Mike Tomlin has made it public that Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will participate in the Steelers final preseason game Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers. Normally for the fourth preseason game veterans or assumed starters get the night off. That will be true for people like Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Worilds, Troy Polamalu, Cameron Heyward, and Heath Miller. However, that won’t be the case for Bell and Blount, who are facing a suspension and/or a fine from Tomlin and the Steelers. The reason Bell and Blount haven’t been suspended for the final two preseason games is because Tomlin feels like it is more of a punishment to play in a preseason game, rather than be able to miss the game. Against the Eagles last week, Blount was taking carries into the fourth quarter. That logic is understandable. What veteran wants to waste reps late in preseason games with the regular season just days away?
Yesterday, Nice Pick, Cowher’s very own Craig Gottschalk wrote about the impact Bell and Blount will have on the Steelers to start the season. If they are suspended for week one, that puts rookie Dri Archer in line for the start with the possibility of taking 15 or so carries. If it’s not Archer, then it will be a plethora of guys who haven’t taken an NFL carry and were probably on the cut line had Bell and Blount not gotten arrested. One sentence in the article that caught my attention was how Lance Moore said the team hasn’t been thinking about the situation and that it won’t be a distraction when the season starts. That seems hard to believe. All eyes will be on Bell and Blount if they are playing into the third quarter against the Panthers and then the spotlight will be on them once again whenever a punishment is handed down. The other distraction, which Gottschalk perfectly summed up, is that during week one if they aren’t available the offense will not be used to seeing Archer as the bell cow of the offense. They will have improvise against the Browns without their two running backs.
Therefore, the decision to play Bell and Blount versus the Panthers may not be the best decision for the team. The Steelers and Tomlin should think about starting the suspension right now and then extending it into the regular season if they want. That way the offensive line and wide receivers will at least get used to life without the two distractions playing. The situation feels similar to the Cleveland Browns decision to play Josh Gordon during the preseason. Gordon might be suspended for the year or at least eight games, however the Browns decided to utilize him throughout the preseason, potentially stunting the growth of other receivers. Plus the decision to play Gordon may throw off the offense for Brad Hoyer. In week one Gordon won’t be out there and Hoyer will need to find other targets. On Thursday Big Ben won’t be under center for the Steelers and it’s doubtful that Todd Haley will be showing the league much with his play calls. Despite that, the offense should at least give Stephen Houston and Josh Harris a chance to get more carries than Bell and Blount. That way depending on the potential punishment the offense will at least have some familiarity with the less experienced running backs giving the Steelers a better chance to succeed on September 7th against the Browns.
What do you think Steelers Nation? Is playing Bell and Blount a good punishment? Or would sitting them benefit the team more?