The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2016 OTA's yesterday and were happy to see two All-Pro players return to the field in center Maurkice Pouncey and running back Le'Veon Bell, both of which suffered season ending injuries early in the 2015 NFL season.
While Pouncey's injury was more on the side of bad luck, Bell's was at the center of controversy when his knee was twisted while being tackled by the Cincinnati Bengals' linebacker Vontaze Burfict, an act which tore Bell's ACL and ended his season. The injury was followed by Burfict dancing to celebrate what he recognized as one of Pittsburgh's best players suffering an injury that could have been career threatening, something which sparked the rivalry between the two teams.
The Steelers got the better of the Bengals in the end, defeating them in Cincinnati twice with the last game being a complete humiliation of the Bengals when Pittsburgh stole victory from the jaws of defeat and sent the Bengals home still lacking a playoff win in the past 25 years.
Though the tone seems to have calmed down between the two teams, it has not for Le'Veon Bell, as he has now suffered two season-ending injuries from low hits against the Bengals in consecutive seasons. Yesterday he alleged to Ed Bouchette that there's an intent behind his injuries in the minds of his opponents.
"I wish I wasn't ignorant of that fact before but now I just know I just have to take extra precaution of getting down or protecting myself because people are actually trying to take me out of the game," Bell said to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'll just make sure I protect myself."
Bell's implication with that statement is that the people who have injured him have acted with the intent to do so instead of it being an unfortunate accident in the violent game that is today's NFL football.
"I take the liberty to thinking that everybody plays football just for love of the game," Bell said. "But people aren't out here playing like that. People are out here to try to really take people out, so obviously I know that now.
While the hit at the end of the 2014 NFL regular season from safety Reggie Nelson was not initially deemed to be an intentional attempt to injure Bell at first because of his dive to stop a dominant running back, Burfict's tackle and celebration after seeing Bell writhe in pain and clutch his knee, despite Bell picking up a considerable gain on the play, certainly added fuel to the argument that the Bengals may have an intent to injure Bell and not just stop him.
Burfict's career has been riddled with questionable late hits and devious attempts to injure star players like that of Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Cam Newton and numerous other stars in the NFL.
The real question that comes of Bell's statement for the Steelers shouldn't be whether the Bengals are trying to injure players intentionally, but instead whether Bell and the other Steelers should call them out for it at this point.
It is understandable for Bell to be frustrated at this point of his career having been a phenomenal player for the Steelers in two playoff seasons and only see both seasons end to the same team and then watch as they celebrate his injury. He's still a young player at the age of 24, but knows that too many injuries to his knees early in his career could shorten his time in the NFL.
On the other hand, Bell and the Steelers already know what happened, as does the rest of the NFL when it comes to how he was injured and what the record shows for the Bengals. So what does it matter to bring it up to the media at this point?
All that could happen is just what transpired yesterday; Bouchette reported the statement via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, then ESPN wrote about it, then NFL.com, Bleacher Report and the like all followed suit prompting further commentary and stirring the pot of this rivalry.
So what do the Steelers get out of Bell's statements? All that is accomplished is that we re-visit an incident that Pittsburgh has to put behind it and move forward. Yes, Bell needs to protect himself when on the field and Pittsburgh should be wary to protect their players as they saw Burfict effectively injure their three offensive stars in Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown all in one season. But if anything, acknowledging that and planning to deal with that should come within the locker room and the organization or through proper channels via NFL administration for the Steelers to protect their players from cheap shots.
The Steelers have been and will most likely continue to be an organization that deals with its problems, for the most part, internally. Bell's spite for the Bengals' tactics, while not based on an inaccurate foundation, is not something he should voice to the media. But rather something that the team notes and moves forward with the intent to protect him and continue to dominate the Bengals.