By WILL GRAVES
Le’Veon Bell’s rehab from a sprained foot includes an exercise that requires the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back to pick up marbles with his toes.
“Nothing crazy,” Bell said with a laugh.
And, apparently, nothing serious either.
While Bell will sit out Saturday night’s exhibition game against the Kansas City Chiefs with a sprained right foot, the second-round pick isn’t worried about the injury extending well into the regular season.
“I’ve already been healing real quick,” Bell said Thursday. “As long as the process keeps going the way it is, I should be back pretty quick.”
Coach Mike Tomlin declined to put an exact timetable on Bell’s return but pointed to the fact surgery will not be required as an encouraging sign. Less than 72 hours after going down in the first quarter of a 24-13 loss to Washington, Bell can already put weight on it, though he did wear a walking boot into the locker room as a precaution.
It beats the cast being worn by tight end Matt Spaeth, who is dealing with a more significant version of the same injury. Spaeth is out at least two months after tearing the Lisfranc ligament in his left foot.
There are no such concerns for Bell, though the 48th overall pick in the draft is a bit mystified about his bumpy training camp. The 21-year-old was a workhorse last fall at Michigan State, leading the nation with 383 carries. His durability is one of the main reasons the Steelers drafted him as the heir apparent to replace departed Rashard Mendenhall.
Instead he’ll watch from the sidelines for the second time in three weeks while Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman attempt to hold onto the starting job, at least temporarily.
“It gets a little frustrating at times,” Bell said. “It’s something I’m faced with. I’ll fight through it.”
Just don’t expect him to race through it.
Though Tomlin called all signs around Bell’s prognosis “positive” he’s not going to rush Bell out onto the field just to do it.
“We don’t have a long-range schedule,” Tomlin said. “At this point, we’ll treat it conservatively with rehabilitation.”
It’s the correct diagnosis, even if it’s not one Bell wants to hear. He averaged more than 30 touches a game during his last two seasons at Michigan State, touching the ball an average of 23 times a game.
Outside of the usual aches and pains, he’s never had so much as an ingrown toenail. Now he’s dealing with his third issues in as many weeks.
He skipped the preseason opener against the New York Giants as a precaution after tweaking his left knee in practice. He aggravated the injury in practice but recovered in time to make his professional debut.
It was one that turned into little more than an extended cameo. Bell carried four times for nine yards while working with the first team, his night ending shortly after he felt an opponent fall onto his leg while he was trying to push the pile forward. Bell remained in for one more play before heading to the sideline.
When he took his cleats off, he couldn’t even put his foot on the ground. An MRI revealed the sprain, though the Steelers sought out a second opinion to confirm that he wouldn’t need surgery.
“It was great news,” Bell said.
And a blessing of sorts. While stressing the knee was good enough to play against the Redskins, the downtime required by the sprained foot means the knee will be “100 percent” whenever Bell is back on the practice field.
“It’s a long season,” Bell said. “I would like to come back to where I can actually be able to play and not think about it. I want to make sure everything’s comfortable so I can play the way I want to play.”
Dwyer, who ran for 68 yards on Monday night, will likely start against the Chiefs. Tomlin also held out hope that Isaac Redman will be ready to go after missing a week due to a stinger. The same goes for LaRod Stephens-Howling and the mild knee sprain that kept him out versus Washington.
Whoever is in the backfield will be charged with getting the first team into the end zone. It hasn’t happened yet, though Tomlin expects the starters to play a half – if not more – when Kansas City visits.
NOTES: Tight end Heath Miller, rehabbing from left knee surgery, remained noncommittal about when he’ll be able to return. Miller is currently on the physically unable to perform list but has shown significant progress during camp. ... CB Cortez Allen practiced on Thursday as he recovers from minor knee surgery. Allen said he remains “day to day,” and isn’t sure he’ll play on Saturday. Allen, slated to be the starting cornerback across from Ike Taylor, said his focus is being ready for the season opener against Tennessee Sept. 8.