Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who was expected to take some snaps with the first-team offense in the Steelers' preseason opener Saturday night against the New York Giants, did not dress due to knee soreness.
Bell, the team's second-round draft pick from Michigan State, has been a standout player in training camp. Coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday that Bell had earned the opportunity to play with the offensive starters, even though he is listed fifth on the depth chart.
Bell has been dealing with soreness in his left knee the past week. After watching Bell in practice the past couple of days, Tomlin did not believe he was completely healthy and did not want to risk further injury.
Isaac Redman started at running back and carried twice for 7 yards on the opening drive. The Steelers then took a long look at free agent pickup and former Pitt star LaRod Stephens-Howling, who carried six times for 36 yards on the second drive with the starters.
"LaRod Stephens-Howling had some cuts on the backside, and he's a great running back," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "He has great vision, and he got outside and made some plays."
Jonathan Dwyer also saw time with the first-team offense on the second drive, but did not get a carry. Shaun Suisham kicked a 34-yard field goal to complete the second drive.
With the first-team offense in the game, the Steelers rushed for 47 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 4-for-8 passes for 36 yards.
"I would say that our run game is doing really well right now," receiver Antonio Brown said. "The offensive line is creating space, and we are playing in synch. We don't want to reflect too much on last year, but I think we are a lot further ahead at this point than we were last year."
Jones makes an impact
First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones didn't wait long to make an impact. On his first series early in the second quarter, Jones recovered an Andre Brown fumble at the Giants 44. Brown took the handoff from backup quarterback David Carr and fumbled without being hit.
Gradkowski makes his debut
Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski took over for the third series and completed his first pass as a Steeler -- a 9-yarder to fullback Will Johnson.
On his second series, Gradkowski led the Steelers on a drive that resulted in a field goal. He finished with six pass completions in 11 attempts for 35 yards before being replaced by rookie Landry Jones in the third quarter.
A Dormont native, Gradkowski played previously with Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Cleveland, Oakland and Cincinnati.
Bad beginning for new coach
New special-teams coach Danny Smith was brought in to improve the special teams, but his unit committed a penalty on its first opportunity that forced Drew Butler to punt again after pinning the Giants in their own territory. Giants defensive end Damonte Moore blocked the second attempt, and New York recovered at the Steelers 5. DaMon Cromartie-Smith, a reserve defensive back attempting to make the 53-man roster, whiffed on his attempt to block Moore. The Giants settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The defense did not allow a yard after the blocked punt, something that pleased veteran defensive end Brett Keisel.
"It was a good start," he said. "We know that we will get put into situations like that during the year. In order for us to be a good defense, we have to go out there and make stops no matter how much field is left."
The next series, the final one for the Steelers first-team defense, was not as good as Eli Manning threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Victor Cruz on third-and-4.
"I'm upset that we gave up a touchdown, but we are just going to have to sit and chew on that for a while until we play again," said Keisel.
Reserve linebacker Stevenson Sylvester injured his right ankle in the second quarter while covering a punt. After Sylvester sprung up from making a tackle, rookie receiver Markus Wheat on rolled into his ankle. He did not return. ... Former Steelers safety Ryan Mundy (from Woodland Hills High School) is in camp with the Giants and made a hard hit on fullback Will Johnson in the first quarter and looked at the Steelers bench. ... Several injured Steelers did not dress for the game, including defensive backs Cortez Allen, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Curtis Brown, Ross Ventrone and Terry Hawthorne; defensive lineman Nick Williams; and three players on the physically unable to perform list -- tight ends Heath Miller and David Johnson and linebacker Sean Spence. ... Former Pitt fullback Henry Hynoski did not dress for the Giants. ...New York receiver Kris Adams suffered a fractured leg in the third quarter when he slipped while making a cut on the Heinz Field grass.Steelers - mobilehome
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1230 and Twitter @rayfitt1.