Le’Veon Bell kept watching the tape over and over, equal parts pleased and puzzled by what he saw.
There were times during his rookie season when the Pittsburgh Steelers running back would place his hand on an offensive lineman’s back and wait patiently for the hole to open.
Sometimes, one would appear. Sometimes it wouldn’t, mainly because whatever sliver of daylight existed had already been swallowed by darkness while Bell was still trying to read the blocks.
Guess which plays kept eating away at him? Not the ones that turned into one of his eight rushing touchdowns during a record-breaking year he grudgingly gives a “C-plus.”
“At the time, I thought I was doing pretty good,” Bell said. “Then when I started breaking it down, I realized I wasn’t doing what I thought I could.”
So Bell spent the spring focusing on his footwork to avoid the mincing steps that he’s certain cost him valuable yardage a year ago.
His Instagram feed is peppered with video of the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Bell doing his best “Dancing With the Stars” impersonation.
He jabs his way through four octagons, does two 360-degree spins around yellow cones then nimbly races over rope placed 6 inches off the ground.
The goal is to avoid outstretched hands from fallen defenders and developing a more aggressive style.
“It’s definitely going to help me with my burst and my explosion coming out of cuts,” Blount said.
It might be the one thing that was missing during an otherwise productive 2013 in which his 1,259 all-purpose yards broke the club rookie record set by Hall of Famer Franco Harris more than 40 years ago.
Bell proved to be a workhorse after missing the first three weeks with a foot injury, averaging more than 22 touches in 13 games. Problem is, too often those touches didn’t go anywhere. His 3.5 yards per carry ranked 38th in the league.
Part of the blame goes to an injury-ravaged offensive line that didn’t really find its footing until late in the season. Yet Bell allows he also missed plenty of opportunities to make something happen because he waited too long to get going.
“If I could have got my feet down quicker, I could have gotten a lot more yards,” he said. “When it’s third-and-1, you’ve got to go get it. If it’s a first-and-10 run, take your time run, let the play develop and get what you can. “
The Steelers will be asking for more from Bell in 2014 in hopes of taking some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Rashard Mendenhall ran for 1,273 yards in 2010 while helping the franchise to its eighth Super Bowl.