Offensive linemen ready to accept Bell’s return to Steelers
Marcus Gilbert was talking about Le’Veon Bell the football player and not the moonlighting rap singer when he said he’s ready to welcome back the star runner to the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room in two weeks.
“It’s music to my ears,” Gilbert said. “It sounds good.”
The Steelers right tackle then changed his tune.
“But I wish we could have him back today,” he said. “Why’s he taking so long? ... Why wouldn’t he come back here and be around the guys and see us in the eye? I don’t know. I know we’re all waiting on him.”
The Steelers have been waiting on Bell to report since Sept. 3 when they began preparations for the season opener in Cleveland. Bell was a no-show that day, and when he didn’t appear two days later, he was excoriated by many of the offensive linemen who had opened holes for him the previous five seasons.
Guard Ramon Foster: “I’m tired of the antics.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey: “It’s a little selfish. I’m kinda (ticked).”
Guard David DeCastro: “He makes us all look kind of stupid.”
The mood wasn’t as hostile Wednesday when the Steelers returned to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time since ESPN reported Bell will return during the team’s bye, which begins Oct. 15.
While Foster and DeCastro were guarded in their reaction to the news, Pouncey called it “awesome.”
“We love Le’Veon,” he said. “Sometimes, I think that gets misconstrued, how much we care about him. We all want the best for him. People take things the wrong way sometimes, and we’re totally fine with him.”
Emotions ran high four weeks earlier because Bell’s absence was impacting the team concept, and players weren’t given advance notice he would sit out games. Bell has missed four, and the total will reach six by the time of his anticipate arrival date.
“We’ve done a lot of great things with Le’Veon,” Pouncey said. “Sometimes, you let things get in the way, but he’s been a heck of a player here, a great teammate. We’ll never forget that. I’m pretty sure when he comes back everybody will be fine with it.”
Foster didn’t sound as forgiving.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff in-house we have to deal with more than anything,” he said. “If he shows up, that’s awesome. If he comes later, that’s cool. Our job right now is to win these games that’s in front of us until he does.”
DeCastro expressed a similar sentiment.
“If he’s not here, he’s not here. I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. “We’ll go with who we’ve got this week, and when he comes back, he comes back.”
Gilbert remained silent in early September when Bell extended his stay-cation in South Florida. He preferred not to pass judgment that day.
“You never know what a guy is dealing with. That’s why I never said anything,” he said. “You have to respect his decision. But selfishly, shoot, you have best receiver in the game. You have a Hall of Fame quarterback and arguably the best running back in the game ,and not having them all at once, especially when you’ve been working together for so many years, it kind of hurts. It (stinks).”
If Bell remains true to his word and returns during the bye, the Steelers could use a two-week roster exemption to not only withhold salary but to give him time to get in game shape. The Steelers play Cleveland at home Oct. 28 and at Baltimore the following Sunday. They won’t play another division game until the last week of the season.
“We just want to see him play football,” Gilbert said. “That’s our thing. Anything beside contracts, leave that to his agent. I’m just here to be his teammate. We all play football, and I want to see the best player on the field, which he normally is every time he’s on the field.”