What Steelers' offense looks like without Le'Veon Bell

Jalen, Stephen A. get heated about Bell (2:22)

Jalen Rose and Stephen A. Smith argue about Steelers players calling out Le'Veon Bell through the media. (2:22)

PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell scurried out of town and out of the game plan, leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers in a second-and-long before they even kick off against the Cleveland Browns.

But the offense doesn't have to scrap its playbook. Here's what to expect from the Steelers as fans -- and Bell -- watch Sunday's season opener from home:

The Conner experiment

The Steelers have expended much energy praising James Conner, which is understandable from a confidence standpoint. To pump a few brakes, Conner hasn't rushed for more than 26 yards in a regular-season NFL game.

But Conner shook off that stat by looking terrific in his second preseason, and the trust earned in the locker room will give him every chance to break out Sunday. The grouchy offensive line just might make sure of it.

"Stars are made every year, so hopefully it aligns for them," center Maurkice Pouncey said.

Added guard David DeCastro: “If we don’t do well, there are going to be those questions. That’s why you have to do well, to eliminate those questions."

Conner is physical like Bell but offers a change of pace. He's a hit-the-hole guy, while Bell remains patient.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has seen growth from Conner in the passing game. As the Steelers run the no-huddle offense, expect Roethlisberger to target Conner for dump-offs.

"I think [Conner] gets to his spot really quickly, which is awesome for a quarterback," Roethlisberger said. "[He] checks his protection, gets to a spot, because then you know he’s there and he’s ready to get the ball. ... I think he’s catching the ball really well right now. I am excited for James, probably as much as he is excited for himself to get out there."

Don't be surprised if Conner gets at least 15 carries Sunday, but look for veteran Stevan Ridley, who looked spry and punishing in the preseason finale, to get carries, too.

Remember Ridley's 2,036 yards and 19 touchdowns for New England in 2012-13? After knee issues and bouncing around the league for a few years, Ridley finally feels like his old self.

"Probably better," Ridley said. "I really feel better."

Quick football, and 'paper guy' Randy Fichtner

The Steelers go deep more than most teams, and though that's still a crucial element of the offense, the Steelers have emphasized the quick passing game throughout the preseason.

Quick routes to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster might become more prevalent this time around under first-year coordinator Randy Fichtner, who has his players curious about the game he'll call. The preseason was too generic to make determinations, so all veteran wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey knows is Fichtner is organized.

"When the playbook comes in, it's on point -- he's a paper guy," Heyward-Bey said. "We'll see on Sunday when the lights come on [how he calls it]."

Roethlisberger is tight with Fichtner, who also is his quarterbacks coach, but wants to figure out his tendencies and personality in live action. Fichtner hasn't been a playcaller since his days with the Memphis Tigers in the early 2000s.

Roethlisberger has freedom within the no-huddle offense to call plays as well.

"A lot of it depends on how the game is going, the flow of the game," Roethlisberger said. "We don’t want to force anything, but sometimes you have to try to mix it up and throw some different wrinkles at them, but we’ll play all of that out."

A tight end party

One tangible change in this year's offense is the tight ends lining up wide more often, particularly in the red zone. Starter Vance McDonald said he has not done it much in his NFL career until now.

"It's a big-body target out there," McDonald said. "It's something we want to look forward to moving to. It's a ton of fun."

Problem is, McDonald missed Thursday's practice with a foot injury that plagued him throughout the preseason. If he can't go, Jesse James -- who had a strong training camp -- will start and athletic No. 3 tight end Xavier Grimble will back him up.

The Steelers run a ton of two-tight-end sets and want more production from this spot. Replacing Heath Miller has been an injury-filled journey.

James doesn't have McDonald's speed, but he's a reliable, big target who has a knack for finding soft spots in the zone. He will be a factor Sunday regardless.

"I've tried to improve in all areas," James said. "We as a group just need to do a little bit of everything [Week 1]."