For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have placed the franchise tag on star running back Le’Veon Bell, and for the second straight year, the date when Bell will sign that tender and report to training camp is a topic of conversation as the preseason winds down.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported Tuesday that Bell “has told some of his teammates” he will sign the $14.5 million, CBA-delineated franchise-tag offer on Monday, Labor Day, with the team “going on the assumption” that Bell will begin practicing that day ahead of the Sept. 9 opener against the Cleveland Browns.

But Bell offered this rebuttal on Twitter later that day, using a term that has become commonplace over the past few years: “Don’t believe the fake news.”

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Last year, Bell reported to practice on Sept. 1. He rushed for just 32 yards on 10 carries in the 2017 opener, which also was in Cleveland, and did not top 100 rushing yards in a game until Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. He finished the season with 1,291 rushing yards (second most in his career), 321 carries (by far a career high), nine rushing touchdowns (career high) and 85 receptions (career high).

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So it’s not like the Steelers need be all that worried, unless Bell shows up out of shape. If he is in less-than-ideal condition, Pittsburgh has James Conner as a fall-back option: The second-year pro has averaged 5.3 yards per carry with a touchdown in limited preseason action and has impressed Steelers coaches in training camp.

“That’s a hard question, because it’s Le’Veon,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said of the team’s Week 1 plan, per Dulac. “You’d like to think that he’ll be in good shape. But we’ll have to evaluate where he’s at — conditioning, health, things like that. Using him in the best way to help us win early will be the most important thing. There will be some things he can do that, quite frankly, most people who play his position can’t do. But that’s not anything against the running backs that have gone through training camp with us because they’ve done a heck of a job, including James.”

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