With the Pittsburgh Steelers anticipating beginning their 2015 regular season schedule minus starting running back Le’Veon Bell for the first three games, barring a successful appeal, Todd Haley and the offense have intimated that they have no plans to alter what would otherwise be their offseason procedures in terms of getting ready for the year.
Much as it was when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger began the 2010 season serving a four-game suspension, the Steelers carried out their training camp and preseason schedule as though he would be the one under center taking the first snap on opening day, and that is how they will handle Bell, beginning a little over a week out from today.
This is surely the prudent move, as Bell will be forced to be away from the team for those first three weeks, minus any practice reps in an organized setting, so this is the only time for him to get that work in.
More than that, however, the running back who will be filling in for him in the starting lineup, DeAngelo Williams, is a 32-year-old veteran who is coming off an injury-plagued year. Not only does he not need the reps, due to his experience, it also won’t do his body any good.
But when Bell gets back from his suspension is a different story.
When Roethlisberger returned from his suspension, the Steelers were moderate and patient in getting him readjusted to taking on a full workload. The offense began to transition to a more pass-heavy team the year before, and his 32 passes per game posted in 2010 remains his lowest mark in a season since that time.
In fact, in his first four games back that season, Roethlisberger averaged just 27.25 passes. While he was good for six touchdown passes—three in his first game back—he also threw three interceptions and fumbled three times as he worked to get into regular season form against those who already had a head start in that department.
Depending upon how the Steelers—particularly the running game—fare without him while he is away from the team, they may make the effort to ease Bell back into the thick of things as well, which could be a luxury that pays dividends later on down the line. In Roethlisberger’s case, the team managed to go 3-1 in his absence.
While not a perfect analog, the Steelers did start Bell off moderately in 2013 with 16 carries each in his first two games. But he was a rookie at the time coming off a foot injury that caused him to miss the first three games of his career.
Bell failed to hit 20 carries in his first five games, but by the end of the year, he finished out the last three games reaching that mark and then some. There are some who believe that Bell needs to be a 20 carries per game back in order for the team to be successful, but this time around, they might actually have the supporting cast of running backs behind him that can absorb some of that workload.