PITTSBURGH (AP) – DeAngelo Williams understands the stereotype, even if he doesn’t agree with it.
He’s well aware running backs on the other side of 30 are supposed to be treated like tires whose tread is dwindling by the day.
Feel free to ride on them if you like, just don’t be surprised when you’re standing on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.
Now pardon one of the newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers if he takes your expectations and tries to smash them one carry at a time.
Yes, that was the 32-year-old Williams darting through the New England Patriots secondary for 127 yards in Pittsburgh’s opening night loss last week while filling in for suspended All-Pro Le’Veon Bell, his legs and his moves looking every bit as good as his prime with the Carolina Panthers.
Bell will be eligible to return after Sunday’s home opener against San Francisco (1-0), giving Williams a chance to prove his first 100-yard game in nearly two seasons was more than a one-week wonder.
Pressed on whether he was trying to send a message, the all-time leading rusher in Panthers history shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not sure,” Williams said. “I think what I’ve done the last 10 years in this league, trying to make the best of my opportunities. But the offensive line did a great job letting me display that.”
A line only too happy to create holes for Williams, whose decisive style plays in contrast to the decidedly more thoughtful Bell.
Where Bell has an uncanny patience and nifty footwork to pick and choose where he goes, Williams either darts directly for the hole or lowers his head trying to create one.
“It was attacking,” guard Ramon Foster said. “He wasn’t playing around.”
Five of Williams’ 21 carries went for 10 yards or more, though his momentum bogged down at the New England goal line. Three times Ben Roethlisberger handed Williams the ball inside the Patriots 10 only to have Williams get stood up or driven backward.
At one point he was replaced by fullback Will Johnson, who has two career rushing touchdowns, or 44 fewer than Williams.
Not that Williams is counting. While allowing he “absolutely” would like to “be involved in every aspect of the game” he’s hardly in the mood to lobby for more playing time. It was a nice debut, albeit in a losing effort.
He understands no matter how many times he may reach the end zone against the physical 49ers – who limited Adrian Peterson 31 yards in a victory on Monday night – Bell becomes the starter the moment his suspension ends on Sunday evening.
Yet another solid weekend of work would give offensive coordinator Todd Haley a little more impetus to keep Williams in the mix even with Bell available.
The Steelers planned a similar setup last season with LeGarrette Blount, with toxic results. Blount pouted while Bell flourished, earning his release when he sulked off the field during a victory over Tennessee. That simply increased the workload on Bell, who went down in the season finale against Cincinnati with a knee injury and a week later his replacements did little in a wild-card round loss to Baltimore.
Bell’s injury was a freak accident and it’s impossible to tell if things would have been different if Blount was still around.
Still, Williams has looked less like a low-cost insurance policy and more like a guy with plenty in reserve.
“He’s proven he can be a guy who can give Le’Veon breaks, and Le’Veon won’t be nervous to come out of the game because he’s got a guy who can step up behind him and do great things,” Roethlisberger said.
Bell took to Twitter during the New England game to give Williams a shoutout, and the two have developed a quick bond. Their lockers are feet apart and Bell has championed Williams’ rapid grasp of the playbook.
Of course, Williams had little doubt it would happen. He’s doing what he’s always done, even if he’s doing it for someone other than Carolina in a role where ultimately he’s not The Guy, he’s just borrowing the title for a couple of weeks.
“I’m still the same guy,” Williams said. “There may be more opportunities (with Bell out), but I’m still the game guy.”
NOTES: CB Cortez Allen (knee) and LB Ryan Shazier (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. … CB Brandon Boykin (groin) was limited. … S Will Allen (concussion), S Mike Mitchell (hip) and LB Sean Spence (hamstring) were full participants.
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