 pick out of Penn State had a combined 79 yards on 26 carries, and he had yet to cross an NFL goal line.
His breakthrough game took place on Oct. 15 against Houston, when Harris carried 19 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. The explosion occurred on Oct. 29 at Buffalo, when he rumbled for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts, which was the beginning of a streak that would produce six consecutive 100-yard games, 739 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Harris averaged 7.7 yards per carry during the streak.
Harris amassed his record yards from scrimmage total almost entirely on the ground, with 1,055 rushing yards and 180 more on 21 receptions, while starting nine of 14 games as a rookie. Harris’ 5.6-yard average per carry for the 1972 season remains the franchise record in that category.
THE “LE’VEON LEAP”
Bell has yet to inspire an “Army” of loyal supporters, as Harris quickly did, but Steelers fans have witnessed a signature Bell move: the hurdling of a would-be tackler, with complete disregard for personal safety.
Bell did it against Boise State, against Notre Dame, against Indiana while at Michigan State. He did it against Detroit at Heinz Field this season. He did it again last Sunday in Green Bay.
“I’m telling you it looks great, but it scares me,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s done it a couple times this year. I know he did it in college a couple of times. I get nervous for him, because all it takes is one guy to stand up on him and who knows what disaster could happen after that. It’s pretty. It looks good on ‘SportsCenter,’ but I get nervous for him.”
Said Coach Mike Tomlin, “It looks like a really natural act to me. There are a lot of things that can keep you up at night from a coach’s perspective, things that are debatable. You can debate whether or not you are comfortable with how Ben extends plays. You can debate whether or not you put starting receivers back to return kicks. You can debate whether or not Le’Veon should be jumping over guys. He looks pretty effective doing it.”