PITTSBURGH — DeAngelo Williams wants to get something straight. Yes, the longtime running back came to Pittsburgh in the offseason to give the Steelers a much-needed influx of depth behind All-Pro Le'Veon Bell.
Just don't peg Williams as merely a backup. While he understands his job is to fill in when Bell needs a break, Williams is confident there is plenty of life left in his 32-year-old legs. There better be with Bell facing a three-game suspension to start the 2015 following his arrest on DUI and marijuana charges last summer.
"I came from Carolina where I started for most of my career," Williams said. "So that's not a heavy workload at all."
Williams is still anticipating an adjustment period as he tries to adapt to a new offense after spending nearly a decade with the Panthers, where he is the leading rusher in franchise history after racking up 6,486 yards and 46 touchdowns.
"All I have to do is get the playbook down, which I am," Williams said. "(I have to) understand the terminology is different than Carolina's, which I am. Won't be any questions or any problems of me answering those questions. Y'all just sit back and have a seat and relax and just enjoy the show."
One that will likely include Williams lining up behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when the Steelers open the 2015 season at Super Bowl champion New England on Sept. 10. While Bell has appealed his suspension, even if it is reduced it seems likely he will still miss time. That leaves Williams as the top remaining option and in the unlikely spot of feature back after intermittently splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart for most of the last six years.
Bell averaged 23 touches a game in 2014 while developing a reputation as one of the most versatile backs in the league and helping propel the Steelers to the AFC North title. Compare that to Williams, who has just three games with at least 23 touches since the start of the 2009 season. Still, Williams bristled at the idea he is limited even though he has just five games in his career with at least five receptions, a number Bell topped a dozen times in 2014 alone.
"I work on my hands, I make sure that they're right," Williams said. "I'm aware (Bell) caught (83) balls. I'm aware Dri (Archer) caught a lot of balls. I'm aware that if the ball is thrown in my direction I'm expected to catch it because (people are) going to be on my back."
It's kind of what Williams signed up for when it came time to leave Carolina. He freely admits he signed with the Steelers because "you go where the job is" but added Pittsburgh fit his two biggest prerequisites. The Steelers aren't rebuilding and their offensive core is already in place.
"You kind of weigh those options and who has the best offense, best defense, who is trending up, who is trending down and you make a decision based on that," Williams said. "The Steelers was the right fit."
Bell reached out to Williams even before Williams signed a two-year free agent deal in March. The two share the same marketing agent and Bell understands his need for a mentor.
"Obviously he knows some things, he's an old veteran," Bell said. "I think this is year 10 and he's got a couple of pointers, things I can learn from him. It's been helpful."
Pittsburgh hopes to have better luck with Williams than it did with LeGarrette Blount, whom the Steelers brought in last spring to serve in a reserve roll only to see Blount basically quit during a Monday night game in November as his playing time diminished. Blount was released, forcing Pittsburgh to rely heavily on Bell over the final weeks. Bell ended up hyperextending his knee in the regular season finale against Cincinnati and was forced to sit out a Wild Card loss to Baltimore.
The injury was somewhat freakish, but if Williams can be productive enough to give Bell a series or two off then all the better.
"I am just really happy that we have a guy that can be a weapon for us, hopefully all year, and he can give Le'Veon Bell some spells when he needs a quick breather," Roethlisberger said.
And Williams stresses his ego won't get in the way whenever Bell's suspension ends.
"I'm Le'Veon's backup," Williams said. "There's going to be a lot of emphasis on me. I get it. But guess what? I'm ready to handle that role."
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