After a false start last week before the Steelers’ preseason opener against the New York Giants, rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is ready to make his debut today against the Washington Redskins.
Bell aggravated the same sore left knee Thursday that kept him out of Pittsburgh’s 18-13 loss to the Giants Aug. 10.
He returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and Saturday and wants to play against the Redskins.
“It’s not as bad as everybody thinks it is,” said Bell, the Steelers’ second-round draft pick and the second running back taken in this year’s draft.
“I’m going to try my best (to play). I can’t make any promises, but we’re going to see.”
Bell (6-1, 244) was one of the stars of the Steelers’ training camp at Saint Vincent College, which ended Saturday. He was moved up to being a co-starter at running back with veteran Isaac Redman last week despite not playing against the Giants.
“It is good motivation,” said Bell, who could become the first Steelers rookie running back to start a regular season opener since Tim Worley in 1989.
“I am going to keep striving to be the best that I can be. I came here ready for competition, and I am going to continue to compete. I am going to do the best that I can.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin wants to see what Bell can add to a running game that averaged only 96.1 yards per game last season, ranking 26th in the league. But he’s also seen enough of Bell to know that he doesn’t want to rush the rookie back for a meaningless preseason game, either.
The Steelers did enough live tackling at training camp to let Tomlin know that Bell is the real deal.
“I felt that was something this group needed,” said Tomlin. “I just thought it was appropriate for this group, and they have done a nice job with accepting the challenge and really gone about their business of displaying their skills in that area on a day-to-day basis.”
Not only are the Steelers looking at a rookie running back as a potential starter, they’re also looking at a young offensive line. Guard Ramon Foster, at 26, is the eldest member of the group.
Getting that unit more time together has been a priority.
“I don’t think that they are that young, truthfully,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “Maurkice Pouncey has been in the league for a while, Ramon Foster has been in the league for a while and Marcus Gilbert has been here for a couple years now. David DeCastro and Mike Adams are the two younger guys, but they are both second-year guys. I’m excited for that group. They are really gelling and meshing together, and I can’t wait to see how it goes with them.”
The starting offensive line, with the exception of Pouncey, played well into the second quarter against the Giants.
Tomlin plans on playing all of his starters – perhaps even Bell – at least that long against the Redskins, with some other notable additions.
Rookie Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ top draft pick, is likely to see some time at outside linebacker in place of Jason Worilds. Third-round pick Markus Wheaton will get plenty of time in multiple-receiver formations, and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas will play in the nickel package before replacing Troy Polamalu at strong safety.
“We’re going to mix and match,” said Tomlin. “We’re going to pit people against one another. Sometimes it’s just to see how people perform once fatigue sets in.
“We do things for different reasons. We are just trying to gather information about the people that we’re trying to evaluate.”
Odds and end zones
After going nine days between their first and second preseason games, the Steelers will have only five days before hosting Kansas City Saturday. … NFL rosters must be trimmed to 75 players by Aug. 27. … The Steelers are looking for their first offensive touchdown of the preseason. Their lone touchdown last week came on a fumble recovery by linebacker Adrian Robinson.