Steel­ers’ Bell looks to bounce back

Run­ning back had only 47 to­tal yards against Browns.

The Citizens' Voice - - NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE - BY WILL GRAVES

PITTS­BURGH — Le’Veon Bell spent a por­tion of his lone day off this week learn­ing the fine art of cre­at­ing the per­fect ice cream bar, a good-na­tured pro­mo­tional stunt that poked a lit­tle fun at the Pro Bowl run­ning back’s sum­mer-long break from the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers.

Turns out, Bell’s pretty adept with a cone in his hand. Still, sling­ing sun­daes isn’t nearly as lu­cra­tive as Bell’s day job. At the mo­ment, how­ever, it may be more fun.

The start of the most fis­cally and phys­i­cally im­por­tant sea­son of Bell’s ca­reer be­gan with 47 to­tal yards in a vic­tory over Cleve­land.

Sure, penal­ties and an im­proved de­fen­sive front by the Browns played a fac­tor in hold­ing Bell to his least pro­duc­tive day as a pro­fes­sional.

So did a lack of touches. Bell han­dled the ball just 13 times, the fewest in a game he’s started and fin­ished since break­ing into the league in 2013.

“I think the more I’m in­volved, the bet­ter I get through­out the course of the game,” Bell said. “I start fig­ur­ing out play­ers and the way they’re play­ing, the game speed and things like that. I tend to feel like I’m in bet­ter shape.

“Over the course of the game, third quar­ter, when peo­ple feel like they’re in the third quar­ter, I feel like I’m just get­ting started.”

Some­thing that didn’t hap­pen in Cleve­land in Bell’s first real ac­tion since he ex­ited early in an AFC ti­tle game loss to New Eng­land with a groin in­jury. Bell took a seven-month break from the Steel­ers af­ter they placed the fran­chise tag on him in Fe­bru­ary.

Un­able to come to an agree­ment on a long-term deal, the player who led the NFL in av­er­age yards per game in 2016 es­sen­tially bet on him­self in 2017.

An­other break­out sea­son could lead to a mas­sive pay­day. It also, how­ever, puts Bell in a bit of a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion. He wants the Steel­ers to win. He also needs to be pro­duc­tive to com­mand the salary he be­lieves he de­serves, even if he in­sists he was jok­ing when he im­plied he was worth $17 mil­lion a sea­son while freestyle rap­ping shortly be­fore his re­turn.

It’s a dilemma the man in charge of fig­ur­ing out where the ball goes ap­pre­ci­ates even if it’s not at the top of his pri­or­ity list.

“I un­der­stand it but at the same time we’re try­ing to put our­selves in a po­si­tion to win a world cham­pi­onship and he’s a guy that ob­vi­ously will be a big fac­tor for us,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Ha­ley said Thurs­day.

“That will all kind of take care of it­self. It’s his se­cond week re­ally. No­body had their best week last week and so we all need to be bet­ter.”

Ha­ley scripts Pitts­burgh’s first 10 plays, giv­ing them to the play­ers on the eve of the game to help their men­tal prepa­ra­tion. The script didn’t fea­ture heap­ing por­tions of the player who keyed the nine-game win­ning streak that car­ried the Steel­ers from 4-5 to a divi­sion ti­tle and a game away from the Su­per Bowl.

Pitts­burgh lined up with an empty back­field on the open­ing se­ries and the first four plays were passes, thanks in part to a pair of hold­ing penal­ties that even­tu­ally turned a first-and-10 into a third-and-25.

Bell didn’t carry the ball un­til the Steel­ers’ se­cond pos­ses­sion. The play went for no gain. The first two times Roeth­lis­berger threw the ball Bell’s way, the pass mis­fired.

“The game dic­tated the di­rec­tion we went and their de­fense dic­tated things,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “It wasn’t a shut Le’Veon out, let’s see this that and the other. It’s just the way the game un­folded.”

Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin made it a point to de­fend Bell’s is­sues on Cleve­land’s ag­gres­sive­ness and not on any lack of prepa­ra­tion. Bell didn’t sign his fran­chise ten­der un­til just six days be­fore the opener though all in­volved in­sist rust wasn’t a prob­lem.

“You can sing that Le’Veon Bell ‘camp’ song all you want,” Tom­lin said. “He’s here. He’s work­ing. It’s Week Two. We’re get­ting ready to play the Min­nesota Vik­ings. I’m done with it.”

So are Bell’s team­mates. There are no wor­ries — yet — about Bell try­ing to press or putting his own agenda ahead of the other 52 guys on the ros­ter. His pa­tience and vi­sion are part of what makes him so dy­namic.

The block­ing in front of him could have been bet­ter. So could the ex­e­cu­tion. A sliver of day­light or two and all of a sud­den Bell is back to be­ing Bell.

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

Steel­ers run­ning back Le’Veon Bell had only 47 to­tal yards in the team’s Week 1 vic­tory over the Browns. Bell and the Steel­ers face the Vik­ings to­day.

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