Instead of giving the rookie running back a public pat on the back, as Tomlin did last week, maybe the seventh-year coach should have taped any negative story about the Steelers’ ground game inside of Bell’s locker.
Critics are a first cousin of doubters, and Bell has used the latter to fuel his rise from overlooked high school recruit to his status as the Steelers’ feature back.
Bell has drawn early comparisons with Eddie George because of his build and his running style. The irony of that is Ohio State never offered him a scholarship even though Bell grew up in the shadow of the Buckeyes’ campus.
“They recruited me, brought to all of the games, they just never offered me,” Bell said. “I don’t know why I was overlooked.”
Ohio State is far from the only school that passed on Bell.
Michigan State and Colorado were the only BCS schools to offer him a scholarship, and Bell said part of the reason for that is because he committed right after his senior season at Groveport High School outside of Columbus so he could graduate early.
Still, Bell said, the relative lack of attention he received sometimes caused him to question what he was doing wrong.
It didn’t take him long to prove that many others had been wrong about him. Bell rushed for 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Michigan State’s 2010 season opener against Western Michigan.
He became the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards in his first game as a freshman, and Bell never looked back on the way to a storied career in East Lansing.
But he never forgot how many schools had underestimated him coming out high school. And he can still tell you that so-called recruiting experts rated him as just a two-star prospect not too long ago.
“I always kept this chip on my shoulder because of that,” Bell said. “I’ve still got it from going in the second round of the draft.”
That edge has been a healthy thing for Bell, the second running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
It helped drive him after he sustained knee and foot injuries in the preseason, and it is reflected in a running style that is a blend of patience and power.
There is a fine line between patience and indecision, particularly in the NFL where the games are played at warp speed. Bell has straddled it adroitly three games into his career, and he only figures to get better as the 6-foot-1, 244-pounder gains more experience.
“Being patient is the way I’ve been running ever since I was little,” Bell said.
But, he added, “If it’s third-and-1 you ain’t got time to be patient, you’ve just got to go get it. I switch up my run styles during the game.”
The one thing he doesn't change: the mindset that he still has to prove himself to those who doubted him.