So now we know when Le’Veon Bell will show up, which was, I believe, the first question that I asked during training camp. The answer is, evidently, not only after training camp, which is already over, but also after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ final preseason game, on September 1st.
That reporting date will give the running back a little over a week to prepare for the team’s regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns, and one can’t help but wonder what sort of conditioning he will be in. as General Manager Kevin Colbert and others have said, or alluded to, in recent weeks, you can’t really get into football shape by yourself, without playing football.
And being in ‘football shape’ would certainly seem to be especially important not just for the running back position, but for Bell specifically, as nobody in the entire NFL averaged more touches per game than he did a season ago, and his snap percentage in his games played was by far the highest among all players at his position.
One can’t help but wonder he if is exposing himself to the very real risk of getting off to a slow start because he is behind. Presumably, he has been in regular contact with some of his teammates and coaches to at least stay in the loop, and perhaps his chosen reporting date will be enough to get him up to speed with whatever he will need to learn for the offense this season.
But physically, that is another matter. It would not surprise me at all if we see him play fewer snaps per game, with fewer touches, early on in the season as he gets himself into the appropriate shape that would allow him to play as he has over the past four years.
And that could be an issue considering the Steelers’ relative inexperience in the backfield behind him. Rookie James Conner, for all that he might have done well in his preseason debut on Sunday, showing burst to wide open holes, also demonstrated that he is not exactly read for a center role, and the fact that he is still recovering from a shoulder injury is not ideal, either.
The final position at running back is yet to even be determined, but they are at best a change of pace, however ultimately ends up in the role.
Despite how it no doubt sounds, I do not mean to suggest that the Steelers are facing a looming crisis with Bell reporting so late into the offseason process. Chances are, it ultimately will be an insignificant chapter in the story of this season and quickly forgotten.
Still, it is quite possible that it will take him a few games to work his way into his usual form, both in terms of the number of snaps and touches he can handle, and what he does with those touches.