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 (today),” 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 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.
Moving on up | Nine grapplers advance to AA quarterfinals
Bedford’s Garrett Thomas said he wasn’t nervous at all.
United’s Tyler Oliver admitted that he was, even if he told his coaches that he wasn’t.
And Richland’s Nico Pecora said the pressure is on his family members, not him.
Nervous or not, those three, who were making their state tournament debuts, and six other local wrestlers won their first match at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships on Thursday morning to qualify for today’s quarterfinal round.
Day 1 gives ups and downs for region
There was plenty of talk about roller coasters on Thursday afternoon at the Giant Center, but it had nothing to do with the thrill rides across the parking lot at Hersheypark.
It was all about the ups and downs of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
Berlin boys wary of Trojans’ size, athleticism
On the same night last week that Berlin Brothersvalley was winning its first District 5-A title since 2007, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic was losing to eventual champion Lincoln Park in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The Mountaineers (23-2), one of three area boys district champions set to begin opening-round action in the PIAA playoffs tonight, and Trojans (15-10) will square off this evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center, site of Berlin’s 65-51 district championship win over Forbes Road.
Tomahawks return home to face Jets
Johnstown Tomahawks coach Jason Spence knows numbers can be deceiving.
For instance, the Tomahawks’ Matt Meier had two goals and three points on Saturday night. Goaltender Brett Young made 41 saves.
Those statistics are impressive for 60 minutes of work. Both players had solid efforts, especially during a road game. On paper, the numbers looked good enough for a victory.
Danel helping Falcons to Division III tournament
When Chelsea Danel was a senior at North Star, the Cougars were able to win a District 5-AA basketball title.
Now Danel, a senior at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, is a key contributor on a Falcons’ hoops squad which upset top-seeded Lebanon Valley 53-47 in the Commonwealth Conference championship on Saturday. It was the ninth title for the Falcons in 13 appearances.
Pirates, Jays rained out
The Toronto Blue Jays' spring training game at the Pittsburgh Pirates was rained out Thursday.
The game will not be made up.
Ferndale grad aiding Duquesne women’s hoops
Matt Schmidt was hired as an assistant coach for the Duquesne women’s basketball team in June.
Now the former Ferndale High School standout will have his first opportunity to experience March madness with the Dukes, who are the sixth-seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament which opened Thursday in Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, Va.
Icecats on way to national tournament
The Pitt-Johnstown hockey team needed to overcome some long odds to advance to the ACHA Men’s Division III national championship tournament in Coral Springs, Fla. next week.
- Local Sports Briefs 3-7-14
Local wrestlers advance in PIAA tournament
Nine local wrestlers – including three from Bedford – advanced to the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships this morning.
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- Moving on up | Nine grapplers advance to AA quarterfinals