Could Steelers have multiple Rookie of the Year winners?
LATROBE, Pa. – Only one team in history generated offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors: The 1967 Detroit Lions, when Hall of Fame cornerback Lem Barney and running back Mel Farr earned the accolades.
Could the Pittsburgh Steelers' dynamic duo of linebacker Jarvis Jones and power back Le'Veon Bell become the first since Barney and Farr to make that rookie double dip?
Jones and Bell were drafted in the first and second round, respectively, three months ago because they ideally fit two Steeler staples where there are glaring voids:
Jones is an explosive edge rusher, and Bell is that every-down, workhorse tailback the Steelers have sought since Jerome "The Bus'' Bettis parked in the garage and called it a career after the team's 2005 Super Bowl title.
Following last year's bitter absence from the playoffs, the Steelers need Jones and Bell to realize high expectations in a hurry in order to defy the many prognosticators counting them out -- before the 2013 season even begins.
"It would be great if Jarvis and myself were to do that; it would be historical for sure,'' Bell told USA TODAY Sports on Saturday at the team's St. Vincent College training complex. "If it happens, that means this team is winning. That means Jarvis is doing his thing on defense, and I'm clicking in the offense, and we're scoring points.
"Obviously, we'd want to do it within a context like that since I'm not really a big individual accolades guy.''
Bell, a second-round pick from Michigan State, led the nation with 382 carries last season and hopes to step right in and help coach Mike Tomlin re-establish the Steelers' missing 2012 identity as a power running team that sets up a Ben Roethlisberger-led passing attack.
Jones, the 17th overall pick from Georgia, led the nation with 14½ sacks, 24 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.
Think of a younger version of James Harrison, who played in the Steelers 3-4, zone-blitzing scheme.
"If myself and Le'Veon each earn rookie of the year honors that would be a blessing, meaning the Steelers are going in the right direction,'' Jones says. "I'm not making a prediction.
"But that would mean the Steelers are doing a great job as a team.
"Defensive rookie of the year is one of the goals I set for myself. But I'm more of a team-oriented player.
"I want to do everything I can to help my team, play my role, and as long as we're winning, I'm fine.''
Bell grew up in a Columbus, Ohio, household of "hardcore Steelers fans.''
So he knows something about this team's running roots and Tomlin's determination to return to a more smash-mouth identity after the run game sputtered to 26th overall, averaging 96.1 yards a game.
The lone rookie running back in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards was Franco Harris.
The Steelers open the season Sept. 8 against the Tennessee Titans.
The 6-2, 244-pound Bell, who has drawn comparisons from Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to former Titans power back Eddie George, will be given every chance to beat out ineffective incumbents Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
"Coach Tomlin expects me to come in, compete with our stable of backs and carry the load,'' Bell says. "I want to be a guy who can do all three phases:
"Pass protection, catching the ball out of the backfield and being a great runner.
"In running style, I run like Eddie George with speed to the edge, being able to catch the ball.
"It's a great honor to be compared to him. But I still haven't proven myself yet.
"I have a lot of things to do.''
His most pressing priority?
Helping balance the offensive equation to prevent Roethlisberger from carrying too much of the load.
Roethlisberger last played 16 regular-season games in 2008 when the Steelers claimed the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy.
"We can't put too much pressure on Ben to expect him to win us games all by himself,'' Bell says. "Todd Haley wants to be a balanced offense, and I couldn't agree more.''
In addition to reducing pressure on their quarterback, Jones was selected to help the Steelers generate more heat on opposing quarterbacks, considering the reigning Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco, plays in the same AFC North division.
"For years now, Steelers linebackers have been one of the dominant groups on this team,'' Jones says. "You want to carry on the tradition.''
The Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year admits he has a long way to go before he can fill the void created when Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler and former Steelers defensive player of the year, was allowed to leave for the Cincinnati Bengals.
"James Harrison is a great player,'' Jones says. "I've got to study him on film to help me grow.''
First, Jones has to earn the starting job from fourth-year right outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said it helps that Jones has familiarity with his fire-zone schemes, though Jarvis concedes the terminology is different and the Steelers scheme requires more drops in pass coverage to conceal who is rushing.
"I'm not trying to get caught up in all the hype,'' Jones says. "I just want to come in and play football.
"I'm not letting the pressure get to me because everybody's saying they want me to start.
"Our coaches know what is best for our team. And when the opportunity comes, I'll be ready for it.''
That was Tomlin's message during a fiery Friday night speech to a team coming off an 8-8 playoff miss.
"He said the expectations are high and we all have one goal -- to win championships,'' cornerback Ike Taylor says. "Coach T was fired up. It was to the point where he couldn't wait to get back to camp.''
Now he has two driven, gifted rookies hoping to help Tomlin and their new teammates get back to the playoffs, not to mention that rarefied rookie double.