Labriola On

Labriola on Bell, Lewis, TV ratings

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Once upon a time, there was a player named Kendrell Bell …
  • Everybody familiar with this one? It's the story of a second-round draft pick from Georgia who came to the Steelers via the 2001 NFL Draft with an incredible burst and explosiveness that set him apart even from the other talented linebackers already on the roster. His position was inside linebacker, and he played it as few ever had for the Steelers. Kendrell Bell finished that season with nine sacks, went to the Pro Bowl, and was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Top photos of former Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell.

  • In the months that followed, a plan was formed for Kendrell Bell. When Joey Porter moved to the middle within the Steelers' dime defensive alignment, there was a hole at right outside linebacker, which is a prime pass-rushing spot for this scheme. Since Bell was such an explosive pass rusher as a rookie, why not move him to right outside linebacker in the dime defense?
  • Imagine the sacks he'll record then, is how the story goes. He's fast. Explosive. Arrives with violent intentions. Coming at the quarterback from the blind side? Kendrell Bell is going to be the best ever.
  • Unless, of course, the skills that made him so effective at inside linebacker didn't translate to outside linebacker. He couldn't really dip and bend his body to get around the corner on 300-pound offensive tackles who could just use their hands either to push him to the ground or stop him in his tracks.
  • The move was made anyway, and while Kendrell Bell would play six more NFL seasons for the Steelers and then the Kansas City Chiefs, he totaled 11.5 sacks over those six seasons, just 2.5 more than he had during his rookie season, before people started doing too much thinking. And a special talent was wasted.
  • Let this be a cautionary tale for those advocating the Steelers come up with "a plan" for Ryan Shazier or Sean Spence or Alejandro Villanueva or whomever.
  • Next time, I get a question that begins with, "Has there been any talk about moving …" I'm just going to type: Kendrell Bell.
  • Earlier this week, the Steelers released Lance Moore, a veteran receiver who had been signed last March 21 to fill the role of slot receiver after Jerricho Cotchery left for starter's money from the Carolina Panthers.
  • The announcement of the move brought to mind a story Bill Nunn used to tell as a teaching tool. The story was of a night at a Pittsburgh bar in the late 1950s, a joint where Steelers players would gather in the evenings. Nunn, then an influential member of the press as the sports editor of "The Pittsburgh Courier," was in the joint one night when he saw Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne enjoying an adult beverage. Nunn said he asked Layne, "What makes a good receiver?"
  • Nunn said Layne replied in a matter-of-fact way. "See that guy over there?" replied Layne, pointing to a player named Jimmy Orr who ended up leading the Steelers in receiving in both 1958 and 1959. "He's a good receiver, because I throw him the ball."
  • For an NFL receiver, a relationship with the starting quarterback is everything. Lance Moore never established a relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, and that was evident after he finished the season with 12 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Not having a relationship with the starting quarterback doesn't make you a bad receiver. But it does make you an expendable piece of the puzzle, the type of player who gets cut in March.
  • Nunn later would experience this same thing at work in his early years as a Steelers scout, with maybe his favorite player of all time – Frank Lewis. Chuck Noll also saw a lot of good things in Lewis, which is why he was the Steelers' No. 1 pick in the 1971 draft.
  • Lewis was an extremely gifted receiver who starred at Grambling for legendary Coach Eddie Robinson, and Nunn was glowing in his reports on this 6-foot-1, 196-pound receiver who always seemed to be the fastest guy on the field.
  • After he became a full-time starter in his second NFL season, Lewis finished in the top two in receiving for the Steelers in the three consecutive seasons of 1972-74. But with Ron Shanklin on the decline, the Steelers had drafted Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in 1974 to form what they hoped would be a three-man core at the position for Terry Bradshaw.
  • But Swann was wise beyond his years and got close to the veteran quarterback right from the start of his rookie season. Swann buddied up to Bradshaw, and soon he started seeing the ball more often on Sundays.
  • "He's a good receiver, because I throw him the ball."
  • Following the 1977 season, the Steelers traded Frank Lewis to the Buffalo Bills. In six seasons with the Bills, Lewis caught more than twice as many passes for more than twice as many yards, and with a better average and 50 percent more touchdowns, as he had during seven seasons in Pittsburgh.
  • Joe Ferguson threw Frank Lewis the ball.
  • Ben Roethlisberger didn't throw Lance Moore the ball. Then again, Lance Moore was no Frank Lewis.
  • Next time you're left to marvel at something the NFL does to accommodate the networks, or at the amount of money the networks pay the NFL in return, consider these numbers: In 2014, for the third consecutive year, an NFL game was television's most-watched show in each of the 17 weeks of the regular season; that viewership of NFL football nearly triples the ratings for network prime-time programming; that 45 of the top 50 most-watched shows were NFL games; and that 202.3 million unique viewers tuned into NFL broadcasts, according to The Nielsen Company.
  • That 202.3 million unique viewers represented 80 percent of all homes with a television and 68 percent of potential viewers in the United States.
  • The only non-NFL games among the top 50 most-watched shows were Game 7 of the World Series (No. 21); the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (No. 25), two episodes of NCIS (Nos. 44 and 50) and the Nov. 30 edition of 60 Minutes (No. 49).
  • Saw this on the internet the other day – which means it must be true – that the Steelers would be wise to bring back linebacker LaMarr Woodley and wide receiver Mike Wallace.
  • Seriously? I think I'd rather bring back Kendrell Bell and Frank Lewis. Seriously.
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