Tim Benz: Steelers' Le'Veon Bell will make us all forget
“Hines! Hines! Can you sign?”
A pack of five kids screamed those words after a Steelers training camp practice last month in Latrobe. They were begging former Steelers wide receiver and current coaching intern Hines Ward for an autograph.
None of the kids looked older than 13. They can't possibly remember watching live as Ward won the Super Bowl MVP in January 2006.
And they surely don't remember that season began with Ward holding out from practicing on that very same field in August 2005.
It appeared their 40-something fathers didn't remember that either, as they beckoned for Hines, as well. One of them was donning a spectacularly maintained Mel Blount No. 47 jersey, by the way.
Oh, Mel held out once, too. So did Rod Woodson and Jack Lambert. And what Uncle Sam is to the American flag, Lambert more or less is to the Terrible Towel.
At some point today, Steelers superstar running back Le'Veon Bell is supposed to end his hold ou ... uh, sorry. Let's be accurate. His “absence” from the team that spanned the entirety of training camp. He's scheduled to sign the team's franchise tag tender and rejoin the club.
On an off day. When there might not be anyone else at the facility to actually rejoin. Which is beautifully ironic given how this story has been a monster to track for months. And now it may end in relative isolation.
That's fitting. Because 10 days from now, Bell's skipping of the offseason workout program will be totally forgotten.
By 5 p.m. next Sunday, the Steelers will be leaving their season-opening game in Cleveland after dismantling the Browns. Bell will have just posted at least 130 yards from scrimmage. And he will have scored two touchdowns.
Those numbers are stupid.
How about 150 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns? There. That's a little more realistic.
Countless barbs have been thrown at Bell this offseason. He's gotten sarcastic needling from his teammates on social media. Some national media members have questioned his requested financial value.
And a portion of the team's fan base has even suggested cutting ties with Bell and giving the ball to James Conner.
Perhaps those people were smoking whatever Bell smoked to get himself suspended previously.
Conner may become good. He's not Bell yet.
There's just one thing Bell can't do: Get hurt.
That's right. He's not allowed to get injured. Ever. The whole season. Or else the narrative will be: “See, if he had been in ‘football shape' coming out of training camp, he never would've gotten hurt.”
That would be ignoring the fact that injuries like the ones Bell suffered at the hands of Reggie Nelson and Vontaze Burfict were unavoidable. But he didn't reject an alleged $30 million before those seasons. So, you know, we could be sympathetic back then, I guess.
Some of Bell's teammates have primed this pump.
As Ben Roethlisberger said: “He's always in great shape. But there's ‘in shape.' And then there's ‘football shape.' There's running around in shorts and a T-shirt. And then there's putting on the pads and getting hit.”
In training camp, David DeCastro said to me: “There's gotta be some stats out there. ... guys who don't participate in training camp and don't have those reps in the preseason. I don't want to say you're more likely to get injured. But there's something to not being in football shape. That's the only thing I worry about.”
DeCastro is a Stanford man. A bright guy. So maybe he has a better grasp of how to formulate those stats than I do. But the stats for Bell in the preseason last year were only eight touches in one game. Then three more weeks off for suspension. Followed by 336 touches for 1,884 yards in 12 consecutive regular-season games.
Granted, he participated in practices. But his “football shape” was pretty good all the way up until the AFC title game in January, despite limited preseason work.
Are Bell's contract demands too greedy? Yes. I think they are.
Is acrimony building up between him and the organization? It seems so.
Could playful jabs on social media be an example of “truth in the joke” from his teammates? I wouldn't be surprised.
But if Bell performs to the level of his talent, half a year of debating his absence will be rendered moot over 60 minutes of football in Cleveland.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on Steeler Nation Radio, Steeler Wire, KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM. He does play-by-play for Robert Morris hockey and WPIAL broadcasts on XFinity On Demand.