Mike Tomlin Must Pair Le’Veon Bell with Right Mentor

The ebb and flow of Steelers news last week couldn’t have provided a sharper contrast. On Wednesday, news broke that Brett Keisel had resigned with the team. The move won adulation from both fans and press alike that Da’Beard would be back.

Thursday arrived with the shocking revelation that Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had been arrested for marijuana, a move which seemingly threw the team into a tail spin as the Steelers came up small in their big preseason test vs. the Eagles.

  • But perhaps the two events aren’t as juxtaposed as it first appears.

While the Steelers have clarified that Brett Keisel will start, part of the reason for his presence is to mentor younger lineman such as second round pick Stephon Tuitt and 6th round pick Daniel McCullers. In that sense, it seems appropriate that these two events would coincide as it seems that Le’Veon Bell could benefit from a mentor of his own.

Mentorship in the NFL

Mentorship in the NFL takes on many forms. Sometimes it involves old hands showing rookies the ropes, a role that Jerome Bettis took upon himself with rookie Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Other times it involves an established starter instilling the necessary work ethic in a younger player, as Hines Ward did with Plaxico Burress in 2001.

  • Other times it involves a player enforcing attitude adjustments.

Steelers assistant Jerry Olsavsky has recounted how, after making a tackle as a rookie on the 1989 Steelers, he extended an hand up to the opposing ball carrier, only to have Greg Lloyd slap it away, commanding “We don’t do that here!”

  • And sometimes mentors role model off the field behavior.

It is said that early in the Tomlin era, Charlie Batch took Roethlisberger aside and had a heart to heart about Big Ben getting too big for his britches inside the locker room. But it can go beyond that.

Rod Woodson arrived in Pittsburgh as a cocksure first round draft pick. It would be impossible to say he rubbed his teammates the wrong way during his first training camp, because he wasn’t there – he held out all through camp and for the season’s first 8 games.

  • Such behavior couldn’t have endeared him to Chuck Noll or Dan Rooney.

But there were other, more ominous signs. As recounted by Ed Bouchette in his book Dawn of a New Steel Age, Woodson ran with the fast crowd, and frequently socialized with bad boy Delton Hall. One of the steps the Steelers took was to pair Dwayne Woodruff and Rod Woodson as roommates on road trips.

Woodruff of course was the remaining defensive veteran from the Super Steelers and was in the process of finishing his law degree at Duquesne Law. It is impossible to know how much influence Woodruff had on Woodson, but Woodson clearly got the message. He never caused off the field distractions, and blossomed into a Hall of Famer.

Who Should Toll the Bell?

The life of an NFL running back has always been short, and is only getting shorter. Le’Veon Bell came to the Steelers with a certain sense of bravado, as evidence by his first somersault touchdown. A little bravado is a good thing, but it can quickly degenerate into arrogance. And arrogance can derail a career.

  • If Bell’s comments about not knowing he could get a DWU for driving while stoned are any indication, the young man has a lot to learn about life.

Since his arrival, LeGarrette Blount has been nearly inseparable from Bell. That is not to suggest that Blount is responsible for Bell’s transgression. But as Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review points out, Blount had discipline issues which kept him from being drafted.

  • Off the field mentoring offers  no guarantee that the mentoree will not go astray.

During 1995, Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell noticed that Bam Morris was hanging with the wrong crowd. He offered to help Morris, even inviting him to come and live at his home. Morris ignored the request for help and was arrested for marijuana and cocaine possession just months after Super Bowl XXX.

But that doesn’t mean the Mike Tomlin shouldn’t try to surround Bell with a positive influence by pairing him on the road with someone such as say, Heath Miller or Ike Taylor, player knows what it takes to get a Super Bowl ring.

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