As Le'Veon sits, Jaylen Samuels hopes to answer 'bell' for Steelers

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PITTSBURGH — Jaylen Samuels has an edge that’s obvious within the first few minutes of speaking to him. Ask the running back about his fifth-round status in the NFL draft and his answer is blunt.

“I’ve felt disrespected. That’s just a little bit of motivation for me,” said Samuels, who caught 201 passes at North Carolina State along with scoring 47 touchdowns in 383 overall touches. “I’ve always been underestimated all my life.”

Yeah, those seven scholarship offers and three-star high school recruiting rankings still bother Samuels, a fullback out of Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek High School.

Late-round picks are hardly slam dunks to crack the rotation, but at 225 pounds with a 4.54 40 time, Samuels plans to make things interesting at running back for the Steelers.

With Le’Veon Bell poised to sit out workouts and possibly training camp, depending now what happens with his franchise tag this summer, Samuels will have every chance to do just that.

James Conner will get a sizable spotlight during OTAs and minicamp as a former third-round pick who rushed for 144 yards on 32 carries last season before suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in Week 15. Conner should be all healed up and ready to fight for a primary role behind Bell. But veteran Stevan Ridley is eyeing a career reinvention in Pittsburgh, and Fitz Toussaint has been in and out of the Steelers’ backfield the past three seasons.

Competition won’t be lacking in this spot.

What the Steelers hope to see from Samuels, though, is a little bit of N.C. State flare. Running backs coach James Saxon couldn’t keep his eyes off Samuels when watching Wolfpack tape during draft prep. Samuels is a magnet for the end zone, scoring on nearly every eighth offensive touch in college.

“The kid answers the bell in a lot of different ways,” Saxon said. “You can just tell as you watch games and you evaluate tape that certain situations where they need a big play, they stick him back there and hand him the ball.”

One pre-draft concern for Samuels was identity. He served as an H-back of sorts in college — part fullback, part tight end, part ball carrier. What was he, exactly?

But Samuiels feels at home as a receiver out of the backfield. The Steelers offense loves the running back-receiver role. Ben Roethlisberger is at his best when Bell — who has 312 catches in five seasons — is adding an extra 60 yards on easy throws and after-the-catch playmaking.

“That’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” said Samuels about a receiver role.

The Steelers would have sent ripples through the offense by selecting a running back in the first two rounds of last month’s draft. They liked LSU’s Derrius Guice and followed him closely in the process. But the three-day draft took many twists and turns for a franchise that needed defensive help and a wide receiver upgrade thanks to the Martavis Bryant trade. Those needs resulted in safety Terrell Edmunds and James Washington. Then, quarterback Mason Rudolph was still available in the early third, so the Steelers went for a luxury item.

But the good franchises find success with late-round picks. Three years ago, the Steelers selected tight end Jesse James, who’s a key part of the rotation.

Perhaps Samuels is the next impact piece, finding the respect he craves.



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