STEELERS – WEDNESDAY
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Le’Veon Bell in the second round during the 2013 NFL Draft, they envisioned him carrying the load and significantly improving their 26th-ranked running game this season.
After two preseason games and basically three weeks in training camp, Bell has accomplished neither due to a left knee injury that kept him out of the opening game and a right mid-foot injury that limited him to four carries for nine yards in the second matchup Monday night at Washington.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that Bell already has been ruled out of the third preseason game with Kansas City Saturday night at Heinz Field, but he refused to comment on the running back’s future status.
I’ll address the injuries in greater detail (Thursday) at the (pre-Kansas City) press conference,” Tomlin said after Wednesday afternoon’s late practice.
There are several reports out there about Bell, including one that says he suffered a Lizfranc (mid-foot) injury that could cause him to be out 6-8 weeks. Tomlin didn’t bite on that one, either.
“I’ll address the injuries (Thursday) at the press conference,” Tomlin said. “I think that’s appropriate. I haven’t met with the doctors. I meet with the doctors after practice today, and I haven’t left the field yet.”
Tomlin confirmed that Bell, who spent the afternoon in the training room and rehabbing his right foot, did not get a second opinion on the injury.
The Steelers backfield was severely limited against the Redskins due to injury, as starter Isaac Redman (stinger) and backup LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee) were held out of the game. Bell, who was elevated to co-starter status with Redman prior to the game, started. He was backed up by Jonathan Dwyer, who led the club with 68 yards rushing on 14 carries and one fumble.
Dwyer got the bulk of the repetitions early because fullback Will Johnson (ribs) and reserve running back Baron Batch (stinger) left the game earlier than expected. Newcomer Alvester Alexander had five carries for 11 yards in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. Redman is still listed as a co-starter with Bell, and he said he’s ready to secure that role this season.
“Absolutely, I’m up for it,” Redman said. “I’m just going to come to work, do what I do every day (and) do what I’ve done in past years, get ready and prepare myself. I came (to camp) to compete for the No. 1 spot. I come in and take my job seriously. It’s the reason why I’m here. I’m a professional. I come in and prepare each day and each week like I’m the starter.
“The coaches always told me that they’re confident in my abilities, but they really haven’t said too much to me this year. They knew we all came to training camp. Everybody was competing, (and) there were a lot of jobs open. Starting jobs. Third-down jobs. So, I’m here to compete. Le’Veon’s down, and we’re a little banged up. So, I’m ready to step up and lead this room.”
Dwyer apparently fell into disfavor with the coaching staff after coming to spring drills carrying 265 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame, but he’s at 230 now and looks a lot better. After his performance Monday night, despite the fumble, Dwyer is back in the mix in the battle for roster spots at running back.
“I feel a difference,” Dwyer said. “I feel like I have a lot more energy, a lot more explosive in my runs, and my agility has gotten better. So, I’m making people miss in the secondary, and that’s basically it. I think I did OK, but I know I can do better. I know I can play better, and I know I can be a better player.
“I knew I was going to have an opportunity, and I just tried to make the most of it. I think we have guys who can do different things other than just play running back. We have guys who can play special teams well, (and) you can make the team by playing special teams. So, you never know.
“I always wanted (to be a starter), but at the same time I always knew there was going to be a competition,” Dwyer added. “I knew they were opening it up, but I also knew it didn’t matter whether you started No. 1, No. 3 or No. 5. It only mattered where you were at the end (and) when the race is over.”
Both Dwyer and Redman conceded that not only would they like to be the Steelers’ No. 1 running back, but they also believed the team would like one player to secure the starting job and hold onto it this season.
“Ultimately, they all want to have one guy, and we all will say that we want to be that guy,” Dwyer said. “It’s going to up to their decision, but my job is to compete and make them have to make a decision. I think I’m doing OK, but I know I can be better. I’m just trying to be consistently consistent and show something different each and every week and each and every game.”
Redman believed that it wasn’t enough to just talk about being No. 1.
“Hopefully, I can be the guy to do that, but there’s a lot more to it than just talking about it,” Redman said. “You’ve got to go out there and perform, and being healthy is the first thing I have to do. I have to get healthy to be able to get out there on the field to perform.”
Redman’s status for the game has not yet been updated, but he practiced and should be ready to go by Saturday night.