The Steelers removed Le’Veon Bell from their depth chart Tuesday as the running back’s holdout extended into the second week of the regular season. The end is not immediately apparent and Bell again was a no-show at the team’s Wednesday morning meeting. James Conner, who accounted for 192 total yards and two touchdowns last week for Pittsburgh, was officially listed as the team’s top back, with Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley in backup roles.
At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Coach Mike Tomlin said that he has not been in touch with Bell recently, as the three-time Pro Bowler has been staying away from the team out of dissatisfaction with his contract. Unable to come to an agreement with the Steelers on a long-term deal during the summer, Bell was given the franchise tag and was set to make $14.544 million for one season, but his holdout has already cost him $855,000 and will do so for every week he fails to report and sign the pact.
There is no clarity on when Bell might join the team, according to Tomlin, who told reporters (via the Pittsburgh Tribune), “From that perspective, nothing has changed regarding us. We’re preparing to play this week with the guys that are here and working — James [Conner] being central to that. … If and when any of that changes, I’ll let you know. If it does not, my answer will remain the same.”
Some news of Bell’s recent whereabouts was provided by TMZ Sports, which reported Tuesday that the 26-year-old player was spotted the night before at a Miami nightclub. Actually, it was more like that day, as the website claimed he “got there around midnight Monday and didn’t leave until the wee hours of the morning Tuesday,” while another gossip site, Terez Owens, posted video.
Given that the Steelers’ opening game turned out to be an embarrassing tie with the lowly Browns, who went winless last season and have a 1-31 record over the past two years, Bell’s excursion to Miami might not be going over well with some of his would-be teammates. Several of them had already offered noteworthy criticism of him last week, when he surprised many by declining to join the Steelers in time for Week 1.
Conner acquitted himself ably in place of Bell, rushing for 135 yards and two scores on 31 carries while adding 57 yards on five receptions. The productivity of the second-year player, however, fell off as the game went along, raising concerns among some observers that he might not be quite ready to take on all of Bell’s famously heavy workload.
Tomlin did not appear to share those concerns, saying, “We have no reservations about using any of our guys that are suited for the game and are willing and capable.” He added that Conner was “doing well” and was in “great physical condition.”
Referring to the fact that Conner played at the University of Pittsburgh, the coach said of the back, “I watched that guy tote that ball a lot next door. He’s been doing that a long time. I think he’s used to that. I think he gets better with us.”
Tomlin was also asked to address another Steelers star for making, from the team’s likely perspective, the wrong kind of news. Wide receiver Antonio Brown was reported to have threatened an ESPN journalist who wrote a feature the player apparently didn’t like, strongly hinting at physical violence in a quickly deleted tweet.
The coach did his best to sidestep that topic, telling reporters (via PennLive), “You know, we could talk all day about things that are online or on the Internet or on social media. I just choose to stay away from it because it’s a waste of my time. There’s very little accountability, there’s very little journalistic integrity, et cetera.
“Guys say things they don’t mean. I talk to my teenagers about it all the time. Let’s keep it professional and in the real.”
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