Steelers' options limited as Bell rehabs

PITTSBURGH -- The loss of rookie Le'Veon Bell for the foreseeable future leaves the Steelers' running game in pretty much the same situation it was at the start of 2012.

Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will likely get the bulk of the carries with free-agent signee LaRod Stephens-Howling serving as the third-down back.

Redman and Dwyer had their moments last season, but neither emerged as a No. 1 back. The running game struggled even after former first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall returned from a knee inury.

Mendenhall is now with Arizona while Bell is picking up marbles instead of yards with his feet -- at least his right one as Bell is working to increase range of motion in the foot. That means the Steelers will have to improve a running attack that averaged 96.1 yards per game and ranked near the bottom of the NFL last season with largely the same cast -- at least in the short term.

Redman, who is hoping to play Saturday night after missing the Steelers’ second preseason game with a stinger, is now the leading candidate to start the Sept. 8 season opener against Tennessee. Dwyer, however, is charging hard.

He rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries Monday at Washington, gaining most of that ground against a defense that owned the Steelers’ offensive line. Dwyer is a one-cut back who looks comfortable in the zone-blocking scheme that has been installed by new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.

The 5-foot-11, 229-pounder also shed the extra weight he carried last spring, much to the consternation of the coaches. The one area where Dwyer may still have to earn the trust of the coaches is ball security.

He lost a careless fumble against the Redskins, the one thing that marred an otherwise standout performance.

“I know I let the team down,” Dwyer said. “I’m going to correct it. It’s not going to happen anymore.”

As is the case with Dwyer, there is not a lot of nuance to Redman’s running style. The 6-foot, 230-pounder is a straight-ahead runner who has done well in spot starts but didn’t do enough -- or stay healthy enough -- to make the job his last year when he had the chance.

The former undrafted player has been trying to convince the coaches this preseason that he is capable of serving as the Steelers’ feature back.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll be glad if somebody comes out and separates themselves from the bunch, and hopefully I can do that,” Redman said. “It’s a lot more than just talking about it. You’ve got to go out there and perform, and the first thing I have to do is get healthy.”

The Steelers were giving Bell every opportunity to establish himself as the team’s No. 1 back, and he could still fill that role at some point this season.

But if the Steelers are to improve on a running game that ranked No. 26 last season, a combination of Redman and Dwyer will have to carry it until Bell returns.

There simply aren't any other options.