Eagle: Steelers Might Not Play Bell When He Returns

When Le'Veon Bell returns, don’t expect James Conner to return to the bench. In fact, don’t expect Bell to leave it

The DA Show
October 30, 2018 - 12:14 pm

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It remains to be seen when Le’Veon Bell will report to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but at this point, one must wonder if the Steelers even want him back.

“That’s not to say that Le’Veon Bell couldn’t help this team,” NFL on CBS analyst Ian Eagle said on The DA Show. “Let’s not diminish his talent and what he has shown over the course of his career. He is a supreme running back, but I don’t believe they want the distraction anymore. I think this offensive line has gotten used to blocking for James Conner, which is different than blocking for Le’Veon Bell.”

Indeed, Conner is more straightforward, while Bell is more patient.

“Bell, because of his improvisational skills – the play could be called left and he’ll circle back right, get to the outside, zig zag for 16 yards and it’s considered a successful play,” Eagle said. “But it’s not the way it was drawn up. It’s not the way it was schemed. It’s not the way that these offensive linemen envision their jobs on that particular play. That can sometimes be frustrating.

“But I believe in my gut that if they had their druthers right now, this thing would be over with,” Eagle continued. “It would be done. They wouldn’t be talking about it anymore. But it’s Bell who holds the cards in this situation, and I think they have played a game of chicken. They drew a line in the sand, and neither side has budged. Le’Veon, to me at this stage, just wants to make sure he gets his year qualifier so that he can go out and make himself a new deal for next year and make back some of the money that he’s lost this year.”

There’s just one problem: Conner has been unbelievable in Bell’s absence. He is third in the league in rushing yards (599), second in rushing touchdowns (nine) and has 31 catches for 323 yards.

That’s not good for Bell’s value – real or perceived.

“I don’t know if the market is going to be what he and his agent presumed it to be,” Eagle said. “When the backup, James Conner – second-year player, third-round pick – comes in and actually surpasses Le’Veon Bell’s numbers, it’s going to take a little bit away from the case that you make trying to convince teams that you’re a generational talent.”

One thing Eagle knows for sure: When Bell returns, don’t expect Conner to return to the bench. In fact, don’t expect Bell to leave it.

“There’s a chance that when the smoke clears here and he shows up and signs it and gets paid for the rest of the season – there’s a chance that they just don’t play him,” Eagle said. “That’s a very real possibility. Now you would say on the surface, ‘How can you even say that? He’s going to be better than Jaylen Samuels. He’s going to be better than Stevan Ridley.’ Of course. But I don’t know if they’re going to reward him with touches and a showcase unless it’s out of necessity. 

“That’s the big key,” Eagle continued. “Conner . . . has taken a lot of hits and he dishes out punishment, too. But the wear and tear has been there for James Conner. If Conner wears down a bit in the second half of the season, maybe that opens up an area and a role for Le’Veon Bell. But this idea that Bell will just step back in and everything is back to the way it started – that’s not even remotely possible.”