But no one's quite sure when Bell will be able to play, and that certainly is cause for tamping down a bit this fresh optimism.
"I hadn't asked," Tomlin said when he was asked whether Bell would be ready for the Sept. 8 opener.
Tomlin clarified Thursday that Bell has a mid-foot sprain which won't require surgery and that he won't play Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Tomlin did say "it's perking up day by day," and Bell confirmed that.
"I've already been healing real quick," Bell said, "so as long as the process keeps going the way it is, I should be back pretty quick."
Bell said he never heard the rumored 6 to 8-week recovery period, and Tomlin was almost indignant: "Sometimes guys throw lines in the water just to see if something sticks. I don't know where that came from. That was never expressed by any of our medical experts."
Tomlin relayed from his medical team that Bell's mid-foot sprain is not quite the dreaded Lisfranc injury. "The Lisfranc is involved in some way but it's not a Lisfranc tear like Matt Spaeth experienced that will require surgery," Tomlin said.
Bell said he was hurt on a second-down run, his fourth carry of the opening possession. "I was trying to push the pile," he said. "My foot was dug into the ground and a guy (Stephen Bowen) fell on the back of my leg. I felt that happen. I played the next play still and then we had to punt." Bell limped through the third-down pass route in which he appeared to be the intended target. Ben Roethlisberger instead scrambled for 2 yards on third-and-8.
"I feel if my foot even gets close to being able to play on it, I'll try to play on it," said Bell.
Tomlin did not identify Bell's replacement Saturday night at Heinz Field, but did say the "first wave" would play an entire half.
Who's winning the punting derby?
After two preseason games, Butler has a gross average of 46.5 and a net average of 32.8 (which would be 36.9 without a blocked punt). Moorman's numbers are 42.0 and 38.5.
Butler's first punt of the preseason was blocked thanks to a blown blocking assignment, but Butler said he shares culpability because "the punt's a team play. I definitely take responsibility for it."
Butler is the 24-year-old second-year player who "gained some weight this off-season," he said. "I feel really good with where I'm at as a punter and as a football player, and I feel like I can help this team win the field-position battle. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. Every kick's a learning experience. That's something I've learned. I feel good so I'm looking forward to having a strong finish to the preseason."
Butler welcomed the competition and said, "I would imagine it's going to go down to the wire. I know it's been an intense competition but if you're a true competitor every competition should be intense.
"It's been a good training camp. I feel a lot better than I did last year. I feel like I've improved a lot and I feel ready, ready to go."
If you turned the Steelers off and the Pirates on Monday night, you missed the heat-seeking headache-maker they call Shamarko Thomas.
Actually, the players call him "Headache," and the rookie led the Steelers Monday night with 6 tackles. He probably forced 6 sheadaches to go along with his forced fumble, too.
Are his hits legal?
"I hope so," said the rookie safety. "Just keep your head up. It's just instinct, man."
And those headaches, sometimes they work in reverse. "I hit so hard I get them all the time," Thomas said.
He even knocked himself out last year after a fourth-quarter hit on Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz. Thomas woke up on the field, walked off and didn't return. "It wasn't nothing," he said.
"He's in there too. Ryan Clark," Thomas said. "I've seen his hits. He knocks himself out, too."