How much practice does Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell need for Week 1?

PITTSBURGH -- With the Pittsburgh Steelers preparing for Thursday night's preseason finale and off the rest of the week, the earliest Le'Veon Bell will walk into team action is Labor Day.

Bell believes a week's worth of practice prep will be enough.

"The way I train, all it's going to take for me is a few practices and some game action," Bell told ESPN in July after his failed franchise tag negotiations with the team.

Those who have been in the Steelers' locker room for the past month are genuinely curious as to how he will catch up so fast, raising questions about how to define "football shape." How Bell responds in a handful of practices will determine his readiness for the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 10.

Steelers running back Trey Williams has undergone three NFL training camps, and he knows that taking handoffs and dodging defenders with pads is difficult to simulate.

Getting hit is only a small part of the running back experience.

"Putting on the pads and putting on the helmet and being able to function and run with that -- there's a difference with putting a mouthpiece in and running in the heat and improve with the pads on," Williams said. "That's another thing you have to get used to. The weight -- that's a different deal. But the guy's a horse. Whenever they get him, I'll sure he'll be ready."

Ways to simulate football independently include wearing a weight vest (about 10 pounds) and utilizing agility drills in sand. Bell likely has done that while training in South Florida over the past month.

The Steelers will have at least four practices next week (likely one padded). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't put any feat past Bell, whom he calls "an amazing football player." But he is prepared for reserve running backs James Conner, Knile Davis and Fitz Toussaint to spell Bell if necessary.

Toussaint and Davis have started games in the past, and Conner shrugged off a slow start to rush for 98 yards on 20 carries in the second preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. This group won't be flashy, but it can lessen the burden on Bell, depending which players make the 53-man roster.

Fifteen to 20 carries might be a realistic start for Bell in Week 1 after four practices.

"He's a physical back. It's a violent sport. The running back position takes a beating," Roethlisberger said. "So we just have to hope the other guys are ready to go if he needs to be spelled. ... If he just comes back, I don't know if he'll be ready to play every single play like he does typically during the season. So we're going to have to have other guys ready to give him breaks."

Guard David DeCastro draws from his experience blocking for Bell as hope for expedited game prep. DeCastro and the offensive line have spent four seasons with Bell. They understand his nuances, jukes and patience. But the offense has added what Roethlisberger calls "new wrinkles," and Bell must account for that.

"Luckily we've had some time with him the past couple of years, which is nice. But you'd like to have some time [this preseason]," DeCastro said. "Hopefully we get him back and get him in stride. ... It's one of those things where you watch the film, there are a lot of things you have to go through and do as football players. Practice reps are one thing. Game reps are more important. As long as he's been working out, conditioning and wearing a weight vest, which I'm sure he has, it will be fine."

Others are simply used to Bell being a finished product and don't expect anything less.

"I'm not worried about him at all not being in football shape," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "I'm pretty sure he’ll come in here and ball out like normal, things that Le'Veon does in the pass game and the running game."