Let’s get something out of the way first. Le’Veon Bell is Mike Tomlin’s guy. He drafted him, he was the one who nicknamed him "Juice" and is the main reason Bell never leaves the field.
And in that last point in the previous sentence lies the rub with Bell deciding to not return to the team until September 1st after their final preseason game.
Bell will be in tremendous shape, there is no denying that, but he also won’t be necessarily ready to be the every down back fans, and Tomlin, are accustomed to seeing every Sunday.
So what exactly will Tomlin do? How will he handle this situation? You know, the situation where he said there will be "consequences" for Bell’s absence.
Would he sit him Week 1 vs. the Browns?
Will he use him sparingly, and work him into a rotation of sorts?
Or will he say ‘screw it’ and run Bell out there for downs 1-3 regardless of the possible reprecussions and ramifications?
Either way you look at it, Tomlin does not have an easy decision on his hands, and although fans may believe it is as simple as putting him back on the field, it very well could be more complex than that. When a star player sits out the entire preseason/training camp, in a contract situation which literally cannot be changed at this point, the organization, not just Tomlin, could want to send their own message to Bell and his representatives.
Maybe that comes down as a minimized role for Bell when he returns, before assuming normal football operations (i.e. Bell as the full-time, all-down starter), or maybe nothing happens at all?
No one knows for sure, but one thing which is certain, Bell hasn’t made it easy on his head coach. Pick up where you left off, and Bell struggles, it is Tomlin who will feel the pinch. Sit him and watch a collection of Fitzgerald Toussaint, Knile Davis and James Conner struggle and everyone will wonder why Bell wasn’t involved more.
Not that Tomlin cares about all this, and is exactly why I think when the rubber meets the road in Week 1, it will be business as usual. Tomlin loves Bell, and will want the Juice to be loose as soon as possible.
It hasn’t been an easy preseason for the Steelers, as they deal with the ramifications of Bell’s decision to stay away, but all could be rectified in Week 1 if Bell picks up just where he left off.
Or will it? Ah, there lies the rub...