The Pittsburgh Steelers’ crowded backfield is sorting itself out.
Just not the way coach Mike Tomlin envisioned.
What started as a three-man race between Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and rookie Le’Veon Bell is turning into a battle of attrition after Tomlin ruled Bell out of Saturday’s game against Kansas City with a right foot injury.
Bell underwent an MRI on Tuesday and Tomlin said he will wait for a second opinion before making a determination about Bell’s long-term status. Tomlin brushed aside reports that Bell is out several weeks.
“I’ll address the injuries (Thursday),” Tomlin said. “I haven’t met with the doctors (yet).”
The setback is the latest in what is quickly becoming a frustrating camp for the 48th overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Steelers noted Bell’s durability and his versatility when they selected the 21-year-old out of Michigan State. Bell’s 382 carries last season led the entire country. Throw in his 32 receptions and Bell averaged more than 30 touches a game without incident.
For two weeks, Bell looked even better than advertised, so good Tomlin named Bell a co-starter even though a sore left knee kept him out of the preseason opener against the New York Giants. Bell aggravated the injury in practice last week only to recover in time to start on Monday night in Washington.
The highly anticipated debut lasted a handful of snaps. Bell carried four times for nine yards before tweaking a foot with an injury that suddenly swings the door open for Dwyer and Redman.
It’s a door both players have struggled walking through.
Redman spent last season dealing with ankle injuries and was held out of Monday’s game after suffering a stinger in practice. Dwyer stepped in and ran for 68 yards on 14 carries but also fumbled, a major concern for a team that finished minus-10 in the giveaway/takeaway ratio in 2012.
“I think I’m doing OK, but I know I can be better,” Dwyer said. “I’m just trying to be consistently consistent and show something different each and every week and each and every game.”
At the moment, the Steelers would settle for having the same face back there for an extended period of time. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley reshuffled the offensive line and introduced a zone blocking scheme in in the offseason. Results have been mixed at best for a team that ranked 29th in yards per carry a year ago.
Though stressing it’s too early to get concerned, Dwyer and Redman understand it’s time to get serious.
“Le’Veon’s down, and we’re a little banged up,” Redman said. “So, I’m ready to step up and lead this room.”
Redman’s done it sporadically in the past, but each step forward has been met by a step back. In a contract season, he understands this is his last chance to show the Steelers — or some other NFL team — he can become a reliable starter.
His preference is to remain in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers intend to turn Bell into the guy who will carry the load through the rest of the decade. Haley’s track record with running backs is impressive. He turned Jamaal Charles into the NFL’s second-leading rusher in 2010 while coaching the Chiefs, a season that ended with Kansas City in the playoffs.
For Pittsburgh to get back there the Steelers know they’ll need to take some pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Having young and productive legs in the backfield will help. Bell is eager to live up to the billing.
At the moment, however, the only place he’s living is the training room.
While Dwyer and Redman went through the paces on Wednesday, Bell sat on a table getting treatment.
It’s a place Dwyer and Redman have visited regularly through the years. One more extended trip and they understand their careers may be in jeopardy. It’s why both players dropped a significant amount of weight in the offseason. Redman shed 15 pounds while Dwyer lost closer to 30. They hope the added quickness will make them more effective.
Bell’s uncertain status gives them one final shot at making a lasting impression. Redman remains adamant he can produce. If he can, what looks like a tough call might turn into an easy one.
“I’m pretty sure that they would be glad if somebody would come out and separate themselves from the bunch,” Redman said. “I know they would never be opposed to that.
“And, hopefully, I can do that.”
NOTES: The Steelers activated tight end David Johnson from the physically unable to perform list on Wednesday. Johnson hasn’t played since tearing the ACL in his right knee last summer. Johnson said he’s optimistic he can play on Saturday. Pittsburgh needs help at tight end while Pro Bowl starter Heath Miller returns from a left knee injury. ... Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum is getting a look at left tackle this week. Beachum started five games at right tackle last season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ crowded backfield is sorting itself out.
Breese lone local to reach Class AA finals
A busy and entertaining Day 2 of wrestling at the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships in Hershey came and went, as did the dreams of a gold medal for a handful of local wrestlers.
The one local wrestler that doesn’t apply to is Lakeview’s Sam Breese, who had the Giant Center crowd in aw during his two matches Friday. The two bouts equated to two wins, which means a shot a defending his championship.
Lee, Wheeling survive Day 2 in Hershey
Ehrin Lee’s smile following his quarterfinal win Friday at the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships told the whole story.
Lee has had his eyes on the state championships all season long, and just getting there wasn’t enough. The Titusville 160-pounder has wrestled like one of the best grapplers in the state during the tournament thus far, and his 3-2 overtime win over Northampton’s Bobby Fehr proved that if nothing else, he’s one of the four best wrestlers in his weight class.
Cards can’t slow Vincentian
The starters on the Cochranton boys basketball team probably slept like logs on Friday night.
They left every ounce on the hardwood of Meadville High School’s House of Thrills, going up against the high-intensity attack of Vincentian Academy in the opening round of the PIAA Class A playoffs.
McLane rolls past Neshannock
Sarah Jay has made a habit of presenting her players with in depth scouting reports prior to each and every game.
But the report she handed them on Neshannock, the Lady Lancers’ first round opponent in the PIAA Class AA playoffs, was nothing like they had seen before.
Class AA first round filled with highs, lows for locals
It was a day full of highs and lows for the 11 local Class AA wrestlers on the opening day of the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships in Hershey.
For some, it was business as usual, and for others, the atmosphere of a crowded Giant Center proved to be a little much. By the time the preliminary and Round 1 consolation rounds were finished, eight wrestlers are still alive, with state wrestling experience proving to be invaluable Thursday morning.
Lee, Wheeling stay in hunt for Class AAA state title
A win is a win, and when it comes to the PIAA Individual Wrestling Championships, as long as your score reads higher in the end, it really doesn’t matter how you get there.
During the preliminary round of the tournament Thursday afternoon at the Giant Center in Hershey, the six local qualifiers certainly had mixed results, but in the end, two wrestlers are still in the championship bracket, exactly where they want to be.
Cards look to slow down Vincentian
“The best way to sum it up is,” said Cochranton head coach Scott McCurdy, “it’s like they’re down five and there are 30 seconds to go. Only, they play like that for the entire 32 minutes.”
McCurdy is talking about the Vincentian Academy boys basketball team, which employs a style that’s ... well ... calling it up-tempo just doesn’t seem to suffice.
Lancers get tough draw in opener
One may think that by winning a District 10 title and getting paired up with the seventh seed out of District 7 for the first round of the state playoffs, that said champion would have a pretty choice matchup.
Yet, that’s not how things shook out for the General McLane girls basketball team. The D-10 champion Lady Lancers drew a challenging foe in Neshannock.
’Dogs rout Bison to reach title game
Having defeated Fort LeBoeuf by a grand total of 24-0 in their previous three meetings, the tension wasn’t exactly palpable for the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team as it squared off with the Bison in a Lakeshore Hockey League semfinal game on Thursday night at Erie Insurance Arena.
Calvary wins opener
The Calvary Baptist girls basketball team won its opening game of the National Christian School Athletic Association Tournament on Thursday at Family First Sports Park.
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