Bell to undergo surgery

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> In his fourth NFL season, Kendrell Bell is reliving his sophomore jinx.<br><br> The playmaking inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers will miss at least the next two games with what is now being called a sports hernia.

Bell, who's missed all four games this season, returned to practice last week after having made what coach Bill Cowher called "significant progress." But Bell awoke the next day with more pain in his groin and was scratched from last Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

After receiving a second opinion Tuesday, it was determined Bell would undergo laparoscopic surgery on Wednesday.

"We're looking at him being out definitely the next couple weeks," said Cowher. "And then we have the bye week and we'll see where he is at that point. That's the time frame.

"I would not say there's been any kind of misdiagnosis on it. I think these things are very hard to diagnose."

A sports hernia is different from a true hernia, which is defined as an abnormal opening in the abdominal wall that allows part of the intestine to protrude. A sports hernia is a pulled groin muscle that worsens over time and affects the abdominal wall. The normal recovery period is six to eight weeks.

Bell missed most of the spring coaching sessions with the injury, but thought he'd recovered well enough to practice at training camp. He played the first preseason game, but was replaced by Larry Foote because of a shoulder injury.

Bell missed the rest of the preseason and the groin injury re-surfaced during the practice week prior to the season opener against the Oakland Raiders.

"We've tried to use a very conservative approach with him by shutting him down and trying to bring him back slowly," Cowher said. "We just feel at this point that this is the best thing to do for his standpoint and also for ours."

The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2001, Bell returned too early from a preseason ankle injury in 2002 and struggled through the season. He returned to form last year to finish second on the team in tackles, but has already missed as many games this season as he did in 2002.

Bell has been replaced in the Steelers' lineup by Foote, a third-year player out of Michigan. Foote started three games in place of Bell in 2002 and was credited with 19 tackles that year. This year, Foote is second on the team with 28 tackles. Troy Polamalu leads the Steelers with 30 tackles.

Last Sunday against the Bengals, Foote led the Steelers with nine solo tackles and 11 total tackles. He also tackled quarterback Carson Palmer for his first career sack, and forced a fumble in the third quarter to stop a Bengals drive at the Pittsburgh 32. The Bengals were leading at the time, 17-14.

"Larry's played very well. He's played very solid," said Cowher. "You never want to lose a player but if it's going to happen you'd like to have it in the preseason so you can have groups start to work with one another because you still have to develop that continuity. It's like in the offensive line and the secondary. You've got to have guys work together and talk together and that's true throughout your football team. So it was good from that standpoint that he was able to work a lot with James (Farrior), and really from game one, he's played very, very well. He's been very solid. He's made plays for us. He's been a good football player for us. He's been very productive."

The Steelers are 3-1 and host the 2-2 Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens, who lost at home Monday night to the Kansas City Chiefs, are also 2-2. Cowher was asked what it meant to be in first place in the AFC North Division upon the completion of the season's first quarter.

"Absolutely nothing," he said.

Cowher was also asked whether his team could "have a special season."

"We need a special week," Cowher said. "We've just got to worry about this week. Everything else will take care of itself. We have to play better than what we've been playing. We're winning football games. We're doing what we have to do at times when we have to do it. We have not played very consistently through the course of this first month in any one phase. There are a lot of things we have to do a better job of. They know that. They understand that. We're still growing. The only thing we've got to worry about is this week."

Quarterback Tommy Maddox (elbow) and Bell are out of Sunday's game. The only other injured players are listed as probable: wide receiver Hines Ward (wrist), running back Duce Staley (toe) and reserve defensive end Travis Kirschke (mid-foot).

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