Le'Veon Bell Is Enjoying Life on the Other Side of the Ravens-Steelers Rivalry

RB Le'Veon Bell

There's no team in the NFL that Le'Veon Bell has gained more yards or scored more touchdowns against than the Baltimore Ravens.

So after J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards suffered season-ending injuries, Baltimore gave their former Pittsburgh Steelers adversary a ring. Turns out, he'd already been eying up switching sides for some time.

Now wearing purple after six years and three Pro Bowls in black and gold, Bell is loving his new home on the other side of one of the NFL's best rivalries – as jarring as it may be for longtime AFC North fans.

"Honestly, when I first left [the Steelers], the Ravens were one of the teams I was kind of looking at," Bell said Tuesday. "So, it wasn't far-fetched."

Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked this week whether it felt a little strange at first to welcome Bell to the Ravens.

"Oh, him and Alejandro [Villanueva] both when they both got here," Harbaugh said. "You would think, but it really hasn't been. When they get here, they're Ravens. They're into it. They're part of the team. These guys are, like I said, pros. I think they're enjoying being here, and we're enjoying having them. They're playing good football."

Bell was a constant thorn in the Ravens' side during his days in Pittsburgh. In 10 career games, he averaged 115 total yards and a touchdown per game.

But after his second All-Pro season in 2017, when he rolled up nearly 2,000 total yards and scored 11 touchdowns, Bell held out the entire 2018 season while in a contract dispute with the Steelers.

He ultimately signed with the New York Jets the following offseason and his career hasn't been the same since. Bell posted a respectable 1,250 total yards and four touchdowns in his first year as a Jet, but averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry.

Last year, the Jets released him in October after not finding a trading partner. Bell landed in Kansas City, hoping to help them win another Super Bowl, but fell short and didn't put up great numbers. In 11 games split between the two teams, he ran for just 328 yards and had 138 receiving yards.

Bell's contract expired and no team rushed to pick him up in free agency. So, Bell waited and stayed at the ready. When Dobbins and Edwards went down, Baltimore made the move to add Bell to their practice squad on Sept. 7, a week before the season-opener.

"I figured there would be an opportunity at some point. I didn't know when, obviously, but I just wanted to make sure that I would stay ready," Bell said. "I had a couple calls and everything like that, but I wasn't really pressed about it up until the Ravens called. … I started foaming at the mouth when they started calling me."

Bell said he always had respect for Head Coach John Harbaugh since their AFC North battles. They would sometimes chat after games, he said.

The idea of playing team with a rushing pedigree like the Ravens was also alluring. And then there was suiting up alongside Lamar Jackson.

"He's a special type of player. So, even being in the backfield with him is just a great opportunity for me," Bell said. "Coach Harbaugh, I feel like he's one of the better coaches in this league. He doesn't get enough credit for a lot of things that he does and that he's done around this league. Obviously, playing with Lamar, I felt like coming here, running downhill, the Ravens were a great opportunity for me."

The Ravens gave Bell time to get acclimated to his new team and his legs back in football shape. They were patient with him despite a slow start too, as Bell posted just 34 rushing yards on his first 17 carries.

But Baltimore's trust in Bell was evident in Sunday's overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings. On the Ravens' fourth quarter drive to take their first lead of the game, Bell carried the ball on three straight plays and churned out 20 yards. Then they gave it to him again on the goal line for a 1-yard plunge.

Facing a critical third-and-2 from Minnesota's 31-yard line in overtime, Bell dragged multiple Vikings for a 12-yard gain that turned what would have been a 48-yard game-winning field goal attempt into a much more comfortable 36-yarder for Justin Tucker.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey reminisced about getting run over by Bell when he was on the sideline during his rookie season. He remembered when Bell was "probably a top-15 players in the entire league."

"I feel like he's getting back in his stride. He had a couple runs, and I'm like, 'OK!'" Humphrey said. "I was like, 'He's starting to kind of look back to full himself.'"

At 29 years old, Bell wants to show he has more left in the tank at this point of his career. A lot changed, and relatively quickly, after he was one of the game's premier offensive players.

But Bell is in a good spot and taking things, and carries, as they come. He said what's stood out to him the most about the Ravens is how family oriented the culture is.

"Literally, the first day I got here, everybody – my teammates, everybody in the cafeteria, the coaches, - kind of welcomed me with open arms," Bell said. "I felt welcome, and that was the biggest thing for me. I came here, [and] I felt comfortable. There wasn't a lot on my plate. I just came in, got my feet wet a little bit and was just ready to go. So, I think just being here is a great opportunity."

On a team with Jackson as the superstar and a trio of veteran running backs, including two other former Pro Bowlers in Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray, Bell is just one of the guys. He's having fun with it. After Bell's touchdown Sunday, Jackson did some shadow boxing with his running back, who boxes to stay in shape, even during the season.

"I'm grateful for everything that's happened to me in my career," Bell said. "I just want to continue to keep my head held high and keep working hard, because that's what I take pride in. … It's exciting for me. I'm just really ready to get things going."

Related Content