Le’Veon Bell no longer listed on Steelers depth chart
Despite coach Mike Tomlin’s assertion that nothing has changed in regards to Le’Veon Bell’s status with the Pittsburgh Steelers, one thing was noticeably different Tuesday.
Bell no longer was listed on the team’s official depth chart.
After being listed as a starter in advance of the season opener in Cleveland, Bell was nowhere to be found on the depth chart released Tuesday. James Conner, who totaled 192 scrimmage yards in the 21-21 tie against the Browns on Sunday, was listed as the starter.
Rookie Jaylen Samuels was listed as Conner’s backup, with veteran Stevan Ridley occupying the third spot.
At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Tomlin said he has not contacted Bell and has received no clarity on when the Pro Bowl running back might report to the team. Bell remains absent and will forfeit $855,000 in salary for each week he misses while declining to sign his $14.544 million franchise-tag tender.
“From that perspective, nothing has changed regarding us,” Tomlin said. “We’re preparing to play this week with the guys that are here and working – James being central to that. I will not withhold information from you guys. If and when any of that changes, I’ll let you know. If it does not, my answer will remain the same.”
Many teammates have not heard from Bell, who was spotted partying at a Miami nightclub until the wee hours of the morning Tuesday by TMZ Sports.
“I have not talked to him, and I’m not even setting expectations so I can’t be excited or disappointed,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly 93.7-FM radio segment. “I’m proceeding this week like we did last week with James and the other guys in the building.”
Conner carried 31 times for 135 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Browns. He also caught five passes for 57 yards.
Although offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner indicated that the other running backs would rotate into the game, Conner was the only one to get a carry while playing 77 of 84 snaps. Ridley played four snaps on special teams, and Samuels was not listed on the play-time stat sheet.
Roethlisberger, with three carries, and wide receiver Ryan Switzer, with one, were the only players aside from Conner featured on running plays.
“We have no reservations about using any of our guys that are suited for the game and are willing and capable,” Tomlin said. “James Conner was doing well. He was in great physical condition. We infused Ryan Switzer in some by concept. That’s really just how the game unfolded.”
Conner, however, appeared to wear down as the game unfolded. Starting with his fumble midway through the fourth quarter that swung the momentum back to the Browns, Conner gained 14 yards on his final 10 attempts.
Conner hadn’t logged more than 31 carries in a game since his sophomore season at Pitt when he had 38 attempts on Nov. 1, 2014 against Duke. In his final year at Pitt, when he returned from a cancer diagnosis and a serious knee injury in 2016, Conner had a season-high 24 carries against Oklahoma State and a season-high 26 touches against Penn State.
Conner had just 32 total carries in 14 games last season while serving as Bell’s backup.
Tomlin doesn’t think Conner’s use in practice this week needs to be monitored.
“I watched that guy tote that ball a lot next door,” Tomlin said. “He’s been doing that a long time. I think he’s used to that. I think he gets better with use. I think that’s one of the things that was attractive about him.
“What was it, I think it was his sophomore year when he scored (26) touchdowns. He likes to carry the football. He warms up for it.
The downside in his debut as a starter was the fumble forced by Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett. After the ball popped loose, the Browns returned the ball 16 yards to the Steelers 1 midway through the fourth quarter and scored on the next play to trim the deficit to 21-14.
“He was definitely down on himself, hard on himself and a little beat up on himself,” Roethlisberger said. “I told him, ‘Listen, you played a heck of a game. You can’t put that one on yourself. You ran the ball, you caught, you blocked, you did a lot of great things for us.’ ”
The Steelers will head into the practice week with cornerback Joe Haden (hamstring) and guard David DeCastro (broken hand) nursing injuries.
Haden didn’t return after hurting his hamstring on special teams in the fourth quarter.
“We’ll see if he’s available in some capacity tomorrow and see if that availability grows as we push through the week,” Tomlin said.
DeCastro left the game after his injury but missed only two snaps before returning.
“It may affect him from a participation standpoint in practice at least as we get started this week,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin also said Roethlisberger has some elbow soreness that may limit him in practice early in the week.
Backup defensive lineman Tyson Alualu is dealing with a minor shoulder injury, Tomlin said.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.