Ravens head coach John Harbaugh had nothing but praise for veteran running back Le’Veon Bell, who was released on Nov. 16 after five games with the team, saying Bell was simply caught in a roster crunch, and Harbaugh didn’t rule out Bell rejoining the team at some point.
Running back Latavius Murray, who had missed the past three games with an ankle injury but had been the Ravens’ No. 1 back before the injury, is expected to return to action this week when the Ravens (6-3) visit the Chicago Bears.
With Murray, Devonta Freeman and Ty’Son Williams also on the roster, Harbaugh called Bell’s release “a numbers thing.”
“Le’Veon was doing a great job,” Harbaugh said as he met with the media before practice Nov. 17. “We had a great conversation up here. He and I have been talking a lot. I really appreciate him and just everything about him — professionalism, attitude, work ethic. Being around him is a joy every single day.”
“There’s nothing clear cut about any decision at all,” Harbaugh added. “He can still play.”
Bell, the two-time All-Pro and former Ravens nemesis with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-2010s, was signed to the Ravens’ practice squad in September as part of the running back overhaul after J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill all suffered season-ending injuries.
Bell, 29, was promoted to the 53-man roster last month and appeared in five games for the Ravens, with 31 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
After his release, he posted a message on Twitter:
With Bell gone, the Ravens’ running back group, which has found little traction all season, will rely on Freeman, Murray, assuming he returns this week, and perhaps Williams, though Williams has seemingly been phased out of the offensive game plan.
Williams started the season opener at Las Vegas and totaled 65 yards on nine carries, but later saw his offensive role drop off sharply. Williams played no offensive snaps at Miami last week, and he didn’t have a touch on 18 offensive snaps a week earlier against Minnesota.
Asked what Williams could do to be part of the game plan going forward, Harbaugh said, “If you’re a running back, you need to run hard, you need to break tackles, you need to get yards, you need to pass protect, you need to run the right route of the backfield, catch the ball and get upfield.
“If you’re in the rotation, special teams sure would help you,” he added. “Get out there and run down kicks, get on the punt team, get on the punt return team, because that’s how you got on there when you’re the third back.”
Williams has 33 carries for 180 yards, and his average of 5.5 yards per carry is tops among Ravens running backs, but he has totaled six carries in the past four games. Freeman averages 5.2 yards a carry (43-223) and Murray averages 3.6 (59-212).
The Ravens average a league-best 154.1 rushing yards a game, but nearly half of that comes from quarterback Lamar Jackson, who leads the Ravens with 639 yards on 106 carries.
The Ravens also have undrafted rookie Nate McCrary on the practice squad, and he could become an option in the future, now that Bell is no longer in the picture.
Harbaugh said the Ravens haven’t ruled out having Bell return, saying “things can turn still, one way or the other.”
“We’d be open to that,” he said. “We would like that, but he may have other opportunities to play other places, too. So we’ll just have to see.”
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