Sunday, August 21, 2016

Le'Veon Bell needs more than rushing yards to repair trust with Steelers

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writer 19, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers could have trust issues.
They love Le'Veon Bell's ability and work ethic, but he can't truly be counted on until he resumes spending season openers on their active roster.
It's not just that the Steelers lose a featured back to a three-game suspension. It's that Bell -- who missed the first two games last season after being arrested on DUI and marijuana possession charges (he got probation) -- had talked openly about staying out of trouble after his 2015 suspension but still found it.
Originally, Bell faced a four-game suspension, but the NFL announced Friday a reduction to three games, as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The NFL Players Association and NFL reached an agreement that Bell will stay in the same stage of the drug intervention program, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano, meaning another stumble would result in four more games missed, not 10. Six fewer games if he gets popped again, Steelers fans will say.
The fact that this dynamic has to be considered with Bell illustrates the core issue: The Steelers probably won't know what to expect from him off the field until he proves it over time.
The Steelers obviously have affection for Bell, who is one of the team's tone-setters with offseason training and on-field intensity. He handles himself well with the media and in the team facility. People want to see him do well. But he also said on social media that he wouldn't miss a game due to the suspension and for the haters, "Let em hate."
"When I end up missin no games at all, ppl for sure gonna try to love me again and I'm only ridin with my LOYAL fans!!," Bell wrote on his verified Instagram account directly to a fan.
That was always a difficult proposition when the NFL's substance abuse policy clearly states three missed tests equals four missed games. Bell missed the tests due to a travel issue that he failed to communicate to the tester, according to Graziano. Whoever is advising him needs to send him more text alerts.
In a video from his twitter feed that is no longer available, apparently Bell said he missed the tests in the early stages of his knee rehab -- November and December of 2015 -- and the punishment is 'on me.' He vows to become a 'better person' from this, according to quotes circulating from the video, and he hasn't smoked marijuana since 2014.
That's why the team doesn't see Bell as a character concern in the classic sense. But since everyone waited for the appeal to play out, and the suspension is still coming (though cut to three games), general manager Kevin Colbert is left to play the role of disappointed dad.
"We will continue to work with Le'Veon to help him eliminate distractions in his life so he can reach his full potential as a member of our community as well as a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers," Colbert said.
Everyone in the Steelers' building wants to believe it. Bell believes it.
It's up to him to reinforce it.
On the field, Bell will be fine. That's never been the issue. Get him out there and the skills take over. In fact, this could be his most productive season. He'll be hungry to tear through the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive line in Week 4 after watching without pads for three games.
After the season, the Steelers will face one of the more fascinating free-agency decisions if Bell is unsigned. As is customary every year, the Steelers will close the window on 2016 negotiations before the first game.
Bell can make money by the way he handles the next offseason or two.

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