The Steelers aren't giving up hope regarding running back Le'Veon Bell's potential availability for Saturday night's playoff game against the Ravens, but they're preparing for life without their team MVP, just in case.
"We're not going to rule anybody out yet," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I'm not a doctor. We'll see what happens."
Rookie Josh Harris (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) took over after Bell suffered a hyper-extended right knee in the third quarter of Sunday night's 27-17 victory over Cincinnati. And the Steelers signed veteran running back Ben Tate (5-11, 214) on Tuesday. They also have rookie running back/wide receiver Dri Archer (5-8, 173) available as a specialty back and veteran Will Johnson (6-2, 238) as a tight end/fullback.
Archer has 10 carries for 40 yards this season (4.0 average), Harris nine for 16 (1.8) and Johnson two for 0.
Harris carried five times for 7 yards after Bell's injury in the Bengals game, and also had a 59-yard burst to the Cincinnati 15-yard line wiped out by a holding penalty on guard Ramon Foster.
"The expectation level is high," Roethlisberger said of Harris. "He has big shoes to fill if 2-6 (Bell) can't go. We'll see what happens but we have confidence in him.
"I think the run that got called back (against the Bengals) helps him, builds his confidence, as well. It showed everybody, you guys (in the media), the fans, just what he's capable of doing. So hopefully we can see more of that and give him some more reps in practice so he can be ready to go."
Harris went undrafted out of Wake Forest and signed with the Steelers on July 29. He was released on Aug. 30, signed to the practice squad on Aug. 31 and signed to the 53-man roster on Nov. 18.
Tate has gained 2,363 yards on 540 NFL carries (4.4), mostly as a complement to Arian Foster in Houston. A former second-round pick of the Texans, Tate gained 1,992 yards and averaged 4.7 yards on 421 attempts in three seasons with Houston. He had a combined 371 yards on 119 attempts this season (3.1) with Cleveland and Minnesota.
"I think if we can put together a specific package, a few runs here, a few passes there, he can help us if we need him," Roethlisberger said.
Tate's potential contribution, Roethlisberger suspected, would be limited at best.
"I would think so," he said. "I don't know how you can come in and learn the whole offense in a couple of days. We've seen what he can do on the football field. I know he stood up in our team meeting room and said he's just here to help us win. If that's the attitude and the mind-set, then we're all for it."
The Steelers rushed for 99 yards on 18 carries (5.5 average) in their 26-6 loss on Sept. 11 in Baltimore, with 11 carries for 59 yards coming from Bell. They had 55 yards rushing on 25 attempts (2.2 average) in their 43-23 win on Nov. 2 at Heinz Field, with 10 carries for 20 yards coming from Bell.
Bell also caught a combined 10 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in two games against a Ravens' defense that finished the regular season ranked No. 4 against the run, No. 24 against the pass and No. 8 in total defense.
Roethlisberger had six touchdown passes in the Heinz Field rematch against Baltimore.
"Bringing guys up, trying to stop the run, bringing guys in the box, all that leaves more one-on-one opportunities on the back end, some zone holes for tight ends and wide receivers to get into," Roethlisberger said. "And when you have (wide receiver) Antonio Brown it makes passing the ball a lot easier.
"There will be certain things that we'll not be able to do, maybe not do as much. We may not do as much screening, we may do more screening. I don't know. We're still in the process of trying to formulate the perfect plan. This is a really good defense. It's going to be a tough task for us. We'll go into the game with a plan and we always have to be ready to change the plan and make adjustments to the plan as we go."