Steelers RB Bell ready to prove himself
Le'Veon Bell has been given a singular and difficult chore for a rookie running back who has yet to play a down three winless weeks into his first NFL season.
Namely, save a team that has never run the ball worse at the start of any of its 81 seasons.
Bell has yet to get his first carry for the Steelers. Throw his first block. Attempt his first cut on a right foot that continues to heal from what could be a serious injury: a mid-foot sprain. Worry a single defensive coordinator with his quickness, power and precision running.
Now, with the rest of the NFL nearly up to speed, Bell is attempting to hold his own at a level he still has not experienced. Not only is he playing catch-up because of an injury that has sidelined him since Aug. 19, but he also is doing so for an 0-3 team that has considerable catching up of its own to do.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't know what to expect of a second-round draft pick who missed the back end of the preseason with knee and foot injuries.
“We're just excited to see what he can do, but nobody really knows,” Roethlisberger said. “No one's seen him in game action.”
But as Bell resumed practicing Wednesday for what is expected to be his first NFL start Sunday in London against the Vikings (0-3), it is evident he is not preparing to fail.
“This is definitely going to be my first true opportunity to show my teammates what I actually can do,” Bell said. “They haven't seen me in a full game yet. I want to go here and really show these guys what I'm about so they can have full confidence in me.”
Before that can happen, Bell still needs to regain full confidence in his right foot, which he uses for much of his significant cutting and planting. A Lisfranc injury is tricky because it often requires surgery, which Bell did not have. If someone prematurely rushes back, it can result in a major and lengthy setback.
Bell knows the risks of returning from an injury that his doctors first said could sideline him for eight weeks. He also knows the potential reward — giving the Steelers the running game they badly needed to complement the productive but much-pressured Roethlisberger. They are averaging 51.7 yards per game rushing, compared to their opponents' 115.3.
“It's going to take me a little while to get fully confident, but I'm going to get there,” he said.
He was a bit rusty last week, and he said, “Cutting was probably the hardest thing and bursting, just being able to plant my foot and burst.”
Still, he said, “I don't feel like I'm rushing it. At the end of the day I'm going to have a long career. I feel like I'm ready now, and I'm ready to help this team win games.”
His body will tell him if he's wrong about being ready.
“If my foot can't go, I'm not going to go. But foot hasn't showed any signs of any setbacks or anything, so I'm moving forward and getting ready for the game now,” Bell said.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert believes the Big Ten's leading rusher a season ago for Michigan State is ready.
“He's a three-dimensional running back,” Gilbert said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run downhill, can run power plays, he can run outside zone, the guy can block, he's a tough competitor. ... Hopefully, we get out of him what everyone is anticipating and what we know he can do.”
And what would that be?
“He just has to go out and do it, show us and the coaching staff he can be that No.1 guy for us,” Gilbert said. “I think he'll step up and fill the room.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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