Based on eyewitness reports, it doesn’t look all that encouraging. That Le’Veon Bell will be able to play on Saturday night for the Pittsburgh Steelers, that is. Dale Lolley, for example, wrote earlier yesterday that he seemed he could barely walk.
Of course, he’s 22-years old, and naturally in excellent physical shape, but that doesn’t mean that he can bounce back from a hyperextended knee well enough to contribute positively on a football field in less than a week.
So what exactly does that mean? How will the Steelers conduct their offensive game plan against the Baltimore Ravens in the absence of their star second-year running back, who set the franchise record in yards from scrimmage in 2014?
Certainly, things will change. After all, in addition to his 290 touches on the ground, he also added an astounding additional 83 touches this season via receptions. Antonio Brown may have recorded the second-most receptions in a season in NFL history with 129, but he still comes nowhere close to Bell’s impact on a down-to-down basis. Just about nobody in the league does.
And the three players vying to fill the void he’s likely to leave—I am working under the assumption that he will not play—have only a handful of touches to their name, including third-year fullback Will Johnson.
It seems likely that undrafted rookie Josh Harris will be the primary running back asked to step into Bell’s shoes. Harris, of course, was signed to the practice squad following the preseason and was added to the 53-man roster after the Steelers were strong-armed into releasing LeGarrette Blount.
Harris, who was not even spared the indignity of having a picture of the wrong person on his player profile on NFL.com, has been active for five games this season, and has accumulated nine snaps, three of which came in garbage time, one of which came after a long Bell run for a breather, and five of which came on Sunday night after Bell was injured.
He gained 16 yards on those nine carries for an average of 1.8 yards per. Of course, he also had a big 59-yard run wiped away by a holding call that may or may not have even affected the outcome of the play.
How will Harris look with a full week of practice taking reps with the first team, game planning to actually be a featured runner—in a playoff scenario? One hopes that should be all the motivation he needs, and if you follow him on social media, you’ll know that Brown’s work habits have been rubbing off on him.
The Steelers’ offensive identity will certainly be tested if they are to go it alone, without their featured runner. The truth is that they really don’t know much about what they have in Harris, but they know that he knows the system. And hopefully they know that he is more reliable in pass protection than Dri Archer.
The team will also bring in Ben Tate for a visit Tuesday.