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Le'Veon Bell's knee injury is Steelers' big offseason mystery

With every cut, jump, spin and catch, Le'Veon Bell embodies the Pittsburgh Steelers' high-paced, high-volume offense.

But the Steelers start organized team activities in a few weeks, and Bell's role for those field sessions isn't so clear-cut. He's six months removed from a severe right knee injury, and details of his rap career are easier to find than details of his rehab.

Ever confident, Bell will expect to be his best. The Steelers certainly want that too. But when will that happen? When will he again be able to do what makes him great?

The answer might not come for a while. Think training camp at the earliest. The Steelers can mark Bell's progress, but caution will be a theme here. They can limit his work in May and June, which I'd expect. There's no firm timetable, at least publicly, for a full return.

For all Bell's confidence as a running back and a quick healer, along with the team's faith in him, there's a level of mystery surrounding the knee because of the nature of the injury. As ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell pointed out to insider Field Yates on Yates' weekly fantasy podcast, the Steelers tailback suffered tears in his medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments (MCL and PCL). Multi-ligament tears are never easy.

"You're talking about gross instability at the knee, potentially," Bell said. "This is a very compromised knee."

That's not to say Bell can't return to the player he was, she added, but it will require diligent rehab and could take some time, to the point that the running back might continue getting stronger as the 2016 season unfolds.

This is what we know about Bell:

  • He has been diligent in making his medical appointments with the team this offseason and said in March that he was cleared for all activities but sprinting and cutting.

  • He has at least dabbled in a blood flow restriction treatment from Owens Recovery, which works with more than 20 professional sports teams to help players strengthen the muscles around injured knees.

  • He has rehabbed in Pittsburgh, but not exclusively.

  • He has posted social media highlight videos of himself running football drills and dunking a basketball, the latter of which might not be new, as it looks similar to his 2015 dunking videos.

Eventually, Bell will need to cut and turn and pivot in live practice action. He'll need reps to feel out the injury and regain his balance and explosion. The Steelers will want to ensure the injury is stabilized to avoid additional damage. As it stands, there's no definitive reason to believe Bell will miss Week 1 in Washington. The Steelers would love to have him, and he wants to be there.

There is incentive for both sides. For Bell, a long-term contract is in play. The 2017 free agent would be in line for top-three-to-five running back money, if he returns to full strength. The $100 million Adrian Peterson realm is considered untouchable in today's tailback era, but Bell is enough of a difference-maker to get a hefty payday. He's 24 years old. He has served a two-game suspension for marijuana use and has seen each of his past two seasons end with a knee injuries, which, given the nature of NFL negotiations, might be casually mentioned at the bargaining table. But this is a deal that can and should get done if both parties are satisfied with it. Bell wants to be in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are clearly counting on him. They were tempted to take a running back in the fourth round of the NFL draft -- San Jose State's Tyler Ervin, Utah's Devontae Booker and West Virginia's Wendell Smallwood were intriguing options -- but they passed while knowing Bell and 33-year-old DeAngelo Williams are free agents after this season.

The offense is good without Bell. But it jumps to another level with a healthy Bell because of his versatility. He's a natural pass-catcher. Roethlisberger makes the offense go, but Bell can make his job easier. All that sounds great, but because details on Bell's knee injury are scarce, it's hard to know whether the recovery has been completely smooth, despite the rigorous work ethic.

Perhaps offseason workouts will offer new details on Bell's recovery. Until then, there's always a Snoop Dogg album.