By Alan Robinson
Bad blocking, poor decisions by the ball carrier, a lack of direction, a constant changing of personnel.
When the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell, their running game wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Big, fast and durable – he carried 382 times and caught 32 passes last season at Michigan State – Bell looked the be the answer to the Steelers’ ongoing issues at running back when they made him a second-round draft pick.
After Bell tantalized them with some strong running early in training camp, he injured his left knee and right foot. Now, he waits while the Lisfranc injury in his right foot heals, and the Steelers’ running game managed only 32 yards against Tennessee in the opener.
The Steelers played their first road game of the season Monday night in Cincinnati as they tried to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2002.
The question is what the Steelers’ running game will look like when the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Bell returns, probably in a month or less.
And, too, what Bell himself will be like after having so much time off, after getting his own timing disrupted, after losing some strength, after being away from the league he was only beginning to learn.
And he still hasn’t played a regular season game at NFL speed.
Former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, now an ESPN analyst, wonders how much Bell can contribute this season, even if he does return with 10 or 11 games remaining.
“It’s very tough to do that,” Hoge said. “I’ve seen very few players who can come in and not miss too much after being out a long time. … That’s very hard for a lot of athletes. In training camp, you get into a groove and a certain role and certain rhythm, it’s very difficult to quit all that and then try to play (later) at the same speed everyone else is playing.”
The only player he can remember making much of an impact as a rookie after sitting out so long during the first half of the season was cornerback Rod Woodson. The future Hall of Famer held out for half the 1987 season before signing.
“How well can he play and trust that foot?” Hoge said of Bell. “He’s a real dynamic cutter. That’s where I think he is the most dynamic, he plants that right foot and makes some serious cuts. And that’s the most dynamic cut, when you plant the right foot and cut to the left.
“How long will it take to get over that hurdle, to where he can play with some confidence, with a sense of what’s going on?”
Hoge added, “But if he can come back at full speed, it would make a huge difference.”
Bell hasn’t played or practiced since he ran on the Steelers’ first four plays from scrimmage Aug. 19 at Washington. Coach Mike Tomlin did not offer an update on his condition last week.