Snapshot: Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell (LeClaire photo/USA TODAY Sports)

The staff at SCI.net begins its Snapshot series on Steelers rookies today with Le'Veon Bell, the team's second-round pick.

If someone told you the Steelers' top Rookie of the Year candidate was "breaking ankles" at rookie minicamp, you would probably wish that first-round pick Jarvis Jones would aim a little higher.

But then second-round pick Le'Veon Bell would just keep doing what he did to safety Andrew Taglianetti in the open field last week when his quick cut sent the startled Taglianetti wobbling to the ground.

Bell came to the Steelers with a reputation as a tough workhorse who "if he didn't have any room always seemed to fall forward for four," according to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. But at last week's minicamp Bell showed shake and wiggle and moves that didn't exactly come with his resume.

The move on Taglianetti surprised everyone who was watching, but so did the high neck tackle that was attempted by cornerback Terry Hawthorne – and for a totally different reason.

Hawthorne tried to grab what he could and accidentally had Bell by his neck with the crook of an elbow, and then his hand, and then his fingertips as Bell slid free and took off on a deep run.

On their way back to their respective huddles, Hawthorne attempted to apologize. He waited for what he expected to be an upset Bell to stop talking to the deep safeties. But by the time Bell had made his way past the sorrowful cornerback, he had no idea what Hawthorne was trying to say and just patted him on the helmet.

Not that something like a torn larynx would slow this kid down anyway.

Has he ever missed a game?

"No," said Bell.

Not even in high school?

"No."

Junior high?

"Nope."

Pop Warner?

"Not even Pop Warner," he said.

Never missed a game?

"Never. Never missed a game."

What's been the key?

"I think a big thing for me is just knowing how to take hits," Bell explained. "If you watch film on me, I never really get hit squarely. A guy never really hits me in the dead center of my body. Either they hit the side of my body, or I spin off of it, maybe get cut a little bit on my legs, but I never take a square hit and I think that's what helps me stay durable.

"The analysts, the experts or whatever, say I run upright, but I've never missed a game, never missed a practice, for being injured."

There were plenty of chances for defenders to get that square hit on Bell last season. The 6-1½, 230-pounder was the lone returning skill player for Michigan State's offense and he carried more times – 382 – than anyone else in FBS competition. And since he was the obvious focal point of every defense, Bell had to break tackles.

He did. Fifty one percent of his 1,793 yards came after contact.

According to STATS Inc., that number also ranked first in the country.

And at the end of the season, after a rugged, come-from-behind 17-16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, after Bell had rushed 32 times for 145 yards, threw a 29-yard pass, and gained 13 yards receiving to account for 82 percent of the Michigan State offense, MSU coach Mark Dantonio said Bell "just got stronger as the year progressed."

"Coach was right. I did get stronger," said Bell. "During the beginning of the season I was banged up a little bit, but once I got healthy I felt great."

Bell played at Michigan State after being ignored by his hometown Ohio State Buckeyes. He was born in the Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Reynoldsburg and raised by a family of Steelers fans. Grandpa, mom and uncle watched the Steelers every weekend, while Le'Veon and his two younger brothers just loved the game and not any particular team.

Bell played football, basketball and ran track ("I never did the hurdles," he said with a grin) at Madison High School in Groveport.

As a sophomore he rushed for 789 yards, but made a bigger mark with a 35-yard halfback option pass for a touchdown in the only playoff win in school history.

Bell rushed for 1,100 yards as a junior and 1,333 yards as a senior and ended up at Michigan State, where he played right away and gained 605 yards on 107 carries (5.7 avg.) as a true freshman.

He naturally improved as a sophomore and led Michigan State with 948 yards on 182 carries (5.2 avg.) and 13 rushing touchdowns. He finished that season with a pair of touchdown runs in a triple-overtime Outback Bowl win over Jarvis Jones and the Georgia Bulldogs.

"He's h-u-u-u-g-e, man," recalled Jones. "We were saying the same thing when we got the scouting report on him a couple of years ago. But when you're built like that and can move like that, you've got a bright future."

Everyone had the scouting report on Bell his junior – and final – season at Michigan State. He and four linemen and the tight end were the only returning starters on offense, which made things fairly predictable. Bell carried 44 times (for 210 yards) in the opener against Boise State, 36 times (for 253 yards) in the middle of the season against Eastern Michigan, and 35 times (for 266 yards) in the regular-season finale against Minnesota that made the Spartans bowl-eligible.

In spite of the congestion, Bell still averaged 4.7 yards per carry as the Steelers saw a tall, tough, durable, pass-catching back who they feel also possesses the speed to get outside. They drafted him in the second round, the 48th pick of the 2013 draft, and fulfilled Lisa Bell's six-year-old prediction.

"My mom was saying in my sophomore year of high school that if you go to the NFL, the Steelers are going to draft you. She always said that," said the 21-year-old who picked up the phone on draft day.

"I answered it, and once I told her she was like, ‘I knew it. I knew it,'" Bell said. "Maybe because of that, I was never so excited to go to practice."

The enthusiasm was obvious as he stepped into a role he might not relinquish for a long time.

"It's a great opportunity for me," Bell said. "They run my type of offense. It's the same thing I kind of ran at Michigan State."

But, there will be a big difference.

"It's not going to be one-dimensional with me running just inside or outside," he said. "Defenses can't know that we are going to just run inside all the time."

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