Steelers still haven't heard from Le'Veon Bell despite star RB's plan to return

Although Le'Veon Bell has been planning to report to the Steelers in time to be ready for their Oct. 28 game against the Browns, Pittsburgh team officials and players have not heard anything from the star running back, sources told ESPN.

Bell has deployed a strategy that has kept Steelers officials and players in the dark, with no contact with any of them, according to sources. No one within the Steelers organization knows exactly when Bell will report this upcoming week, which was previously reported by ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Bell could return any time between Monday and the following Monday, Oct. 22, according to sources. But this upcoming week also will be a bye week for the Steelers, who will be off Thursday and Friday because of the mandate in the collective bargaining agreement that says players must have four consecutive days off during their bye week.

Bell could report during that time, and be paid for this week as well, but the Steelers remain in wait-and-see mode.

Bell hasn't signed his $14.5 million franchise tag while preserving his health for a long-term contract in Pittsburgh or elsewhere. During his absence, James Conner has emerged as a productive replacement at running back, rushing for 342 yards and five touchdowns in Pittsburgh's first five games.

Steelers veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said this past week that Conner has earned a prominent role in Pittsburgh's offense, even after Bell returns.

"I think James has done some amazing things and deserves to be on the field," Roethlisberger said Wednesday as the Steelers prepared for Sunday's showdown with the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals. "We also know what Le'Veon is and what he brings to the table. I guess we'll cross that bridge if and when it happens."

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.