This is not exactly surprising, but it is ‘news’: according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has informed teammates that he intends to report to the team on Labor Day, which is on Monday. In other words, he intends to do exactly the same thing that he did last year.
Bell reported to practice on the first Monday after the final preseason game last year as well, which was Labor Day. In both cases, the Steelers’ first regular season game was six days later. Last year, it was September 10. This year, it’s September 9.
Pittsburgh will play its final preseason game on Thursday against the Carolina Panthers, who are now owned by Steelers minority owner David Tepper, though he of course will have to sell his remaining shares soon. Imagine, though, having your two NFL franchises play against each other.
The day that Bell has chosen to report is not arbitrary, of course. It’s the first practice for preparation for the regular season. He took the same course of action last year, but in the season opener, the coaching staff—perhaps former offensive coordinator Todd Haley—limited his snaps.
They even went so far as to make comparatively extensive use of 01 personnel groupings, which feature four wide receivers and one tight end, with no running backs on the field. According to my charting, this was used nine times in the opener and 12 times in total over the course of the first three weeks. He only got 13 touches in the opener.
While there should be an added degree of familiarity in the circumstances of your starting running back’s late reporting, since they went through this same scenario last year, there is also the development of James Conner to consider.
Bell can do just about anything on the field that any other running back can do, but if he is not going to be at 100 percent efficiency right off the bat, then it might make sense to reduce his workload until he works himself into football shape with a serviceable number two behind him.
“That’s why we’ve given all the reps to James”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “We’ve given reps to other guys. That’s all part of it. We’ll be hopeful when [Bell] gets here”, he said, but the team will also be prepared if he is not ready to be the All-Pro talent he’s capable of being when he first reports.
UPDATE (5:30 PM): Bell took to Twitter to dispute the report, calling it “fake news.”
don’t believe the fake news, I never said anything to no one…
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) August 28, 2018