PITTSBURGH -- Six months after major knee surgery, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell vows to return to 100 percent for Week 1. He also said he won't be naive, especially when playing the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bell said after Tuesday's organized team activities session that the Bengals and other teams were targeting him last season. Bell tore his MCL in Week 8 as Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict tackled the fourth-year running back by the sideline.
"I feel there are a lot of teams that try to do that, try to take me out of the game," Bell said. "I don't think it was just [Burfict]. It felt like the whole team was out there trying to twist my ankles and do little dirty stuff in between piles ... I was ignorant to the fact at first."
Bell noticed that the Bengals -- one half of a vicious AFC North rivalry with Pittsburgh -- were happy about Burfict's tackle, which required Bell to leave the game on a cart.
Bell said he thought teams were well-intentioned, but after ending back-to-back seasons with knee injuries, he has smartened up. He plans to remain physical as a rusher but will protect himself when necessary.
The NFL suspended Burfict for three games of the 2016 season for several egregious hits, including multiple incidents against the Steelers. In 2015, Burfict was involved in plays that injured Bell, wide receiver Antonio Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Bell said he got a direct message from Burfict on Twitter in March.
"He was happy to see me running," Bell said. "I appreciate it. I'm just glad to be back out here."
Bell caught passes in individual drills Tuesday but added that the Steelers are being cautious with him. It might be a while before Bell is hitting the hole in live action. He anticipates at least a little contact at training camp. As the team convenes for offseason work, Bell said he's been training his knee so "when September gets here, I'll be even better than I am now."
"Once it's actually time to go, I'll be 100 percent," Bell said. "I feel great."
Bell is a free agent after 2016, and he said his agent hasn't yet discussed a long-term contract with the Steelers.
First, he's determined to prove he's not injury-prone.
"My luck hopefully should change this year and I'm on the field and there's nothing freaky," Bell said. "Obviously just take care of my body and do the little things right."
Bell has the approval of his quarterback. Roethlisberger was pleased to see Bell running around, saying Bell looked "really good."
The trio of Roethlisberger-Brown-Bell played 58 snaps together in 2015, compared to almost 900 last year.
"I was excited to get him back out there," Roethlisberger said.