LATROBE – The Steelers are so impressed with rookie running back Le’Veon Bell that, earlier this week, head coach Mike Tomlin moved Bell up the depth chart into a co-starter role with veteran Isaac Redman.
This despite the fact Bell, the Steelers’ second-round draft pick, did not play in the preseason-opening loss to the New York Giants because of a bruised left knee.
After missing the first preseason game, it appears that Bell won’t see any time in the second one Monday at Washington, either. Bell injured his left knee again Thursday in what was supposed to be a noncontact drill when he collided with a teammate while running a sweep.
Sources say he suffered a slight MCL sprain, but the injury is not considered serious.
Bell appeared to slow up just prior to the collision, which caused his left knee to buckle slightly. He laid on the ground for several minutes before walking to the sideline under his own power. Team trainers then spent more time working on him before putting ice on the back of his knee.
On a positive note, Bell walked off the field following practice, though he did so with a slight limp.
“Those kind of things, they happen. They’ve happened in training camps all over the league this year,” said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. “You want to be careful, but at the same time, you want to see what guys can do. Guys were running to the ball. I think it was just kind of a freak thing.”
The ironic thing is that the Steelers spent much of their first two weeks of training camp using live hitting in the team portion of drills and got through them without any major issues – only to see Bell go down as he slowed up in a noncontact drill.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t know if it would have happened if he had planted,” said Keisel.
Bell said earlier in training camp he wasn’t worried about carrying a big load in the NFL after logging 382 carries last season at Michigan State.
“I never missed a practice or a game,” Bell said. “I was a little sore after games, but after the season, I felt normal. There’s nothing I couldn’t do.”
It didn’t help matters for the Steelers that Redman also had to be helped off the field earlier Thursday after suffering a stinger.
“I ran into the back of one of the offensive linemen,” said Redman, who sat out the remainder of practice. “It’s just a stinger, everything’s good.”
If Bell is unable to play against Washington, which seems likely, it would exasperate an issue the coaching staff has had with the talented young runner.
The Steelers feel the 6-1, 244-pound rookie can be an every-down running back, but haven’t been able to keep him in practice consistently.
“We were excited about him when he was there. He was the guy we wanted, and he’s done nothing to disappoint,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said last week. “He’s missed a couple of days and we need a guy who can stay healthy day in and day out. That’s part of the job description. Other than that, he’s shown enough signs to have everyone encouraged about what he’s capable of doing.”
Odds and end zones
First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones appeared to suffer a slight groin injury midway through practice. But after stretching with team trainers, he returned to the field after missing only a handful of plays. … Nose tackle Steve McLendon returned to practice. … The Steelers will hold two more practices at Saint Vincent College before breaking training camp. Today’s practice is at 3 p.m. and is open to the public.