Experience will help Steelers deal with Bell

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have to ask themselves a $50 million (at least) question: Is Le’Veon Bell a knucklehead?

It seems to be trending that way, and that’s a big (at least $50 million) problem.

Bell is a premier running back and a perfect fit for the Steelers, who also use his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He has even lined up at receiver to become a threat in another role. He gets more touches than a door handle at Disneyland.

But Bell has also shown a sharp proclivity for knucklehead-like behavior. He hitched a ride with LeGarrette Blount and got into a trouble when a passing cop smelled their violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Bell dug that hole deeper by missing a mandatory follow-up drug test.

He held out in training camp after turning down a lucrative deal that his agent recommended he take. In the run-up to this year’s cameo appearance in the playoffs, he made noise about sitting out next season or retiring if the Steelers again made him their franchise player and paid him $14.7 million.

Last week brought reports that he was late for practice in advance of the playoff game.

That’s a pretty substantial dossier of knuckleheaded behavior in a relatively short period of time.

The Steelers are experienced in this sort of thing. They spent a first-round draft choice on Plaxico Burress, who set the early standard. They wound up letting him leave as a free agent when it all piled up.

The zenith of Burress’ career as a knucklehead came after he left the Steelers. He decided to play gangsta and entered a New York club with a loaded pistol. He ended up shooting himself in the thigh and spending 20 months behind bars for the weapons violation.

Burress was a talented player and a generally good guy. But he was a knucklehead.

Then came Santonio Holmes, another first-round draft pick who was also a gifted receiver. He helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII with his leaping catch of Ben Roethlisberger’s pass.

The next season was the most productive of his career. Yet the Steelers traded him for a fifth-round draft choice. There were too many off-field incidents –marijuana possession, telling a Twitter detractor “kill urself,” a domestic incident, etc.

It was mostly minor stuff, but it all added up to a degree of knuckleheaded-ness that became more trouble than it was worth.

So now the Steelers look over Bell’s history here and try to balance that against his considerable talent.

Sometimes knuckleheads turn things around. Roethlisberger had two ugly incidents, but seems to have put that part of his life in the past. Would he have gotten a second chance if he played a position less important than quarterback?

We’ll never know. Those things are discussed in closed door meetings, where they wind up asking the big question:

Do we have a knucklehead here?

New regime

Todd Haley never had a chance.

He didn’t help himself with some unusual off-field behavior, but he’s been around long enough to know how the pecking order works. If there’s a feud between the star quarterback and the offensive coordinator, you know who’s going to win.

So Haley packed up his office at Steelers headquarters and Roethlisberger was apparently telling people he might play three more seasons.

Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was promoted. He apprenticed for the new job by serving as sideline buffer between Roethlisberger and Haley, a role he apparently took at midseason at the quarterback’s request.

Still looking

A lot of jobs are being filled around the NFL, but ESPN is still looking for a replacement for Jon Gruden as the analyst on Monday Night Football.

They’re looking for someone who can use a lot of words to say nothing with indecipherable coaching jargon.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

COMMENTS