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Steeler LB named top defensive rookie
By Barry Wilner ~ The Associated Press
Kendrell Bell was passed over in the first round of the NFL draft, only to have the Pittsburgh Steelers trade up 12 spots and chose him in the second round.
That made Bell feel wanted, and the comfort paid off handsomely Monday when he was chosen The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. The inside linebacker from Georgia got 41 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.
"I was very anxious to get in and play when I got here," said Bell, selected 39th overall in the draft, but second among linebackers behind Carolina's Dan Morgan. "I didn't want to have a bum season or anything, I wanted to come out and establish myself.
"I was really glad I got picked up by Pittsburgh, because the defense allows you to be a football player, to run around and make tackles. When I saw Jason (Gildon) and Joey (Porter) running around, I said this is for me."
It certainly was. The Steelers' defense ranked first in the league, and the linebacking corps of Gildon, Porter, Earl Holmes and Bell was a major reason why. Pittsburgh didn't miss a beat when defensive leader Levon Kirkland left as a free agent, largely thanks to Bell's instant impact.
"There was no pressure at all, playing with this team, they gave me so much support," he said.
"There's a lot of stuff you've got to know to play in the middle," said Porter, an outside linebacker. "You have to make a lot of the calls and everything. He's had mistakes in practice but come game time, he doesn't really make too many mistakes. It's kind of backward. He goes out there and messes up in practice, but in the game he doesn't mess up."
Bell had nine sacks this season among his 82 tackles. His work next to Holmes and inside Gildon and Porter helped make the Steelers the NFL's stingiest defense against the run, yielding only 74.7 yards per game.
"It's just the defense," Bell said. "With Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, Kimo (von Oelhoffen) and Aaron Smith, somebody is guaranteed to get a double team and alleys will open up, and I ran right through them."
In the voting, Bell easily outdistanced Cleveland cornerback Anthony Henry, who tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions. Henry had six votes
Three others received one vote each: Bills cornerback Nate Clements, Lions tackle Shaun Rogers and Rams linebacker Tommy Polley.
Bell joined Hall of Famer Jack Lambert (1974) as the only Steelers to win the award.
Chicago's Brian Urlacher won last year's award.