PITTSBURGH – The Steelers planned on going into training camp and preseason with a two-way competition for their starting running back position.
After two preseason games, they still have an open competition. It’s just not between the running backs they envisioned as the Sept. 9 regular season opener against Tennessee approaches.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, the team’s second-round draft pick, suffered a Lisfranc injury in Monday’s 24-13 preseason loss at Washington and will be sidelined six to eight weeks, meaning he will miss at least the first month of the regular season.
The injury, which is to a ligament in the middle of the foot, is the same one suffered by tight end Matt Spaeth earlier in training camp. Spaeth required surgery to repair his Lisfranc ligament and will miss at least half the season.
“I’ll be back quicker than ppl kno it,” Bell tweeted. “Don’t feel bad or sorry for me because it’s a long football season and it’s just a minor setback for a MAJOR comeback...So ima continue to smile and take steps towards greatness! I still have many ppl to prove wrong and I plan on doing that.”
The Steelers, who sent Bell for a second opinion on the initial diagnosis Wednesday, are hoping to avoid surgery with Bell, hence the shorter timetable on his return.
With Bell out, the Steelers will turn to veterans Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to key their running game with free agent signing LaRod Stephens-Howling also in the mix.
Redman and Bell have been listed as co-starters the past two weeks; just don’t ask Redman what co-starter means.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what it means,” Redman said. “I just try to come to work, and I’m really not sure what it meant. We’re still competing. I felt like it just means the competition is heightened. We’ll see.”
Now, that competition will be against Dwyer, the same as it was in 2012, when Redman, Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall each started games at one time or another.
Despite some solid games, Redman and Dwyer also were sidelined by injuries last season, just when it looked like they might be seizing an opportunity to become the full-time starter.
“Missing games is nothing you ever want to do,” Redman said of Bell. “I dealt with some injuries early last year, so I can see where he’s coming from, how he’s feeling. He was named co-starter and was ready to go on a roll, and to have a setback like that, it’s tough to overcome. Being an older guy, I’ve got to make sure he doesn’t drift away. I have to make sure his head is still in it.”
Redman’s head has been in the competition with Bell from the start. He dropped 10 pounds in the offseason to improve his quickness.
But he’s also been banged up, missing Monday’s game after suffering a shoulder injury in practice last week. He has two carries for seven yards in the preseason.
“The first game, I was healthy enough to play, but I was told I wouldn’t play that much because they wanted to give some other guys some looks, newer guys,” said Redman, who started the preseason opener before giving way to Stephens-Howling. “I would like to play in some preseason games. We’ve had live tackling in practice anyway, but (I want) to get some game film out there, to work on my game.”
With Redman’s carries limited and Bell also having sat out the preseason opener two weeks ago with a sore left knee, Dwyer has tried to make the most of his attempts. He gained 68 yards on 14 carries against the Redskins, perhaps muddying the waters a bit as to who the starter will be.
Dwyer opened mini-camp as the starting running back, but was dropped behind Redman and eventually Bell, because the team was unhappy with his weight, which ballooned in the offseason.
But Dwyer came to training camp in shape and is intent on making the starting job a three-man race.
“Ultimately, anybody wants to have just one guy. Anybody is going to say that I hope it’s me at the end of the day,” said Dwyer. “It’s going to be their decision. It’s my job to compete and make them have to make a decision.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers activated tight end David Johnson from the PUP list Wednesday. Johnson, the starting fullback heading into training camp last year, suffered a torn ACL in the first preseason game of 2012. He aggravated the injury in mini-camp and had a second minor surgery last month. ... The Steelers have to trim their roster to 75 players by Tuesday.