PITTSBURGH -- From the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room, several key players have no idea when Le’Veon Bell will show up.
Center Maurkice Pouncey, a leader on the team, usually knows most everything about what goes on with the team.
"I wish I knew," Pouncey said. "He's kind of kept to himself about it."
Bell, who's away for the second consecutive August because of the dynamics of the franchise tag, is training in South Florida while the Steelers prepare for their third preseason game Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. A source said Bell's tentative plan was to follow last year's blueprint and show up some time after the fourth preseason game. He signed last year's $12.12 million tag on Sept. 4, the Monday of Week 1 at Cleveland, also the site of this year's opener.
Bell's tag for 2018 pays $14.5 million, but he isn't under contract until he signs it. Bell is saving himself from injury after both sides failed to reach a long-term deal in July.
Pouncey wouldn't mind Bell coming in a few days earlier to get the timing with his offensive line right. Asked whether he expects Bell to show up in premium shape, one prominent starter said, "He better."
"With the business part of it, you hate to even comment on it," Pouncey said. "It’s their own decision how they make it ... I hope he shows up next week. We’ve got Carolina. We could get some practice reps in with him, see how things turn out. I’m pretty sure he’s in great shape."
Pouncey said he hopes and expects Bell to show up in good shape, but he added that the offense "feels great" about James Conner if he has to play significant snaps in Cleveland.
Conner has improved his conditioning and pass protection in his second season and is averaging 9.1 yards on nine preseason carries.
"He’s in great shape, hitting the hole hard, pass-blocking really well," Pouncey said. "We’re all really excited for him."
Make no mistake, though, Conner isn't delusional that he'll step in and be the guy in Cleveland. As Pouncey points out, it's hard to argue with the league's most prolific tailback over the past half-decade.
"When Le'Veon gets back, he's going to start -- there's no secret," Conner said. "I'm just trying to make the most of the reps."