Each Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers fans anxiously await the injury report. Are they wondering if the 3rd string QB will get a shot this week? No, the fans are hoping for a sign that LB Kendrell Bell will return to the starting lineup.
The signs have not been good since Bell left the opener against the New England Patriots with a high ankle sprain. The Steelers had been optimistic about his return for the game against the Cleveland Browns. Bell would be inactive for that game and some rumors have surfaced that might better explain his mystery status.
Coach Bill Cowher kept Bell's status for the game against Bengals a secret right up until Sunday. That may have been wise in terms of keeping Cincinnati off balance in their game planning, but there also may be more wrong with Bell than the Steelers are letting on.
There is a long history of misdiagnoses by the Steeler physicians. At least, that is how it has appeared. Players have been sent back to play too soon and often end up right back on the injury list. Either the severity seems under-appreciated or the injury sounds slightly different from the original press release. There have been more than a few whispers about players' careers being put in jeopardy or prematurely cut short.
The ongoing saga about Jerome Bettis' groin injury in 2001 has not helped to put out this rumor flame. Clearly, Bettis' injury was much more serious than the public was led to believe. Furthermore, Bettis should not have played against Patriots in the AFC Championship. He only managed to "re-injure" his groin.
The situation with Bell in 2002 is beginning to sound similar to the story of Bettis in 2001. For the most part, the injury to Bell has been downplayed. Yet, here we are going into Week 7 of the season and Kendrell has played only about a quarter of football.
The latest word out of Pittsburgh, as related by our Insiders, is a story from Gerry Dulac, Steeler beat writer for the Sporting News. During the Tuesday practice before the Browns game, Bell may have re-injured his ankle, but in a new place on the same ankle.
If this sounds dubious to you, you are not alone. Again, the severity is being downplayed and Insider Jim Wexell comments, "I'm not too worried about it. Maybe it'll take a few more weeks."
A few more weeks? That would put Bell's MIA at half a season. If this turns out to be the case, questions about the handling of Bell's injury should be asked. Why has a two to four week healing process turned into 8 games or more?
No one is probably more frustrated than Kendrell Bell. He wants to play, badly. But perhaps the Steelers want him to play too badly as well. The Steelers were struggling and desperate to turn the season around. Did they bring Bell back too quickly as they did Bettis? Was the medical staff too optimistic?
And so another week passes without Bell back at his position in the base 3-4 and Cowher continues to attempt to put a happy face on the play of overwhelmed rookie LB Larry Foote. Might have Bell been back for the game against the Colts if his injury was handled in a more prudent manner? The spin doctors seem to be the only physicians plying their trade well.