Ron Cook: Bad day on field for Steelers; worse off it


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PHILADELPHIA -- They played as if they were on dope. Not just Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. All of the Steelers.

Sorry, that was too easy.

The Steelers are something of a national joke today, but coach Mike Tomlin isn't laughing. It's bad enough that his team put on an inept performance in every way Thursday night in a 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the third and most important of their four exhibition games and lost top defenders Jason Worilds (knee) and Cameron Heyward (ankle) to potentially serious injuries. Tomlin's top two running backs, Bell and Blount, are facing marijuana charges after being stopped on their way to the airport Wednesday afternoon for the team flight here.

And you thought you were having a rotten morning?

"Obviously, that conduct is detrimental to our effort," Tomlin said of Bell and Blount. "They'll be dealt with appropriately."

Tomlin elected to play Bell and Blount against the Eagles despite their legal trouble, saying he didn't view sending the two home "as punishment." Each of the backs was charged with marijuana possession after a Ross motorcycle police officer smelled marijuana coming from their vehicle on McKnight Road. Bell also was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. Tomlin will wait for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the discipline for Bell and Blount. I have no problem with that. The players almost certainly will get a one-game suspension, although it might not be until next season.

Neither Bell nor Blount did much against the Eagles, although Tomlin kept using them deep into the game. Talk about punishment. Bell had nine carries for 23 yards and caught one pass for 3 yards. Blount had seven carries for 32 yards and had three catches for 14 yards. The rest of the first-team offense, which looked so good in the previous game against the Buffalo Bills, was no better. It wasn't until its eighth possession deep in the third quarter that it finally scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller. Roethlisberger had a tough night, completing just 15 of 24 passes for 157 yards with two sacks and one interception. The first-team defense gave up three long touchdown drives and 24 points. The team was penalized 13 times for 92 yards.

"A disappointing performance for us," Tomlin said. "It was unacceptable. We don't want to play like that under any circumstances, but we did."

All of it was awful, but Bell's and Blount's stupidity was the big story of this horrible day. Each player apologized for being a distraction to the team, but refused to take questions from the media on the incident.

What Bell and Blount did isn't among the worst crimes committed against mankind. Marijuana is legal for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington. It might be a safer pain reliever than prescribed narcotics. It's safe to say Bell and Blount aren't the only users on the Steelers. Former safety Ryan Clark said as much in the spring when he talked of how easy it is to beat the NFL drug-testing system.

But, like it or not, marijuana is illegal in Pennsylvania. It's also banned by the NFL. Apparently, Bell and Blount didn't care. What's really criminal is the total lack of respect they showed for their profession and their team. Their timing stinks. They couldn't have waited until their off day today? They had to get high in the middle of the day on their way to a business trip? That's no way to be a professional. You wonder how they can look Tomlin -- let alone their teammates -- in the eye. They let everyone down.

What were Bell and Blount thinking? Chances are they would have had to walk by Tomlin or other club officials on the team plane. I don't know anything about marijuana smoke, but I'm guessing the smell lingers on your clothes. What if Tomlin had smelled it? You don't need a police report to get into the jackpot with your boss.

Clearly, they weren't thinking.

Bell is a young player, just 22, the Steelers' feature back now and, the team hopes, for a long time in the future. He has to be responsible for his actions. There is no excuse for him to be driving if he were under the influence of marijuana. He could be facing something much more serious than just marijuana charges if his vehicle had been involved in an accident.

But Blount gets most of the blame here. He is the veteran player in this sad story. If he is mentoring Bell, he's doing a really lousy job.

It's becoming easier to think Blount is a bad guy. He was suspended on multiple occasions in college at Oregon, most infamously for punching a Boise State player after the first game of his senior season. The Steelers are his fourth NFL team in five seasons. Why? Early in this Steelers camp, he jumped into a fight between teammates Bell and linebacker Vince Williams and started swinging even though he wasn't dressed for practice. He turned a fairly typical training-camp incident into chaos. Now, there's this marijuana business.

The Steelers signed Blount to a two-year, $3.85 million contract in the offseason, hoping to energize what was a weak running game for much of last season. It seemed like a great deal at the time. It doesn't seem nearly so great now.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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