You've heard the saying, "You're judged by the company you keep." That pretty much is how I feel about running backs. Some are great, some are better/worse than others, but they all have one thing in common: They go only as far as their offensive line allows them to.
I don't want to minimize the loss--for however long it may be- of Le'Veon Bell. Obviously, the Steelers thought highly of him when they made him their selection in the second round. And, by the way, they passed over the RB many thought was the best in the draft, Eddie Lacey of Alabama, who was then taken by Green Bay. And who is, by the way, tearing it up this pre-season for the Packers. But they drafted Bell because they felt his style of running better suited the new zone blocking scheme the Steelers are installing.
They also drated a running back because they weren't particularly satisfied with what they had. They viewed Isaac Dwyer, or is it Jonathon Redman, or some combination thereof, as pretty much the same back. Serviceable, but not a feature guy, not a guy who could play all three downs. Not bad as an understudy, but no way a Broadway star.
Now, either one or both is going to have to take the lead in the running game. And actually, I believe either one can. One big but, though.
And that but is: Can the offensive line make an average back good, and a good back great. That's the question. A good offensive line CAN do that. But WILL the Steelers front 5, and mediocre blocking from the availabe tight ends do the job?
Answer is, they have to. Like most observers, this Steelers team looks an awful lot like an 8-8 or 9-7 team. If that. But the one area that could elevate them to a better record, a playoff appearance and possibly beyond just an appearance is this offensive line. A good running game (anything's got to be better than last year's, right?) not only provides a solid foundation to the offense, but it also lessens the burden on a passing game that is highly suspect. The quarterback is certainly there, but there are huge question marks concerning the talent and depth of the wide receiving corps. And, you're not going to have a weapon at tight end until Heath Miller comes back in late September. So he won't be able to compensate for the issues at wideout, at least not for a while. So the running game is a solid and safe solution to these issues. And no matter who the running back is, that group is most responsible for the ground attack.
The Steelers need them to produce, and not only for their 2013 fortunes, but to validate the investment they have in them. 2 number one draft picks (Pouncey and DeCastro) and 2 number two's (Gilbert and Adams) is a huge commitment to their offensive line--for the next decade. They need a strong return on that investment, or this rebuilding, remodeling, call-it-what-you-want-project will take many more years than expected.
So, the sooner Bell gets back, the better. But until that point, don't necessarily judge the running game on who or whom takes his place. Look at the five large humans in front. They have become THE story of the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.