Le'Veon Bell ended up with the Joe Greene Great Performance Award at the conclusion of his rookie season, but it didn't come easily.
The Steelers' No. 2 pick was limited to just a couple of snaps in the preseason, and he then missed the first three games of the regular season due to knee and foot injuries sustained before his NFL career had a chance to generate any momentum.
And Bell didn't threaten to crack the 100-yard barrier rushing in any game or top 4.0 yards per carry until the Steelers hosted Baltimore on Oct. 20.
But by season's end Bell had amassed a Steelers' rookie record 1,259 yards from scrimmage, a total besting the 1,235 Franco Harris had managed in 1972. Bell also became the third Steelers rookie to rush for at least 800 yards (860) in a regular season (Harris and Bam Morris had done so previously), and the second since 1960 to register at least 90 yards from scrimmage in eight games.
"I definitely got better as the season went on, as I got more healthy, more of an understanding of the game," Bell assessed. "I definitely saw my production increase and just the way I played the game and the way I approached it, I approached it as a smarter player and got better with each and every game."
The idea this time around is to pick up where he left off in 2013, and to stay healthy while doing so.
"That would be so big to me," Bell said. "I always pray to the Lord, 'just stay healthy.' I don't want to have to go through what I did last year."
Bell talked about that and other subjects in advance of today's start of Phase 3 of the offseason, which includes the team's 10 OTAs:
Whether he considers himself the Steelers' feature back:
"No, I don't. I still have to go out there and work. We have LeGarrette Blount. We have Dri Archer. I have to go out there and earn it and continue to work hard."
The relationship he's establishing with LeGarrette Blount:
"We got real close over the last couple of weeks. I definitely watched him when he was at Oregon. We played against him last year when he was with the Patriots. I definitely know about his running style and what type of player he is. As a person, he's a lot like me, an outgoing type of guy, jokester. He and I are always debating about the NBA, whatever may come up, boxing. We always go back and forth."
How he and Blount might complement one another:
"He's a big guy. He's going to go in there and bruise some things down. I look at myself not as a bruiser but not as a scat-back, either. I do a little bit of both. I like juking, catching balls out of the backfield, lowering my shoulder. He likes running downhill. It's definitely going to be a good change of pace. The run game should definitely be good this year."
What rookie Dri Archer can add:**
"Speed. He's going to be a very valuable piece to our offense considering the things he can do out of the backfield and at slot receiver and just his speed in general. (As a defense), you have to account for that. He's definitely going to be a featured part of the offense. I was happy with the pick."
New offensive line coach Mike Munchak:
"I've heard a lot about him. I never really knew him before he got here. He's a great guy. The things he's bringing to the offense, there are a lot of things changing in the playbook because of him. We're adjusting to him. It's a good adjustment, and I think there are going to be major changes this year."
The outside-zone blocking scheme:
"The majority of what I ran in college was outside-zone. (Munchak's) going to do a great job of getting the O-line on the same page so they can make creases up front. I just have to do my job and find the holes. This year, hopefully, barring injuries, we stick with it and I get comfortable with it and we get the same chemistry going and we get this running game going."