PITTSBURGH – Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell left the practice facility for a weekend off Friday without speaking to reporters.
That he was walking at all was a big deal.
Bell took a big hit from cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Courtney Upshaw at the goal line late in Thursday night’s 22-20 loss at Baltimore that caused his helmet to fly off and head to snap back and hit the ground.
After lying motionless on the field for several moments, Bell, who suffered a concussion, began talking to team doctors and eventually was helped from the field.
The news wasn’t as good for center Fernando Velasco.
Velasco suffered an Achillies’ tendon injury in the fourth quarter against the Ravens and was placed on injured reserve Saturday, dealing another blow to an already-depleted offensive line.
While Bell wasn’t talking, he did offer a tweet to fans.
“I just wanna thank everyone for the txts and tweets…I am okay! Thanks for all your concern, I really appreciate it.”
Bell’s injury was a scary one for teammates, who immediately called for doctors.
“I knew right away. You could tell the arms went into a locked position,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “You start instantly praying and thinking about him. I didn’t realize the other guy (Jimmy Smith) was hurt. With two guys down, you just pray for their health and safety.”
Bell originally was ruled to have crossed the goal line on the run, something that would have capped a breakout day for the second-round draft pick.
Bell had a season-high 136 total yards against the Ravens, including a career-high 43-yard run in the third quarter that set up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown.
While Bell’s rushing total this season hasn’t been what many envisioned – he’s got 528 yards on a 3.3 average and five touchdowns – he’s also been a valuable receiver with 319 yards on 33 receptions and has done well helping with blitz protection for Roethlisberger.
Bell has 847 yards of total offense to rank second on the team behind wide receiver Antonio Brown and is averaging 94.1 yards per game. Not bad for a rookie who missed the first three games with a foot injury. Bell is one of just 11 running backs in the NFL who average more than 90 yards of offense per game.
“He’s a guy that is communicating back there next to me,” said Roethlisberger, noting Bell’s steady improvement. “I’m not having to (ask) him every time a play is called, ‘Do you know what you have?’ I’m fully comfortable that he knows what he’s got. Even to the point where he’s getting a little too comfortable at times where he’s telling me how much time is on the play clock and things like that. I have to tell him, ‘I see it. Don’t worry about it, bud.’ But that is just the awareness that he has, and you see the growth and the maturation. I think it’s great. I think it’s good for him.”
The Steelers, who fell to 5-7 with the loss to the Ravens, are off until Monday then head into a December schedule probably needing to win their final four games to have a shot at making the playoffs.
For a team that is 5-4 with Bell in the lineup and 0-3 without, having the rookie available could be critical.
But Bell, who never suffered a concussion in college at Michigan State, will have to pass a battery of tests before he’s allowed back onto the field for the Steelers’ Dec. 8 game at Heinz Field against Miami.
If he isn’t cleared, the Steelers will rely on veterans Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer to carry the load.
Velasco made 11 starts for the Steelers after signing with the Steelers Sept. 9 following the loss of Maurkice Pouncey to a season-ending knee injury in the regular season opener. He had been released by Tennessee following the preseason.
Velasco, who signed a one-year deal with the Steelers, has been a big part of an offensive line that has allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked just once in the past three games.
Velasco’s injury wasn’t the only one to the Steelers’ line Thursday night. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum suffered a knee injury, guard David DeCastro hurt his foot, and tackle Mike Adams suffered a sprained ankle.
In addition to placing Velasco on injured reserve, the Steelers also released cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke and signed offensive tackle Rashad Butler and center Eric Olsen.
Butler (6-4, 310) was a third-round pick of Carolina in 2006. He has played for Carolina, Houston and Cleveland, making four starts.
Olsen (6-3, 305) was a sixth-round pick of New Orleans in 2010 and has appeared in 17 games, making four starts.
Center Cody Wallace and left guard Ramon Foster also are candidates to replace Velasco.