The Pittsburgh Steelers are not really expecting much to change this year when it comes to Le’Veon Bell’s status. What they do know is that they will know what they will be facing before they get to training camp. Bell will have either signed or not signed a long-term contract extension by then.
If he doesn’t, they already know that he is not going to report until shortly before the season, as he did a year ago, and has essentially said he will do again. The Steelers know that’s not in their control. But that doesn’t mean they have no control.
Ramon Foster told Ray Fittipaldo that he believes the team “did learn something” about how to handle the early portion of the season this time around should Bell not be with them during the summer. “I learned we have to give a little bit more, and I’m OK with that”, he said.
“The guys are OK with that. Coach Tomlin said whatever you gave last year; expect to give a little bit more”.
The Steelers, and Bell, struggled to get the ground game going, and the offense in general, during the first five weeks of the season, and it never really took off the way it did the season before—the ground game, that is, at least when it comes to the latter.
While Bell improved over the course of the season and had some very good games, leading the league the AFC in yards from scrimmage and scoring a career-high in touchdowns, his efficiency numbers wore down as his workload accelerated. He had over 400 touches in 15 games.
As great as Le’Veon is, we have to supplement what he does also”, Foster continued on the previous theme. “We have to make his job a lot easier. The fact that he’s not here, all of us are OK with that because we know what he’s bringing to the table. He comes right every year. He might take time to get going, but we have to be better prepared for that”.
On paper, the Steelers should be equipped to bring more to the table. For one thing, Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a much better end to his previous season this year than he did a year ago. The group of running backs behind Bell is much more promising. Vance McDonald should be able to step right into the offense this time. And the wide receivers will keep on producing, with James Washington added to the mix.
A key constant is the offensive line, as the Steelers return all five starters from last season, including three who made the Pro Bowl, another who was a first-alternate (Foster), and yet another who is widely regarded in the building to be a Pro Bowl snub (Marcus Gilbert).
As both Foster and Gilbert said, when it comes to Bell, “it’s being in sync with the guys” that he’s missing out on. “It’s getting into a rhythm, calls, comfort level”. Those are the elements for which the rest of the team will have to pick up the slack in the early goings.