Sportress of Blogitude

Mike Tomlin expects Le’Veon Bell to be ‘ready’ upon return to Steelers

Le’Veon Bell once again skipped out on the entirety of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason program amid contract issues, as was the case in 2017.

Irrespective of the timing of the disgruntled running back’s ultimate return — whether it occur in training camp or just ahead of the regular season like last year — Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has made it clear that Bell better be in good form when he shows up.

“I expect him to be ready, to be a big component for us in 2018,” Tomlin said Thursday at the conclusion of the team’s three-day minicamp, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s been around us long enough to know and understand and embrace that.”

Bell ultimately rejoined the Steelers last season the Monday ahead of the team’s Week 1 game. Absent the unlikely event that Bell and the Steelers hammer out a long-term contract, the expectation has to be the same this year as Bell once again has not signed a franchise-tag tender that will pay him $14.544 million in 2018.

The 26-year-old all-purpose back, playing on the franchise tag for $12.12 million, enjoyed a solid 2017 campaign despite his late arrival, although it did include a slow start. Bell failed to notch a 100-yard rushing game until Week 4. He did finish with 1,291 yards, good for third in the NFL.

That said, Tomlin nevertheless bemoans the reps Bell continues to miss out on in OTAs and minicamps.

“You can run and get in shape, you can do cardio work, but there’s no substitute for the unanticipated direction changes associated with playing, your reactionary things, particularly at the running back position,” Tomlin said. “That’s what this environment provides.”

Steelers players at minicamp were mostly ambivalent about Bell’s absence from the offseason program, with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey saying, “Nobody cares.”

Bell has long coveted the security afforded by signing a long-term contract. Regardless of whether or not that comes to fruition before the July 16 deadline, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert insisted in March that Bell will “be a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2018.”

It may just not be until September that the team sees him.