When Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy spoke to the press last week — the day after we learned the Chiefs were signing three-time All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell — Bieniemy pointedly refused to discuss Bell’s signing.
“I know there has been some discussion about a particular player,” he said in his opening statement on Friday. “I’m going to defer those questions to coach Reid and Brett Veach, because right now our focus as a team — we’re focused on the Buffalo Bills.”
What a difference a week makes. When he again spoke to the press on Thursday, Bieniemy had plenty to say about his new running back.
“Obviously, he gives Clyde Edwards-Helaire a complement,” said Bieniemy, “because now you’ve got a little bit of thunder and lightning going on with those two. But the thing is that he’s going to help Edwards-Helaire to become a better football player — due to all the knowledge that he has and the wisdom that he can pass down to him.”
Bieniemy found several ways to emphasize that he sees Bell not as a player who can replace the team’s first-round rookie running back, but rather as someone who can simply make the team better.
“He gives us an additional piece to the puzzle,” explained the offensive coordinator. “I mean, he’s a big back. His productivity over the years speaks for itself, because we’ve lined up and played him when he had those days in Pittsburgh. We know what he can do. We know what he brings to the table. He’s a great receiver out of the backfield. He can block. He can pick up blitzes in protection. And on top of that, as a ball carrier, at one point in time, he was one of the elite backs in the league.”
Bieniemy said that the Chiefs have wasted no time in getting Bell up to speed in their offense — sometimes in unexpected ways.
“He’s had an opportunity to fit into some Zoom meetings with [running backs coach] Deland McCullough — who is doing a helluva job — and on top of that, he had an opportunity to do some Zoom meetings with ‘Coach’ Anthony Sherman as well, as [Sherman] was on the COVID list.”
Bieniemy said that Bell also didn’t waste any time getting in touch with his new teammates.
“Le’Veon reached out to Clyde and had a conversation with him — and told him, basically, ‘I don’t want to step on your toes. I want to know if you’re OK with me coming in here.’ He’s a classy individual. It says a lot about the person who does not want to come up and disrupt the chemistry that we have.”
As it turned out, Edwards-Helaire had already received a call from McCullough.
“As soon as the thought that we would do anything with Le’Veon came up, I contacted Clyde,” said the running backs coach. “And Clyde was excited. He’s definitely very comfortable in his skin. He knows how we feel about him.”
McCullough said that he also had a conversation with Bell before he got into town.
“I was very impressed — just with what some of his goals are and different things like that,” he recalled. “And they melded into what we want to get done here. There was no level of self-interest or anything [in what] I heard. He said, ‘Look, I’m coming in to get in where I fit in. I can help — and I know you guys will use me the right way. Whatever that is, I’m going to do.’”
You would think that Bell — who has been a highly-visible player ever since he first joined the NFL — is pretty much an open book; most NFL fans seem to have a well-formed opinion about him. But McCullough said that in a situation like this, you make it a point to have conversations with people behind the scenes who have been interacting with the player — and even then, you still have to make your own judgment.
McCullough noted that in just a few days, Bell has displayed a great attitude — and an ability to learn.
“He’s a veteran who’s got it done at a high level in this league,” he said. “[He’s] clearly still has some juice in the tank. [He’s] very smart. He’s been real influential with just having conversations with Clyde — as well as the room — on some of his experience.”
But McCullough was quick to remind his listeners that Bell can still contribute on the field.
“[He’s] a guy who’s going to able to go out and do some things for us: route-running, hands, juice through the hole, leg drive, vision... so just some of the things I’ve seen in a couple of days have been real impressive to me.”
“The kid is a football junkie; he lives and dies for football,” noted Bieniemy. “And then on top of that, we have strong-enough leadership within that locker room to make sure that he’s doing it the way we want it done. I expect Le’Veon to be professional within this building. I expect him to represent the Kansas City organization. And also, at times when he feels comfortable to do it, I expect him to provide leadership — some knowledge and wisdom — on what it takes to play at an elite level in this league for a consistent amount of time. I hope he passes that down across the entire room.”
But for the moment, the first order of business is getting Bell ready to play in the Chiefs offense.
“Le’Veon is a sharp kid,” said Bieniemy. “He picks up football well. The thing that we don’t want to do is overwhelm him and put him in a situation that could be detrimental to himself — and to us. So we just want to play it out and see exactly what he can adapt to and fit in with — but obviously he’s going to have an opportunity to do some things. We want him to go out there and be himself — and just play.”
Reminded that he had to do something similar after the Chiefs signed veteran LeSean McCoy at the beginning of last season, McCullough said that experience is now giving him an advantage.
“Having LeSean last year gave me some insight in how to get the guys prepped faster in different things,” he explained. “Right now, Le’Veon [has] the benefit of that as far as how to plan for getting him ready quick. I think that’s been showing in practice. The guy looks like he’s been here the whole year. He’s operating at a high level mentally. As far as the physical part, he’s definitely showing himself. We get a full-speed practice today, so it’ll be exciting to see what he does there. Then we roll into Sunday — and see what happens.”