There are a lot of ways where having the team in a been-there, done-that situation can be a comfort to its coach. That's likely never the case when it comes to replacing your first-team All-Pro running back, even though the Steelers have some recent experience to call upon in that regard.
On Monday, the Steelers placed Le'Veon Bell on the injured reserve list, and they signed running back Isaiah Pead to take his place on the 53-man roster. Bell was injured in the second quarter on a tackle by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict along the sideline in front of the Steelers bench.
"Le'Veon Bell was injured significantly in the game, and he was placed on IR. We haven't talked openly about what the plan or course of action is for him regarding surgery," said Coach Mike Tomlin at his weekly news conference. "I think he's meeting with the team of doctors and our medical staff maybe this afternoon or tomorrow morning. No timetable there, and we're going to do what's right and appropriate and take really good care of him.
"The ACL is intact. They're not trying to figure out what to do. They just want to have a conference and discuss the options, and then a timetable with which to do it."
The eight regular season games Bell will miss from this point can be added to the two he missed at the start of the season as the result of a suspension by the NFL, and then there also was the Wild Card Round game at the end of the 2014 season against the Ravens he missed with a hyperextended knee sustained in the division-clinching regular season finale victory over the Bengals.
On the roster now at the position, the Steelers have DeAngelo Williams, Jordan Todman, and the recently signed Pead. Williams becomes the main part of any plan to replace Bell, but he won't necessarily be the sole part.
"We're going to rally around DeAngelo Williams. This is not his first rodeo, either professionally or with us," said Tomlin. "He did a great job for us over the first couple of weeks of the season when Le'Veon was out, and we'll get back to him being the featured guy in our backfield and supplementing the other guys around him.
"The last time we played without Le'Veon … it's a multi-man job replacing the skill-set of a Le'Veon Bell. We're going to look at all of the guys we have at the position and decide what's best. It might be a collection of men, and it probably will be."
Because Pead is the newest, Tomlin was asked about whether there are any immediate plans for integrating him into the offense.
"We acquired Isaiah Pead, a guy we're familiar with … a guy we evaluated when he came out for the draft from the University of Cincinnati," said Tomlin. "I think he's got a skill-set that's going to be able to help us at some point, and I emphasize 'at some point,' because he's got to learn what to do. As we prepare for this week, we're going to prepare with the men who have been here and know what to do and can detail assignments, and we'll see how Pead progresses in terms of learning what to do. When he's above the line from that standpoint, we'll consider how to utilize his skill-set."
Pead, 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, has played in 27 career games with one start, and he has 78 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards for his career. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams on the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and he was released by the team on Sept. 29. Todman, 5-9, 203, was signed by the Steelers on Sept. 6 after being cut by the Carolina Panthers to provide some depth during the period of Bell's suspension.
But the reality is that for the foreseeable future, Pead and Todman will represent the supporting cast, and the player they're going to be supporting is Williams, who rushed for 127 yards in 21 carries, and then 77 yards on 20 carries in his two starts for Bell to open 2015.
"I'm encouraged (about Williams) because he's an established, capable guy. A guy we know can deliver. A guy who has delivered for us. A guy who has delivered for the Carolina Panthers over the course of his 10-plus years in this league," said Tomlin. "There's a great deal of comfort in knowing his capabilities and equally as important he has displayed the necessary will that's going to allow us to do what it is we need to do."
And what the Steelers still want to do on offense is run the football, only now they'll be trying to do it with DeAngelo Williams.
"In some instances (the running plays) won't change at all, and in some instances they will, maybe just to feature the style of the runner, or maybe based on the schematics this week's opponent may employ," said Tomlin about how the rushing attack may be adjusted. "You may see some things differently in the run game this week, but it may have nothing to do with DeAngelo or Le'Veon. It might be based solely on what the Oakland Raiders do, or what opportunities they provide us."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Terence Garvin is still out this week with the MCL sprain. Mike Mitchell is going through the concussion protocol. I don't have any additional information on that. Will Allen and Stephon Tuitt both appear to be in position to practice at least in some capacity tomorrow, and like we do with all the guys we deal with, we'll let that level of participation and effectiveness be our guide in terms of the next step, but both guys are scheduled to participate tomorrow. Ben, there were no negative repercussions from his participation from a physical standpoint to this point in the week, so that appears to be behind us. I should have mentioned Mike Vick along with Will Allen and Stephon Tuitt in terms of letting their participation or their availability to participate be our guide in terms of how we proceed."