The Pittsburgh Steelers now have a little less than four weeks to get running back Le’Veon Bell signed to a long-term contract and a little more than five weeks before they start their annual training camp in Latrobe. That second time-frame, however, won’t matter to Bell if the Steelers don’t get him signed before the first one expires. In the meantime, Bell has reportedly taken up boxing this offseason to help him stay conditioned and to also avoid putting serious stress on his body.
“I try to find ways to be healthier,” Bell said recently, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “I want my body to be in great shape so as the season comes closer you’ll start seeing that form to take shape. [Boxing] is just to help with my cardio and my stamina. It’s a little different than football, and I try to stay off my joints in the offseason as much as possible, still get cardio. Instead of cutting and doing a lot of drills, I’ve been doing a lot of boxing training.”
Other than missing half of the Steelers 2015 season due to a serious knee injury, Bell has been relatively healthy since entering the NFL in 2013 as a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State. In fact, when he has suited up for the Steelers he’s rarely been off the field when the offense has had the football. That heavy playing time, however, has resulted in him registering 1541 total touches since coming into the league and only Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has logged more since 2013. That large number of touches also came with him missing 18 games due to either injuries or suspensions.
The fact that Bell has touched the football as much as he already has during his career, along with the fact that he plays a very demanding position where heavy usage results in several running backs being done by the age of 30, the Steelers all-purpose player is taking as many precautions as possible to give him the best chance of playing into his 30s just like a professional sports player he admires has been able to do. That player is NBA great LeBron James.
“The fact he’s [LeBron] 33, playing his best basketball, it shows you if you take care of your body, your body won’t fail you,” Bell said. “As long as I take care of my body and stay physically fit and I’m able to run and cut, make sure my joints are intact and I’m not always sore, my mental’s only going to get better and I’ll grow as a football player, whether I’m 30, 32, whatever it is. I feel I’m one of those guys that doesn’t necessarily depend on athletic ability. I use my mind, I set up blocks, I wait for things to open, I time up things, I use a lot of skill catching the ball. I think that stuff is my mind. It’s not me outrunning somebody. That may happen or I may run somebody over but that’s not what I depend on. I depend on my mind. All the other stuff comes after that.”
Basketball players obvious don’t take the kind of abuse to their body that running backs do, but with that said, when was the last time you recall Bell being on the receiving end of a vicious or dangerous hit, other than when he suffered his knee injury a few years ago?
“It’s not like when I get the ball 30 times or 35 times and I’m really taking 30 car crashes,” Bell said. “Either I’m delivering the blow or I’m getting to the ground. I’m sore after games, but it’s not like I’m aching. I don’t have to miss practices. I can go full speed and be good.”
In a perfect world, Bell will trade in his boxing gloves for a football helmet and a set of shoulder pads a little more than five weeks from now and join the rest of his Steeler teammates in Latrobe for training camp. That perfect world, however, would have to include him signing a contract extension within the next four weeks and that’s obviously far from guaranteed to happen.
Should Bell ultimately not have a new contract by July 16, he’ll like spend all of August in Florida ramping up his conditioning just as he did a year ago. Also, should training camp not wind up being in Bell’s future this summer, the next offseason boxing that he does is likely to be as a member of a different NFL team.