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Steelers' Bell practices, Sunday status unknown

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Just as it is becoming a serious matter that the Pittsburgh Steelers get their running game going, rookie running back Le'Von Bell went through his first full practice Thursday since injuring his foot in the second preseason game.

However, there was no indication whether this means Bell, the team's second-round draft pick and projected starter, will play in Sunday's game against the visiting Chicago Bears.

"I have no idea. ... I can't tell you," he said when asked if he will play Sunday. "I'm just going to do more and more each day if my foot allows it. I'm just going to be smart about it.

"It's definitely getting closer," said Bell. "I feel like my foot is getting real close. I just have to take it day by day. Hopefully, it gets to where it needs to be."

Tight end Heath Miller, out since injuring three knee ligaments Dec. 23 against Cincinnati, also took part in a full practice for the second consecutive day but while wearing a knee brace for the first time. There was no official word on whether he will play Sunday.

Bell's return is critical, if he is healthy enough to run the way he did before getting injured.

The Steelers' ground game has been going downhill for two years now, but it's near rock-bottom at second-to-last in the NFL. Without Bell, the other backs don't seem able to pick up the slack.

Pittsburgh has 75 yards rushing in the first two games, or three yards fewer than Adrian Peterson managed on his first carry of the season. It's their lowest total in their first two games in their history. There are 34 runners in the NFL who have more yards rushing - including five quarterbacks -- than the Steelers' season total.

Felix Jones, acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 23, could well make his second straight start Sunday night. He started in Cincinnati after Isaac Redman, who was supposed to start, missed the first quarter after getting hit in the head on the opening kickoff.

Jones leads the Steelers with 37 yards rushing on 10 tries. They average 2.4 yards on 31 carries (their opponents have 76 carries for 239 yards). And the Steelers have yet to run for a touchdown.

"The problems are many," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We lacked detail, we lacked finish, hats-on-hats at times - it's popcorn. And not to say that with a discouraged mind state, I just say that's a part of things when you're not functioning well."

Tomlin, for some reason, remains optimistic.

"We're capable of fixing these things, and we can't overreact. We can't worry about things that are outside of our control. If each man continues to work and function better within the space in which he's working, I believe that we're a capable of improving these things."

The Steelers' only offensive threat at the moment is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and he's struggled through the early-going as well. That may be the reality of a poor running game, and poor blocking as well as poor receiving. Roethlisberger's first pass of the season, thrown deep from his 41, was dropped by Emmanuel Sanders at the Tennessee Titans' 15-yard line.

Monday in Cincinnati, leading 3-0, Roethlisberger found tight end David Paulson for a 34-yard catch, but he then fumbled the ball away when he was tackled at the Bengals 16.

Part of the solution to the Steelers' running woes would be to use fullback Will Johnson more. With their tight ends scrambled, Johnson could help as a lead blocker and also on the inside pass rush they've been unable to stop.
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