Mike Tomlin didn't come out at his news conference today and say it directly, and confirmation might not come until and if the Steelers make it official by activating him to the 53-man roster, but it certainly sounded as though Le'Veon Bell is on track to play on Sunday in the regular season opener.
"Le'Veon was back in the building (Monday). We're excited to get him back in," said Tomlin. "Much as I anticipated, he's in great physical condition. He's a football-sharp guy. He got back on a moving train pretty good yesterday. I don't have a hard and fast plan as I stand here today about his participation (vs. the Browns) or how much. We'll continue to watch his progress throughout the week, not only in terms of what he's able to execute from a football conditioning standpoint but also from a quality of execution standpoint, a detail standpoint.
"And then we'll see the cumulative effect of that work as we proceed. He and I have to do a good job of communicating in the mornings to assess the previous day's work and chart out a course for the upcoming day. We will do that, and I'm sure we'll get increased clarity as we get closer to game action."
Bell signed his franchise tender on Monday, and he participated in the workout the Steelers had that day. The team was granted a two-week roster exemption from the league during which it can evaluate Bell's readiness and then decide when to activate him. Because the Steelers currently are carrying 53 players on their roster, not counting Bell, a corresponding move would have to be made when activating him to open a spot for him.
Bell's ability to contribute at 1 p.m. on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium against the Cleveland Browns isn't the only such issue facing Tomlin and the Steelers this week. Recently acquired Joe Haden, J.J. Wilcox, and Vance McDonald also fit into that category, although those three are a bit different than Bell in that they've never played for the Steelers.
"We're excited about the additions of those guys," said Tomlin about Haden, Wilcox, and McDonald. "We're working hard to bring them up to speed, and to see what their contributions might be this week. As I stand here today, I don't know what those will be. That's part of this process that is preparing."
In addition to the new people, Tomlin also said there are roles still to be defined from among players who may have been with the team from the start of the offseason program, but that's just the reality for a team at the start of an NFL regular season.
The Steelers prepare for the Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
"We're still sorting through kick returning responsibilities, punt returning responsibilities," said Tomlin. "We know who the candidates are, but we'll be analyzing this week and hardening it up as we get close to game time.
"So it also can be said for the division of labor positionally – the third wideout, or the fourth cornerback, or the second tight end. Those are some of the things we're working on right now, and some of those questions won't be answered until much later in the week. But we know the candidates and we've been working hard with the much larger body, and it's really just exciting to get down to the nuts and bolts of it."
In terms of the return responsibilities, on the depth chart released today, Antonio Brown is listed as the No. 1 punt returner, with Eli Rogers at No. 2; and JuJu Smith-Schuster is the No. 1 kickoff returner, with Artie Burns at No. 2, and Terrell Watson at No. 3.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We feel really good. We have some guys you could probably characterize as questionable. Guys who have missed time, guys like Mike Mitchell, guys like Steve Johnson. But we're optimistic about all parties involved. We'll watch and monitor the guys who have dealt with a myriad of things either recently or largely through the preseason, and we'll make those necessary decisions as we get close to game time."