Unlike the Steelers’ first preseason game, when rookie running back Le’Veon Bell was a surprising late scratch, we got our first glimpse of the second-round pick Monday night against Washington.
It lasted all of four carries.
Bell left with a right foot injury suffered on his fourth consecutive carry on Pittsburgh’s opening possession. He did not return.
His statistics line – four carries for nine yards – wasn’t exactly stellar.
While Bell might have been losing his grasp on a starting job, first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones might have been winning one.
After sitting out the initial defensive series in favor of Jason Worilds, Jones entered the game at the right outside linebacker spot formerly manned by James Harrison.
The Redskins ran right at Jones on their first two plays, and he held up well.
Later, Jones looked good getting off the edge and helping to set up a LaMarr Woodley sack.
Finally, Jones shot through the line of scrimmage midway through the second quarter, looking like Troy Polamalu – not just because of the hair hanging from the back of his helmet – and caused a fumble.
Jones, not Bell, is starting to look like the rookie most likely to be in the starting lineup Sept. 9 against Tennessee.
The good news for the Steelers is that Bell’s injury this time wasn’t the same one that kept him from playing in the preseason opener. But when you consider that Bell already has dealt with a bruised left knee, and now a foot injury, in less than a month, it doesn’t exactly give a lot to be optimistic about.
Bell was expected to be the biggest addition to Pittsburgh’s offense this season. And so far, outside of looking good in practice, that hasn’t proven to be the case.
This is not to say we should put the bust label on Bell, but it is a troubling early trend.
Bell wasn’t a player who dealt with many injuries in college. His 382 carries last year led all major college running backs.
Add in his pass receptions and you have a player who handled the football more than 400 times. The only guys who handled the ball more in college last season were officials, quarterbacks and centers.
And perhaps that’s the issue right now.
Bell wasn’t used heavily in college – until his final season. But history shows that running backs who get that many touches are more susceptible to injury.
Perhaps that won’t be the case with Bell. After all, he’s just 21 years old.
Perhaps he’s just been unlucky so far.
Luck has played a role for Jones as well. The fumble recovery he had in the team’s preseason opener was a right-place, right-time play. The Giants made a mistake and Jones was there to clean things up.
But there was little in the way of lucky plays for Jones Monday night. He was in the right place because he was doing his job correctly.
As much as Jones’ growth is a positive for the Steelers’ defense, Bell’s lack of ability to stay on the field has been a huge negative.
Pittsburgh’s first-team offense has struggled in its two preseason games, failing to produce a touchdown in six possessions and looking disjointed in doing so.
The Steelers need a healthy Bell to make the offense more productive, just as much as it would be beneficial if Jones shows he can be a difference maker on defense.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com