The Steelers have kept mum on the seriousness of the foot injury to rookie halfback Le'Veon Bell, although one source said it does not seem as serious as the Lisfranc injury to tight end Matt Spaeth.
Nevertheless, the right mid-foot injury is the third for the back they hoped could be their bell cow for a revived running game this season. He did not play in the preseason opener because of a bruised knee, which was reinjured last week in training camp.
He started the game Monday night against the Washington Redskins, ran the ball on the first four plays for a total of 9 yards and was apparently injured on the fifth when Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and scrambled up the middle.
Bell limped off and did not return. The question now is, did the improved run game limp off with him?
Bell likely will miss some time, and, until he returns, the Steelers will turn to some familiar names at halfback -- Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch along with veteran LaRod Stephens-Howling, the former Pitt player who joined them this year.
Redman did not play Monday because of a stinger in practice last week, but he should be fine, as should Batch, who left the game Monday with a stinger, or pinched nerve. Stephens-Howling did not play Monday (knee strain) and fullback Will Johnson left with a rib injury. Coach Mike Tomlin said all should be fine.
Dwyer ran Monday night like the back who has teased them with his talent since he arrived as a sixth-round pick from Georgia Tech three years ago. He replaced the injured Bell on the second series and led them with 68 yards on 14 carries. He also lost a fumble in the first half, which seemed to irritate Tomlin, who said "obviously, putting the ball on the ground doesn't help him or us."
"But, other than that, I thought he did some nice things. He had his moments."
The Steelers have billed Redman as their starter on their depth chart, but moved Bell up last week to co-starter, and those two remain listed that way in the Tomlin-approved depth chart produced Tuesday.
Redman, who came to training camp about 10 pounds lighter, should get the start Saturday night when the Kansas City Chiefs play at Heinz Field and could open the season as their starting halfback. But Dwyer has wedged his way back into the picture after he fell into disfavor when he reported in the spring at 265 pounds. He's now 230 and running more like the player who ran for 229 yards in consecutive games last October.
"I was just trying to do whatever I have to do to help my team," Dwyer said after the 24-13 loss Monday against the Redskins. "They gave me the opportunity, and I tried to make the best of it.
"Every day, I just try to be as consistent as possible and show what I can do and try to grow when I'm on the field."
The Steelers drafted Bell in the second round for a reason, but if he cannot play for a long stretch, they have little choice but to turn to Redman and Dwyer.
Thanks for everything
Perhaps that anonymous Steelers veteran did a favor for his teammates when he complained about LaMarr Woodley's workout habits that he felt were at the root of his injuries and lack of production the past 11/2 years.
Woodley looks as if he is back to the quarterback-ravaging linebacker who started 2011 with nine sacks in his first eight games. He has had only four since.
Although Woodley denies the infamous comments had any effect on him or that he changed his workout routine, he did just that. Safety Ryan Clark convinced him to work out with his trainer in Arizona, and Clark said he's noticed a difference. Woodley did not miss a training camp practice this summer with an injury, which has been rare the past few years. He sacked Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins Monday night, bull-rushing the tackle to do so.
"He's as slim as we've ever seen him," Clark said. "He's moving well, he got to the quarterback. I think if he continues to play the way he plays and whatever guy ends up starting on the other side plays well I think we'll be set at outside linebacker."
Clark got a firsthand look this year after convincing Woodley to join him out West.
"I've never seen him look so good. I trained with him this offseason in Arizona. I've been trying to get him to come out there for a number of years, and, this year, he finally came. He was committed to it, committed to his diet, committed to his training. I think it's showing in the way his body looks, for one, but also in how he's playing.
"Early in the game, a tight end tried to block him on a stretch play. I think he was like 5 yards deep into the backfield. I told him, 'tight ends can't block you.'
"That's what we need from him. We need him to dominate his side and whatever guy we have step up and start at the right outside linebacker play well, we'll be set on the bookends."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 21, 2013 4:00 AM