When will Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ultimately sign his tender and report to the team? September 1? When he does, how long will it take him to get into “football shape?” Regardless, how many snaps will he ultimately be able to play in the regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns and will he be effective in that contest? These questions will be answered in a matter of weeks, but in the meantime, here’s something to consider.
If there’s one player on the Steelers who knows how to come off the street and play immediately after long layoffs, it’s probably Bell. After all, he’s essentially had to do just that in three of his first four seasons in the NFL.
In 2013, Bell’s rookie season, a foot injury suffered during the team’s second preseason game that year ultimately sidelined him for several weeks. From his last preseason game snap played that year until his first regular season game snap was 41 days. Oh, and in case you forgot, Bell played all of 5 offensive snaps during the entire 2013 preseason.
Following that long layoff, Bell’s NFL debut in London against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4 included him rushing for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in addition to him catching four passes for another 27 yards. He also played 60 of a possible 79 offensive snaps in that game. How much “real” practice time did he get during that extended layoff? I don’t know for sure.
In 2015, Bell was suspended for the team’s first two regular season games. His last preseason snap that year took place in the team’s third preseason game and his first regular season snap came in Week 3. That was a span of 29 days between game snaps. He did however, play 32 preseason snaps that year. His 2015 debut against the then-St. Louis Rams ultimately included him rushing for 62 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and catching seven passes for another 70 yards. He also played 60 of a possible 63 offensive snaps in that game.
Just last season, Bell was suspended for the Steelers first three regular season games and just like in 2015, his last preseason snap came during the team’s third preseason game and all 20 of those snaps came in that contest. That span between game snaps was 37 days. In his 2016 debut against the Kansas City Chiefs, Bell rushed for 144 yards on 18 carries and he caught five passes for another 34 yards. He played 52 of a possible 59 offensive snaps in that game.
Obviously, the main difference this year as opposed to the previously mentioned years is the fact that Bell went through a whole training camp with the team before ultimately being sidelined for at least a full month due to either injury or suspension. With that said, if it takes a player a “few weeks” to get into “football shape,” does a span of three or more weeks without practice allow said player to fall out of “football shape?” If that is indeed the case, is one full week of practice following such a layoff span enough time for a player to get back into “football shape?”
Here’s what we think we know about Bell right now thanks to comments made by his teammates in addition to the videos he posts on his social media accounts. He trains very, very hard while he’s away from the team. Sure, he’s not getting hit, at least we don’t think he is, but he keeps himself in great physical condition just the same and as he should.
Are there real concerns about Bell being able to catch up quickly with changes in the offense? I suppose, but in all honesty, it shouldn’t take him too long to do just that as long as he’s willing to put in the extra hours. Assuming Bell indeed shows up on September 1, he’ll then have nine more days to get himself completely ready for the team’s regular season opener. That span of time will likely include at least three practices with maybe one those being conducted in full pads and complete with some tackling.
In short, and based on Bell’s history of dealing with long layoffs at the start of seasons, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to handle a heavy workload against the Browns. As far as what his production will ultimately be in that game, its anyone’s guess at this point. If Bell isn’t productive in that contest, analysts will say it’s because he wasn’t yet in “football shape.” If, however, he has a game like the one he had last season against the Chiefs, I doubt we’ll be talking much about him deciding to sit out all of training camp and the preseason.
At the very least and while unfortunate at the same time, at least Bell has some experience when it comes to playing immediately after missing several weeks of practice at the start of regular seasons.