With No Sign of Bell, Steelers Players Stay Supportive

Pittsburgh RB again absent as bye week begins

Josh Rowntree
October 15, 2018 - 3:10 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert (77) and David DeCastro (66) and Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Ramon Foster (73) participate in drills during minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

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A black towel, with a gold embroidered No. 26, sat on the ground in front of Le’Veon Bell’s locker at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the first day of the Steelers’ bye week. A container of food sat on Bell’s seat.

It all, however, appears to have just been a prank, as there was no sign of the Steelers All-Pro running back as the team reviewed film from Sunday’s dramatic 28-21 win over Cincinnati. 

Bell reportedly told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that he would report during the Steelers bye week, ending his 2018 season absence. 

“I don’t think anybody’s gotten word,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We’ll keep it moving. I don’t think anybody’s going to be here over the bye, so you might have to tell the Steelers to turn on their security cams.”

The initial reaction to Bell’s absence, back in week one, was harsh from Bell’s offensive line, particularly Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro. But it seems that, at least on the surface, the mood has shifted.

“I think it was just all kind of shocking that he wasn’t here and [we were] a little confused,” DeCastro said. “Now we’re in the season, we’re going and I just don’t worry about extra stuff. I’m trying to block (Cincinnati defensive lineman) Geno Atkins. You think I’m worried about who is running the ball?”

“I haven’t heard from him,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “If he does show up, I’ll be excited to see him.”

Per numerous reports, the Steelers have had no contact with Bell this season, despite him saying that he would arrive this week. If he does arrive soon, there will be questions on how long it may take him to be ready to play.

“I don’t really want to talk about Le’Veon until he shows up, just to see what kind of shape he’s in and how he can help better this team,” Gilbert said.

“It’s a business and we’ve all got a job to do,” DeCastro added. “It’ll be good, we’ll be fine. Just looking forward to getting back to work.”

There is a wrinkle forming in the potential of Bell’s return though. James Conner has taken the reigns in the backfield and put together consecutive 100-yard rushing games. So how the two will be used will, at least initially, be a massive wait-and-see.

“We’ll figure it out, however it all shakes out,” Gilbert said. “We know (Bell is) a player that can’t be replaced. He’s a special player. But any guy that we put in there is a different kind of player. 

“Him and James are different type of style running backs. I think they’ll both compliment each other really well.”

Bell has been the ultimate feature back. A year ago, he accounted for 78.5% of Pittsburgh’s rushing attempts (not including the Week 17 game in which he did not play). Conner, so far, has accounted for 78.6% of the Steelers’ rushing attempts. So the possibility of a double-headed-monster backfield seems enticing. 

“It’s huge, man,” DeCastro said of using both players regularly. “I like that style. I think it’s a hard position to have just one. I think Le’Veon has done a tremendous job being a workhorse. It’s hard to do, it’s impressive what he’s done. 

“But, to have two guys in there that will always be fresh and will be able to pound on the defense — like what you see with the New Orleans Saints — those kind of styles, I think it’s a good system to have. So we’ll see how it goes.”

A supreme pass-catcher for his position, there is the chance that Bell could line up at receiver with Conner in the backfield. 

“Le’Veon is a huge mismatch against linebackers in the slot, in the passing game,” DeCastro added. “Whatever it takes to win, I don’t care how we do it.”

And that is the overwhelming theme in the Steelers locker room. They want Bell to be there. They have wanted Bell to be there. But if and when he does arrive, it all comes back to the results on the field. And if Bell can help a team that is still digging out of the hole caused by a rocky start, all may be forgiven.

“Whoever is part of this locker room, we’ll ride or die with,” Heyward said. “It’s as simple as that. We’re not looking to do anything else or make anything about it. We’re just focused on winning.”