By Christina Rivers
Possibly the biggest news for the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into their week three game against the St. Louis Rams on the road is the return of running back Le’Veon Bell from a two-game suspension. Any notion of a running back controversy were put to bed by head coach Mike Tomlin who made every indication on Tuesday that Bell will be the Steelers’ starting running back. Tomlin also talked about how the Steelers are preparing for the Rams, especially the defensive line.
On Bell and Williams in the offensive backfield
In his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin spoke early about the return of the Steelers’ All-Pro rusher (Bell) who led the AFC with 1,361 yards rushing in 2014 and pushed to the top of franchise records as an offensive back with 83 receptions. Only a hyperextended knee kept Bell out of the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. That isn’t to say that Tomlin didn’t express the appreciation he has for the job that Bell’s primary backup has done over the preseason and past two regular season games. “I can’t say enough about the contributions of DeAngelo Williams,” Tomlin said. “He’s been a good asset and acquisition for us. He’s working hard to compete and contribute in all areas…we are excited about [getting Bell back]. But we are excited about having both guys.”
Williams gave the Steelers 204 yards in the ground game as a ten-year veteran, leading the AFC after two games. Against the San Francisco 49ers, Williams tied the franchise record with three rushing touchdowns (with Wille Parker).
When Tomlin was asked if he would wait to see how Bell did in practice before making a game decision on playing status, Tomlin answered, “No, I am going to use him.” As for how the Steelers will use Williams, Tomlin said, “We will figure that out as we go.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger offered some insight during his time on the weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan about what his feelings are on the situation with two healthy, powerful running backs in the Steelers’ offensive backfield. “(Bell) doesn’t like to come out of the game. That’s no secret and that’s because he’s in phenomenal shape,” Roethlisberger said. “But I think it’s still beneficial not just to him [or] to this team in the short term, but in the long term. You’re talking about a long season. If every third series, every fourth series, whatever it is, let (Williams) come in.” As the team’s veteran quarterback and an offensive captain, Roethlisberger may have Tomlin’s ear in some cases, but whether he can convince the coaching staff to utilize that approach remains to be seen. “We all feel confident in DeAngelo,” Roethlisberger said. “The other thing I think we can do is we can put them both on the field at the same time. I think Le’Veon is so dangerous out of the backfield, you know, put them both on the field and use one as a screen, the other as a runner, who knows? I think the possibilities could be endless.”
With the return of Bell to the active 53-man roster, the Steelers will have until 4 p.m. (Eastern) to make room by releasing a player. With several backs on the offensive roster, there has been speculation that a trim could be made there. Tomlin did not indicate where the move would be made.
In Bell’s own words
Bell hasn’t just been sitting around during the time he was removed from the team. On Monday, he told the media that in addition to working out he spent the past couple of weeks, specifically, focusing on returning to the Steelers ready to go. “This is easily the best shape I’ve ever been in,” Bell said. “I thought (my suspension) was going to be a long two weeks. It was definitely hard watching (the team) compete…I’m excited to be back.”
Bell admitted that he was not surprised at all by the play of Williams. “I’ve been watching him for a long time, so I thought he did everything I was expecting him to do and more. I’m glad to be able to come back and help him out a little…we are both guys who like to win, so neither one of us are selfish guys. We just want to win the game and put up as many points as possible.”
Preparing for the St. Louis Rams defense
The one area that keeps coach Tomlin awake at night, according to his own words, is the Rams defense and Aaron Donald. “(He) is their man inside and up front,” said Tomlin. “I know quite a bit about (him), probably too much. The things I know about his don’t help me sleep easy.” Tomlin spoke of running into Donald in the Pitt parking lot one night early in 2015 and that the Pro Bowler who was the Lombardi Award Winner, Bronko Nagurski Trophy holder, won the Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy for his play at the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 was simply picking right back up after being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014. “(Donald) is extremely talented, but he’s also a hard worker,” said Tomlin.
St. Louis has traditionally been a place in NFL lore where games were hard fought for victory, something Tomlin recalled from the days the Trans World Dome was home of ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’. And although the Rams aren’t the same team they were when led by guys like Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, Tomlin expects what is now called the Edward Jones Done to be plenty hostile and loud. “As I prepare for (the Rams) now, I think about that defensive front in that (dome) environment and having to work on silent counts and the quality of the men they have up from and how that can impact the game,” said Tomlin.
Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Nick Fairley and Chris Long are all concerns for Tomlin as he gets his team ready. After finishing with 40 sacks last season, the Rams have eight in their first two games of 2015 with Donald leading with 2.5 and Quinn with 2. “We have to do a great job of protecting the quarterback,” Tomlin stated, “but (Roethlisberger) also has to do a great job of getting the ball out. We have to do a great job of running, and mixing the run and pass and play-action to stymie their pass rush. They’re very good at what they do. That’s where the challenge of this week starts.”
Early injury updates
Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers has swelling in his left knee following the week two game against the 49ers that may limit his practice time this week, but will be monitored. Cornerback Cortez Allen was once again demoted after not giving the coaching staff an indication in practice that he was ready to play on Sunday. An inflamed knee has limited Allen but the severity of the injury is not considered to be one that requires surgery according to Tomlin.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on