The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to have a good Tuesday in spite of having taken the day off before donning the shoulder pads for their third training camp practice today. They learned that they will have the services of their All-Pro running back, Le’Veon Bell, a game early, following a successful appeal of his three-game suspension.
In addition to reducing his suspension down to two games, Bell also had the forfeiture of an additional game check overturned, meaning that he will now receive 14 game checks, rather than 12.
Of course, the Steelers open up the season against the New England Patriots, whose quarterback, Tom Brady, just had his four-game suspension upheld on the same day. Depending on how things unfold, however, he may still end up playing in the season opener if the matter goes to court and the judge orders an injunction.
Both Bell and his literal partner in crime, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, will miss that game, but Bell will also miss the second week of the season, during which the Steelers will face the San Francisco 49ers at home. Both the Patriots and 49ers have suffered significant defensive departures in their front seven since last season.
Now that the matter is finally settled, and we have clarity on just what the Steelers and Bell will be dealing with, the team’s only meaningful offseason distraction is in the rearview mirror. Bell will be gone for the first two weeks of the season. But that is still a long way away.
Some have suggested that the Steelers will only use Bell sparingly this preseason, but that is unlikely to be the case. The coaching staff has already said that they will continue to approach his usage as their number one back, which means he will be getting some carries up the middle today as the Steelers transition into padded practice work.
Bell has acknowledge that his knee might not feel completely 100 percent, noting some tightness while stretching, but he claims to be in the best shape of his life, under 220 pounds with a body fat of 2.9 percent.
His backup, DeAngelo Williams, may well be in close to the best shape of his career as well after Mike Tomlin asked him to drop back down to his college playing weight of under 220 pounds.
Still, Williams is 32 and is coming off a year in which he suffered a number of injuries, and the Steelers have little more than uncertainty behind him at the moment until proven otherwise. They will need him for the first two games to play a pivotal role, so it’s as important to monitor his work as it is Bell’s.
More importantly, Bell will not have the opportunity to work with the team for two weeks once the season starts. If you limit his work now, there could be that much greater chance of him getting off to a slow start, and may also increase the risk of injury.
He may get a bit more leeway when it comes to his knee, but there’s no doubt that the 23-year-old at his peak of fitness will receive most of the first-team work, which he should be hungry for, knowing that he’ll have that taken away from him for two weeks.