Pittsburgh — The Steelers stressed all summer the need to avoid the kind of off-the-field distractions they couldn’t seem to shake in 2017.
So much for that.
While the two-time defending AFC North champions hit the practice field on Monday to prepare for their Week 1 opener in Cleveland, All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) was nowhere to be found.
Bell still hasn’t signed his one-year franchise tender or given any indication on when he might show up, leaving his teammates to answer for him.
“I’m not annoyed by (being asked about) it,” guard Ramon Foster said, tongue firmly in cheek. “Who are you talking about? I didn’t even notice.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey called Bell’s absence “fine” and insisted it won’t be an issue going forward.
“The team is so locked in and focused on what we’ve got to do at hand this weekend that whenever he comes, we’ll welcome him with open arms,” Pouncey said. “Hopefully he’s in shape and ready to run the football.”
A year ago Bell skipped training camp, showed up on Labor Day and was ready to play in the opener, though he and the entire offense looked sluggish in narrow 21-18 victory over the Browns.
Bell finished with 32 yards on 10 carries in Cleveland and didn’t really get rolling until October.
“I think the whole offense started out kind of slow last year,” Pouncey said. “To point out one thing at one person because he wasn’t here (for camp) is totally wrong.”
Bell recovered in time to lead the NFL with 406 touches and likely would have won the league rushing title if he wasn’t held out of a meaningless finale with Pittsburgh’s playoff position already secure.
The Steelers placed the franchise tag on him for a second straight spring hoping a long-term deal could be worked out. When the two sides failed to reach an agreement by the July 17th deadline, Bell offered an apology while promising that “2018 will be my best season to date.”
The players are off Tuesday, meaning Bell would have just three days of practice to get ready for the Browns if he signed his $14.5 million tender before the team took the field on Wednesday.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the team was “disappointed” in Bell’s late arrival, but will focus on preparing for Cleveland with the 53 men currently on the roster.
If Bell is not available, the Steelers will turn to second-year running back James Conner. The former Pitt star ran for 100 yards during limited action in the preseason.
Starting QBs named
Eagles coach Doug Pederson says Nick Foles will start against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. Carson Wentz still hasn’t been medically cleared for contact as he comes back from surgery last December to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee. Wentz didn’t play in the preseason and only recently returned to full practice.
Meanwhile, the Bills annnouced Nathan Peterman will be the team’s starting quarterback, a job the second-year player is expected to hold until first-round pick Josh Allen is deemed ready.