By Alan Robinson
Don’t judge Le’Veon Bell’s rookie season before it’s begun.
Bell’s inability to stay healthy has been one of the Steelers’ unwanted stories of August 2013. They were all but ready to hand him the starting job – and the ball 18-20 times a game – until he bruised a knee, aggravated it, and then sprained his mid foot. A mid foot sprain is a stretching or tearing, an injury that is both painful and, often, lingering, and he will be out for multiple weeks to begin the season.
But the injury doesn’t mean that Bell can’t make something out of a season that, he were healthy, might have seen him become the Steelers’ most productive rookie running back since Franco Harris in 1972. (Harris remains the only rookie running back in Steelers history to rush for 1,000 yards in his rookie season.) They were certainly going to give him the opportunity to accomplish that.
Even if Bell misses six weeks, and the Steelers are hopeful he won’t, he will have about a half season to establish himself, learn the league, figure out what it takes to find running room, how to mesh with his linemen, adjust to the speed and the contact of the NFL, to find his way. All that will prove invaluable.
And does anyone remember Troy Polamalu’s rookie season? You don’t because he rarely got on the field and didn’t do much when he did. Le’Veon Bell will get on the field and, by December, if he flashes during games the way he did during camp, many fans likely will have forgotten the injuries of August, games missed in September.
Browns running back Trent Richardson offers one example, and a nearby one at that.
Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, he missed the entire preseason after undergoing surgery to remove cartilage fragments from his knee. Many in the always-skeptical Browns fan base began writing him off as a wasted pick – or, at least, writing off his rookie season.
Richardson didn’t show much in the season opener, rushing 19 times for only 39 yards against the Eagles. Again, there was talk that missing all of camp would set him back all season.
But a week later, he ran for 109 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown and he caught a touchdown pass against the Bengals, and he went on to run for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns and catch 51 passes. All this in a season during which he had the knee operation and broke multiple ribs, an injury that persisted over the final two-plus months of the season.
Le’Veon Bell’s rookie season hasn’t yet started. That might be something to remember when dismissing it as already being over.