Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday that rookie running back Le'Veon Bell has a mid-foot sprain in his right foot, but the injury is not as severe as initially feared and he is "optimistic and encouraged" how Bell's foot has responded.
Tomlin said Bell would not play in a preseason game Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field, but would not speculate on a possible return date. But he said Bell does not need surgery and that the injury is not a Lisfranc sprain similar to the one incurred tight end Matt Spaeth two weeks ago. Spaeth had surgery to repair the tear and will be out at least 8 to 10 weeks.
"We are optimistic and encouraged how it has developed over the last 48 and 72 hours," Tomlin said. "He's doing some things without discomfort. All those things are positive.
"We don't have a long-range schedule [for his return]. We'll treat it conservatively with rehab and declare him out this week. But in the big scheme of things, that is encouraging news."
Asked if Bell would be ready for the regular-season opener against Tennessee, Tomlin said, "I hadn't asked. It's just great to hear that it is what it is. It's perking up day by day."
Bell was on crutches in the locker room before practice Thursday, but he said he can walk and put pressure on the foot without discomfort. He also has been doing some rehabilitation exercises, including picking up marbles with his toes.
"I'm just taking it day by day and trying to get back as soon as I can," Bell said. "I'm already healing quick. As long as the process keeps going the way it is I should be back pretty quick."
Bell, known for his durability at Michigan State, has not discussed a timetable with doctors, but he indicated there will be a cautious approach to rehabilitation.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "If my foot even gets close to me feeling like I can play on it, I'm going to try to play on it. I know it's a long season. I want to make sure everything is comfortable, so I can play how I want to pay. I don't want the injury to come back or get worse. I want to make sure the injury is good and go from there."
Bell said the injury occurred on the fourth play of the preseason game at Washington Monday night when a Redskins defender fell on the back of his leg after a running play. He participated in one more play -- a pass attempt by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- before leaving the game.
It is the second injury this preseason for Bell, who is trying to earn the starting job at running back. He bruised his left knee early in camp and aggravated the injury last week before the Washington game.
"It's frustrating a little bit, not being hurt before and I end up getting hurt twice," Bell said. "It gets frustrating at times. Now I'm faced with it, I'm going to fight through it and get back as quickly as possible."
Tomlin said he is "not concerned at all" that Bell has been injured three times already in training camp.
"You play football, you get hurt," he said. "It's part of it."
Without him, the Steelers will have to rely on the same two backs as they did in 2012 when Rashard Mendenhall was hurt -- Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. Tomlin, however, did not say who would start against the Chiefs because Redman is working his way back from a stinger that kept him out of the Redskins game.
"We'll watch their participation [in practice] and make that determination at the 11th hour," Tomlin said.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published August 23, 2013 4:00 AM