The first day of organized team activities, by its very nature, is always packed storylines – if for no other reason than the vast majority of the players haven’t talked to the media for a few months. Tied to that is the progress that any injured players who might have been injured made in their rehab over the prior 4-5 months.
Tuesday was no different. Ben Roethlisberger held court with the media. Maurkice Pouncey was back to work and even dropped a “I don’t know what that was for, no chance at all” when it was noted that he was placed on an IR list that could have allowed him to return last season. Alan Faneca was there. James Harrison wore a full sweatsuit on a day when the temperature approached 80 (as always).
Then there was Le’Veon Bell. He was back at practice, as expected, after missing the final eight games (plus playoffs) of last season. This was expected. Us media spoke to him, as expected, afterward. He said he felt good. Also expected. He said he intends to play in the season opener. Not unexpected. He said he wasn’t cleared for contact yet just as a precaution but that he “for sure” will be cleared by training camp.
All pretty much standard stuff.
But, that’s not all Bell said. Multiple times, he implied – heck, not even implied; he actually said – that some teams/players (cough, cough, Bengals/Burfict) try to take him out of the game. Injure him. And injure the other Steelers’ stars. Much of that is in the handy link you’ll go to by clicking on (touching) this paragraph.
But that is only part of what Bell said. The Bengals/intent-to-injure/I-have-learned-to-protect-myself stuff overshadowed his thoughts on other things, in particular his recovery from injury and his contract status. Here is more of his nine-minute session with the media after the first OTA on Tuesday—
On what it felt like to be back in a practice-like setting: “It felt amazing to just be back out here with my teammates, just being out here in practice, in the huddle. I felt good. I’m just glad to be back out here, for real.”
On if he was given any physical limitations by the medical staff: “No. right now I’m just doing what the coaches tell me to do. They’re trying to protect me from myself. So I’m just trying to listen to those people who are telling me what to do and taking care of my body and doing what I can.”
On if there is a timetable for when he can cut loose: “No, not really; just getting me back into it slowly. Right now, I feel like I can do everything. But obviously they are going to protect me from myself and really take it slow with me.”
On how his rehab from right knee surgery (MCL tear) was handled: “I had to take steps, a little process, throughout the course of the offseason, rather than me doing everything at once, I had to take steps, at first I had to start running, and then I started doing a little cutting, then I started doing other things like and make sure I go to rehab everyday. So it’s been a little different, but I feel like this is the strongest I have been in my lower body just because I had to do all the extra things in my legs. And I feel good.”
On if the fact that each of his three NFL seasons has featured a significant lower-body injury implies that he is injury-prone: “Some people are going to look at it like I’m injury-prone or whatever. (But) it’s not like I’m out here tweaking my hamstrings or spraining my ankles or stuff like that. Obviously it was just two nasty tackle that I had and even when I hurt my foot my rookie year, I felt it was just unfortunate injuries because before these last three years I never been injured in football so I feel like my luck probably – hopefully – should change this year and I’ll be on the field. Obviously nothing freaky, and I take care of my body and do the little things right and I feel like I will be OK.”
On if he will be cleared for contact in time for training camp: “For sure. Yes, for sure.”
On if notoriously-protective coach Mike Tomlin will let him partake in the contact drills: (laughs) “W e will see. Coach Tomlin is always saying he just wants to get me ready for in the stadiums when they count. So I’m pretty sure I will do some stuff with contact just so I can get hit and things like that. We will see.”
On a percentage he projects himself playing at for the season opener Sept. 12 at the Redskins: “I think I’ll be 100 percent. That’s what I’m anticipating, that’s my goal, so we will see where it goes.”
On if he will be back to his old self this time because last season following an injury-recovery he acknowledged he wasn’t: “I definitely think so. The last injury I didn’t have surgery so I just feel like.. and I didn’t rehab either, I just kind of let it happen and let it go how it went. But this year I had the surgery, I obviously had the rehab, I have been doing a lot of things so I feel like once it is actually time to go I will be 100 percent; I feel great, I’m out here with no knee brace on or anything, I’m out here with no knee sleeves and I have just been training my knee for everything it is about to go through, so when September actually gets here I will be even better than I am now. It’s kind of crazy to even think about it. I’m excited.”
On if there was a “turning point” in his rehab: “I think maybe about a month ago. I felt like when I was training in Miami… it used to take me a real long time when I had to get warmed up with my knee – and then there was a point in time I felt like when I went out there for warm-ups, I just felt normal one day and I wasn’t even thinking about, ‘oh, can I do this or can I do that?’I think that’s when I just started feeling like myself and now it’s really just taking care of it and make sure I do all the little things, make sure I keep getting stronger and things like that. So I feel great.”
On if there’s any apprehension on his part that his repaired knee won’t be able to handle its workload: “Not really, obviously when I come back out here my first time cutting and my first time doing things you kind of think about it, it’s more mental because I know my knee is strong enough to do everything, it’s kind of mental because I haven’t done it in a long time and things like that. So I think once I get over that mental part I will be just fine. But first it is just all mental.”
On if there was any movement to extend his contract, which expires after the coming season ends: “We (Bell, his agent, nor the Steelers) haven’t had that discussion or anything yet. I will kind of let that thing take care of itself and see where it goes from there.”
On how good the Steelers offense can be this year after it led the AFC in yardage and was second in points last season (largely) without him: “I think we should be even better this year. Obviously we got playmakers all over the field and we should continue to get better. We use OTAs as a leverage point; we know where we were last year so right now we have to pick up from what we did last year and get better. Obviously, we know we’re a good offense but we have got to continue to get better – teams are going to pick up on things we do, so we’ve got to continue to detail everything.”
On if he has any lingering ill will over the tackle — or the reaction afterwards — by Vontaze Burfict that ended Bell’s 2015 season: “When I looked at it, it obviously looked like they were happy about it. But I obviously know teams are out to… I take the liberty that everyone just plays football just to love the game, but there are people out here who are not playing like that. People out here trying to really take people out, so obviously I know that now. I wish I wasn’t ignorant to the fact of it before, but now I just know I have to take extra precaution of, you know, getting down or protecting myself because people are (out to) take me out of the game. I’ll just make sure I take care of myself.”
On if the Bengals are doing these kinds of things more than other teams: “Not just Cincinnati, I’ll be aware of everybody. I feel like I have got to protect myself. I feel like a lot of teams will feel like it’s easier to take me out or AB or Ben, whatever, so we obviously have to be precautious. I didn’t think people played football like that – but it’s real. I guess people really do. So obviously have to take care of myself.”