PITTSBURGH (AP) – A season-ending injury to Pittsburgh’s star running back Le’Veon Bell has thrust DeAngelo Williams into the spotlight again.
The veteran running back filled in nicely while Bell was suspended early in the season. Now, Williams is the feature back after the Steelers placed Bell on injured reserve Monday with a right knee injury suffered during Sunday’s loss against Cincinnati.
“We’ve been here before,” Williams said. “For about eight or nine years, I’ve been a starter in this league and I started the first two games in the season. I know why (the Steelers) brought me here and I’m going to play my role. If that’s what they need me to do, then I’m going to do it.”
Williams, who signed a two-year contract with the Steelers in March, spent his first nine seasons in Carolina, where he held just about every significant rushing record in Panthers history. The Steelers brought in the veteran to take some of the workload off Bell, the 23-year-old All-Pro who finished second in the league with 1,361 rushing and 2,215 all-purpose yards in his second season.
Now, the 32-year-old Williams is the starter.
“I want to step in and try to do my job the best that I can,” Williams said. “I don’t want to do it like Le’Veon because I think we’re two different runners and we bring different dimensions to the team.”
Bell left during the second quarter of Sunday’s loss against Cincinnati after he took an 8-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his right knee bent underneath him at an awkward angle while he was brought down by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict near the sideline.
Bell initially couldn’t apply pressure to his right leg, but he was helped to his feet and gingerly walked to a cart, which took him from the field. He was the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher entering Sunday and the team MVP in 2014.
“Any time you lose your star running back it’s disheartening, but you have to stick together,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “There’s a lot more football left to play.”
That’s where Williams comes in as he tries to help a 4-4 team that lost its second straight on Sunday and fell 3½ games behind unbeaten Cincinnati in the AFC North. He provided a boost earlier this season, filling in during the first two games while Bell served a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Williams led all AFC rushers and ranked second in the NFL after his two-week stint as the Steelers’ feature back. He also tied a single-game franchise record with three rushing touchdowns during a win against San Francisco.
The Steelers are confident he’ll be able to carry the load the rest of the way.
“He’s more than capable,” Steelers tight end Heath Miller said. “He’s a great player in his own right, and when he steps into the huddle, we know we have a big playmaker in there.”
NOTES: The Steelers signed RB Isaiah Pead to take Bell’s spot on the roster. Pead, a 2012 second-round pick, played in 27 career games with St. Louis before he was released in September. . Steelers’ DE Stephon Tuitt missed the previous two weeks with a knee injury, but anticipates practicing before Sunday’s home game against Oakland.
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