Mike Tomlin said rookie halfback Le'Veon Bell looks ready to play his first game, and might start Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in London.
Pardon quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he does not get too excited about the news.
"We are excited about watching him be a full participant this week during the course of practice," Tomlin said. "We will let that dictate his play, but we are optimistic about his availability."
Bell has not played since he left the second preseason game with a small tear of a ligament in his right foot. The Steelers drafted him in the second round and were preparing him to be their starting halfback. Tomlin said Bell "perked up dramatically" in practice last week, although he was inactive for his third consecutive game Sunday night.
Roethlisberger was skeptical when he talked about Bell's prospects of playing on his show Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan.
"Honestly, I have no idea with him," Roethlisberger said. "You can't get a read on him. One day, he's practicing, one day, he's not; one day, he's going hard, the next day, he's not. I wish I could.
"If he was a guy like Heath Miller that you knew was busting his butt every day to get back there ... Le'Veon is a rookie, I don't know him quite well enough yet. But if he can come back and help us, we'll take him."
The Steelers drafted Bell from Michigan State to improve a running game that sunk to 26th in the NFL last season and lost former first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall in free agency. Bell played 40 games in his three seasons at Michigan State, where he ran for 1,740 yards in 13 games in 2012.
Yet that durability has not transferred to the pros.
He bruised a knee in training camp that kept him out of the first preseason game, and after running four times for 9 yards in the first series of the second preseason game at the Washington Redskins, Bell left with his midfoot sprain.
There is little question that he is the most-talented back the Steelers have.
Todd Haley compared him to Eddie George after the draft, and the coordinator acknowledged in August that Bell's running style reminded him of Franco Harris.
Bell is 6 feet 1, 244 pounds.
"He's not a guy that you'd shy away from giving it to him 30 times a game," Haley said in the spring.
Without Bell -- they also lost veteran LaRod Stephens-Howling to an ACL tear in the opener -- the Steelers have had little success running the ball.
• Matchup: Steelers (0-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3), Wembley Stadium, London.
• When: 1 p.m. Sunday.
• TV: KDKA.
They were next-to-last in the NFL after two games with 76 yards rushing. They more than doubled that with 80 yards Monday night against Chicago, but they still rank 31st and have been juggling backs through three games.
Isaac Redman started the opener and was scheduled to start the second game until he was hurt on the opening kickoff.
Felix Jones then started the second game and leaped over Redman by starting again against the Bears.
The second back in was Jonathan Dwyer, who was cut and re-signed after the opener.
Jones leads them with 71 yards rushing and a 4.2-yard average per carry.
As for how much Bell might play in London, Tomlin said, "We'll let the practice process be our guide in terms of deciding how much work he gets in the football game."
Business before pleasure
Both Tomlin and Roethlisberger defended the veteran players' decision last week to ban all young players from playing pool, pingpong and shuffleboard in the locker room.
The ruling came out of a meeting last Wednesday of what Roethlisberger calls the 08ers, those 10 players who also were on the team when they won their most recent Lombardi Trophy. Players who are not four-year veterans are prohibited from playing games during the workday in the locker room.
That decision was a popular topic of debate on radio shows last week, and Roethlisberger talked about it Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan.
"It was more just a statement," said Roethlisberger, who added that he did not think the move would split the team into factions, old and young.
"We just wanted to set the tone as older guys, say 'Listen, stop getting so comfortable. If you're a young guy or rookie who isn't playing or isn't practicing or is making mistakes, instead of coming down and playing pool, why don't you come down and get in your book, or ask a guy a question, or get treatment?'
"We wanted to make sure that guys understood it's about football. You can have that team-building and stuff, but if you're a guy who's not out there and not performing, you need to find a way to get on the field and perform."
Tomlin supported the move.
"These guys are competitors. They are competitors by nature. You provide outlets for them of healthy competition, provided that it doesn't get in the way of work.
"That decision was made by our leadership. I respect it. I think our team respects it. It was done in the right spirit under the circumstances. We will continue with it."
On the medical front
Not much good news has come out of the training facility lately, but Tomlin provided what he thought was better health news.
"We are the best that we've been," he said.
Besides Bell's possible return, Tomlin cited the play of Miller in his first game back from January reconstructive knee surgery.
They limited Miller's number of snaps Sunday night, but that might not be the case in London.
Starting cornerback Cortez Allen, who missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, should return to play Sunday, Tomlin said.
Brett Keisel and Steve McLendon might be limited early this week in practices because of hamstring injuries, but Tomlin believes both will play.
Not much of a departure
The Minnesota Vikings are in London and will practice there all week.
Tomlin long ago decided to have practices at the team's facility through Thursday, then fly to London that night, arrive Friday and have their final practice later that day in England.
Said Tomlin, "I value normalcy in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint and from a practice standpoint -- use of our facilities, the comforts of home if you will, and the installation of the plan and the development of the plan over the former."
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 September 25, 2013 4:00 AM