*Running back Le'Veon Bell is on the road to recovery from a season-ending MCL injury last season and took time after one of his workouts to talk exclusively about what going through the injury was like and his recovery.
Le'Veon Bell never thought the injury was as bad as it was when it happened. He thought, sure, I might miss a game or two, but be finished for the season. No way. That thought never crossed his mind.
"It took me back to the injury the year before," recalled Bell, referring to the knee injury he suffered at the end of the 2014 season. "I knew the year before I would be done for the season when it happened.
"This past year when it happened, it didn't hurt that bad. I knew I would be done for the game, and maybe miss the next game, but once they found out it was a torn MCL, I would need surgery, that it would be season ending. It stunk to get that news."
Bell was injured after pulling in a pass along the sideline against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on Nov. 1, taken down by linebacker Vontaze Burfict. His knee awkwardly bent back, and he immediately grabbed for it.
"It was definitely terrible to get the news, but I understood it happened for a reason," said Bell. "I don't know why I have been hurt every year since I have been in the league. Through little league, high school, and college I never got hurt to the point where I had to miss games. Now that I am in the NFL I'm missing games and it's frustrating."
It's been particularly challenging finishing the last two seasons on injured reserve for a player who focuses on staying in shape, keeping fit and taking care of his body. The injuries aren't because of a lack of conditioning, but rather a lack of luck.
"I just want to get out there and show people what I can do with a full season in the NFL," said Bell. "I just haven't had the opportunity. I want to take care of my body and do things right. I am just going to continue to do that.
"I just think it was a bad luck thing. It's not like nagging injuries; it's more misfortune. I am taking care of my body. I just have to keep doing that. I just need to be smarter and get down to the ground safely. I look back on it now and everything happens for a reason. I am just trying to get my knee back and stronger than before. That is what it's going to take for me to be back to the level where I was."
That process started a while back, but it went to the next level on March 1 when Bell was cleared to run. He has been working with the Steelers athletic training staff, and will eventually work with trainer Pete Bommarito in Miami, taking steps every day. That first step was running on the Ultra G treadmill, and he knows he has to take it one step at a time.
"I have been sticking to the Ultra G to start. That is what they have been telling me to do," said Bell. "I am just making sure I do what they tell me to do so I don't hurt my knee on my own. I am being real conservative with it. There are times when I am in the hallway that I will just run down the hall because I want to do it, I want to feel that. I don't run around the track or anything like that or get a workout in.
"The only thing I am not cleared for is cutting and sprinting."
The good news for Bell is he isn't feeling pain as a result of running. He is permitted to do it several days a week, and hopes that soon increases as well as the length of time increase.
"It hasn't hurt at all," said Bell. "I wasn't limping, I didn't think about it. I just got on there and did it. That is good for me. I didn't feel sore the next day. I feel like I am headed in the right direction.
"Anybody that knows me knows I just want to get back to playing football, get back to running. When March 1 came, that was the best day to me."
The Steelers haven't put a timetable on Bell's return to the field, allowing him to take it at his own pace to insure a full recovery. That is something that sits well with Bell, although he admits it will be tough to be patient.
The best photos of Running Back Le'Veon Bell from the 2015 season thus far.
"I am fortunate to be in the position I am in," said Bell. "I have a grace period to get my knee right. They know how bad I want to go out there and go get it. When it's time to play football, I want to be 100 percent and be able to go out there.
"There are going to be times when I am upset that I can't do everything, but I will know it's for the better of my career. Coach (Mike) Tomlin already told me he will take care of me. He knows I want to get in the best shape possible, so he is going to allow me to do some running, not just tackle or get hit."
The competitor in him, though, just can't wait for his first game back.
"It's been a long time since I ran out of the tunnel, got ready for a game, listened to my pregame music," said Bell. "I can only imagine how I am going to feel. I know some people will look forward to seeing me back playing. I look forward to getting back. I can't wait to play. That is going to get me even more amped up.
"Coach Tomlin always tells me to be a great player you have to go through some type of adversity. If I can use this to be better than I was before the knee injury, that is what I want to do."
More from Bell:
How far do you feel like you have come along?
"I have come a long way. I remember the times I couldn't do anything but play Call to Duty and Madden. I couldn't do anything. My mom would have to get me ice, bring me everything. I literally couldn't move. I remember it like it was yesterday. Before you hurt your knee there are little things you don't think about or you take for granted. When I was hurt it was hard for me to get in the car, get up and down the steps, even using the bathroom. Things you don't think about, you are grateful for. I know I came a long way. I still have a long way to go but I have been working hard. God is blessing me to get back to where I was. Slowly but surely, I am coming."
What steps did you take before March 1, to get to the point where you could run?
"The thing for me was getting my quad muscle back. I was doing exercises to get my right quad muscle as strong as it was before, get it as strong as my left quad muscle and take it from there. That is going to be the biggest thing, getting my quad back."
How did you go about that, without being full strength?
"You do straight leg lifts, leg presses. All types of things. When I wasn't able to do the weights, I couldn't do leg presses and things like that. I would put the weight on my ankle. I would have it burns my hip flexor and quads. I had to do it manually until March 1. That's when I got cleared to do a lot more. Lifting and things like that, not squatting with 400 pounds on my back, but I can lift."
When playing football, something you love, is taken away from you does it make you appreciate it more?
"I got on the field after missing the end of 2014 and it was great and I was loving it. Then the injury happened and I went back to the same feeling of wanting to be out there playing. It's going to come. I feel like I am going to be a better player at the end of this and that's what I want." What was it like to be a spectator, to watch your teammates practice and play?
"There were pros and cons to both. I had to watch my team go to work and I couldn't be out there with them. I couldn't practice with them. I just had to watch. When I was hurt I couldn't even go out and watch because I couldn't be on my feet that long. I would watch them on film, see how they looked. It was hard not being able to go out there to war with them and not interacting with them every day. You miss things like that. The good thing I got from it, I know when I don't play my team can go out there and win. The offense was doing what they were doing, I can plug back in, get my feet under me, and get ready quietly and quickly."
Was it good to see the other running backs step up? Did that help you?
"Seeing what DeAngelo (Williams) did didn't surprise me. He has been in the league a long time. He was productive his whole career. Us bringing him here was not just to spell me, but to make sure there wasn't a change of pace in the offense. When I came out, DeAngelo came in and the offense still clicked. When I missed the time, the offense still clicked. That wasn't surprising to me. DeAngelo is that good of a player. I expected that from him."
Was watching the team in the postseason the toughest part?
"I think it was all hard, watching every game was hard. When they were in the postseason, and I knew they had the team that could do it, then DeAngelo got hurt, Antonio Brown got hurt, the injuries kept piling on. I felt like if everyone was healthy we could have gone on and won the Super Bowl."