Steelers Add Their Man Tate

Veteran running back Ben Tate will help two rookies replace injured Le'Veon Bell if Bell's knee doesn't respond by Saturday.

Le'Veon Bell has "soreness, pain and discomfort" in his hyperextended right knee but doesn't have any structural damage and remains a question mark to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Saturday night's playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Mike Tomlin said he'll "prepare for if he does not play," and to that end the team signed veteran running back Ben Tate on Tuesday and waived wide receiver Justin Brown.

Tate is a 5-11, 220-pounder who's been active in the league for four seasons after being drafted in the second round out of Auburn by the Houston Texans in 2010.

At Auburn, Tate gained 3,321 yards in his career and 1,362 yards as a senior. He missed his rookie season in Houston with an injury but went on to gain 1,992 yards (4.7 per carry) as Arian Foster's backup the next three seasons.

Tate signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract with the Cleveland Browns this year and started both games against the Steelers. He gained 41 yards on six carries in the opener and 78 yards on a season-high 25 carries on Oct. 12, but watched his workload decline significantly as the Browns worked rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell into the lineup.

"They give us a little more explosiveness, a little more pop," Browns Coach Mike Pettine said of the rookies as Tate settled into his role in the Browns' three-WR packages.

Tate was perhaps a little too honest with the Cleveland media in answering questions about his dwindling playing time and was eventually waived after the 10th game with only 371 yards rushing (3.1) and nine catches for 60 yards.

Three teams put in waiver claims for Tate, who went to the Minnesota Vikings and gained only 38 yards rushing (2.9) in three games. He was waived Dec. 23 and signed a week later with the Steelers.

Tate, 26, is said to have lost his burst of speed but will give the Steelers experience in the backfield as a blocker on passing downs. Rookie Josh Harris will likely remain at the top of the depth chart with another rookie, Dri Archer, still trying to find a place for his 4.2 speed.

Of course, Tomlin didn't rule out Bell, who was at the practice facility Tuesday working on a stationary bike "like he was preparing for the Tour de France," said Tomlin. "But that's Le'Veon."

Tomlin will "leave the light on" for Bell to play without practicing this week, but added, "We are going to make the right decision. We won’t be swayed by circumstance one way or the other, or the magnitude of the game and so forth. If he is healthy, able to protect himself and can be a positive contributor to our efforts, we will play him. If we can’t answer yes to all of those questions and then some, we won’t."

Bell, of course, was voted the team's MVP last week after leading the AFC in rushing and the NFL in yards from scrimmage. His injury occurred early in the fourth quarter on a low hit by Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. Tomlin said it will take a collective effort to replace Bell.

"It’s a multiple-man job and it might be a multiple-man job across positions," Tomlin said. "It doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to play with a back on third down. It may mean that we play with an additional wideout or an additional tight end. We’re going to turn over all the stones to make sure that we’re prepared to replace his significance and it just may not be running-back jersey for running-back jersey. There’s some more depth to it than that."

Harris, the undrafted rookie out of Wake Forest who signed with the Steelers at the start of training camp, has 16 yards on nine carries this season. He also had a 59-yard run called back last Sunday because of a holding penalty. Tomlin was asked Tuesday what drew him to Harris back in August.

"He was willing and available," Tomlin said. "I like those two things. But the same can be said about this moment right now. He’s willing and available.

"Josh is a hard-working guy. His story is not a sexy one like a lot of guys. He didn’t come into the league with a lot of fanfare, or even to this football team, with a lot of fanfare. Really, a lot of us didn’t know a lot about him even after we acquired him. But we pride ourselves in giving every man an opportunity and over the course of his time here he’s proven that he belongs; not only in terms of talent, but what he’s willing to do, his day-to-day approach to work and so forth. He’s earned the respect of the guys and I’m sure the guys are excited about watching him step up and be a more significant contributor to our efforts."


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