Where's Kendrell?

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> By the end of his fabulous rookie season in 2001, Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell was a focal point for opponents. They always knew where No. 97 was on the field. <br><br> Lately, however, opposing teams haven't had to worry about finding Bell. The Steelers haven't been able to find him on the field, either.

The 2001 defensive rookie of the year has been MIA from the Steelers' lineup this season because of nagging shoulder and groin injuries.

With the Steelers (2-1) preparing to play AFC North rival Cincinnati (1-2) Sunday, head coach Bill Cowher is not happy to be without the former Pro Bowl inside linebacker, who set the team record for sacks by a rookie with nine in 2001.

"When he's ready to go, he'll go," was Cowher's curt replay when he announced Bell as questionable for the fourth-straight week. "If not, we'll go without him."

That's again looking to be the case as Bell sat out practice again Wednesday.

Cowher has increasingly grown frustrated with Bell since the linebacker sat out most of mini-camp and offseason workouts with a groin injury suffered on the first day of camp.

Bell arrived at training camp in good shape, but he injured his shoulder in the first exhibition game and has not played since. The shoulder injury has gotten better, but Bell injured his groin again soon after returning to the practice field a couple of weeks ago.

The Steelers have played Larry Foote in Bell's absence and the third-year linebacker has been a decent fill-in, recording 22 tackles in the first three games to rank third on the team. Still, Foote is not Bell.

"I'm not comparing them. I think they're both good players," said Cowher. "I think Larry Foote has done a good job."

Part of the Steelers' frustration may have to do with Bell no longer taking medications to deal with pain as he did in previous seasons.

Bell, who has played through ankle injuries in each of his previous three seasons, told SteelCitySports.com's Jim Wexell in training camp he would no longer take painkillers because he was concerned with their long-term effects on his body.

"It kind of makes you soft if you can't deal with pain," Bell said. "Football is pain and if you continue to take medication like that, it becomes a way of getting by. "I'm not going to take painkillers. I'll just fight through it and use a lot of ice."

Bell's absence in the lineup also has raised questions about whether he should be re-signed. The team opened negotiations with Todd France, the agent for Bell, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

France was reportedly asking for a deal similar to the one the Philadelphia Eagles gave oft-injured defensive end Jevon Kearse. The Eagles signed Kearse to an eight-year, $66 million contract that included $16 million signing and $4 million roster bonuses. But talks broke off in late August because the Steelers normally do not negotiate with players during the season.

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