The Steelers bypassed Alabama's Eddie Lacy in the draft this year because of his history of injuries, even though many scouts rated him the best halfback available.
Instead, they selected halfback Le'Veon Bell in the second round after his workhorse career at Michigan State where he played 40 games in three seasons.
Sometimes, things just don't work out as planned.
Bell will miss up to six weeks with a small ligament tear in his right foot that should not need surgery, although a second reading of his MRI by an independent podiatrist in North Carolina was pending.
Coach Mike Tomlin declined to talk about Bell's injury Wednesday. The foot was injured on the final play of the first series of the second preseason game Monday night against the Washington Redskins. Bell, held out of the first game with a knee injury, ran four times for nine yards.
In the meantime, Lacy is the talk of Green Bay after his NFL running debut Saturday night produced 40 yards on eight carries against the St. Louis Rams. The Packers drafted Lacy in the second round, seven spots after the Steelers picked Bell.
"They got a steal getting [Lacy] where they got him," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted an NFL scout. "I thought he was going to go earlier. He's as advertised."
It's way too early to judge whether the Packers got the best of the two rookie halfbacks, but what looked like the safer pick by the Steelers has a serious foot injury after playing just one series on offense in the preseason. The Steelers now will turn to Isaac Redman and/or Jonathan Dwyer to carry the running game.
"You always want an opportunity, but you don't want it because someone got hurt," Dwyer said. "We all want a fair competition."
Injuries played a large part in the Steelers' running game last season, or the lack thereof, and they're invading their backfield again. LaRod Stephens-Howling missed the game in Washington with a knee strain, and there is no word on when he will return.
Redman, who also missed that game with a stinger after a planned brief appearance in the first game, believes he will return Saturday at Heinz Field against Kansas City. He was listed as sharing the No. 1 halfback job with Bell on the past two depth charts.
Neither Redman nor Dwyer were ready to concede that Bell would start before the rookie's foot injury, which followed a minor knee injury.
"I came to compete for the No. 1 spot," Redman declared Wednesday. "I take my job seriously. That's the reason I'm here, I'm a professional. I prepare each week like I'm the starter.
"They knew we were coming into training camp with everybody competing. There were a lot of jobs open -- starting jobs, third-down jobs, so I'm here to compete. Now that Le'Veon is down, we're a little banged up, I'm ready to step up and lead this room."
So is Dwyer.
"I wanted it," Dwyer said of his goal to be No. 1 this year. "But I knew there would be competition opening up. Whether you're standing at the beginning, No. 1, or No. 3, or No. 5, all that matters is what happens at the end, where you stand."
It is natural that both want to start, but can either carry the kind of load the Steelers had hoped to heap on their No. 1 halfback this year? Coaches all along have said they would like to have one starter, unlike last season when injuries to all of them forced a halfback by committee.
Dwyer carried 156 times last season with another 18 pass receptions, his career high. Redman's highs are 110 carries in each of the past two seasons with 19 and 18 receptions, respectively.
By comparison, their latest feature back, Rashard Mendenhall, carried 228 times in 2011, 324 in 2010 and 242 in 2009. It's one thing to flash a 100-yard game here and there, it's quite another to average 15 to 20 times a game for 16 games.
Dwyer's highest number of carries in an NFL game is 19, last season. Redman carried 26 times against the New York Giants last season and gained 147 yards, both career highs.
"I'm pretty sure they'd be glad if somebody came out and separated themselves from the bunch," Redman said. "I know they're never opposed to that. Hopefully, I can do that. It's a lot more than just talking about it; you have to go out there and perform."
With Bell out for at least the early part of the season, that makes three injured players the Steelers may carry with the idea they will return to play at some point during the regular season.
Tight end Heath Miller should come off the physically unable to perform list when they cut down to the 53-man roster Aug. 31, but he likely will not play the first month. They can put one player on the special injured-reserve/designated-to-return list Aug. 31 and use him eight weeks later. They hope to put Spaeth on that list.
They might keep an extra halfback on the roster because of Bell's situation.
They also have two preseason games to play with more opportunities for such injuries to further plague the decisions they must make on their final roster.
First Published August 22, 2013 4:00 AM