Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he has no relationship with Le’Veon Bell, but he has “a lot of respect” for him and expects his former player to be at his best on Sunday.
Bell will face his old coach and team for the first time since sitting out all of last year over a contract dispute with the Steelers, then signing as a free agent in March with the Jets.
“We know the type of competitor he is,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday news conference in Pittsburgh. “We know he’s going to answer the bell and be L-Bell in this game. But it’s our job to minimize that particularly as it pertains to us securing a victory.”
When asked about his relationship with Bell, Tomlin said, “I have none. I don’t communicate with him. He’s a New York Jet.”
Still, Tomlin unsolicited mentioned several Jets defensive players that stood out to him —Jamal Adams, Steve McLendon and Quinnen Williams — as he previewed Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tomlin only brought up one player: Bell.
“We’ve got to be ready to deal with the talents of Le’Veon Bell,” Tomlin said. “He’s got a complete game. He can run inside, he can run outside. He’s a big-time inclusion in their passing game, whether it’s out of the backfield or whether they remove him from the backfield.
“We’ve got to minimize his impact on the game when the ball is going through him. When he’s being productive, they’re a tough nut to crack in terms of getting behind schedule and creating the type of negativity we need to create.”
Bell hasn’t had the impact most anticipated, though. He made three Pro Bowls in five seasons with the Steelers but hasn’t been as productive in his first — and perhaps only — year as a Jet. There has been speculation that the Jets could try and trade Bell this offseason.
Adam Gase favors a passing offense and hasn’t used Bell as much as expected. Last week, Bell said he doesn’t believe he’s getting the opportunity he deserves to be at his best.
Gase, on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN Radio, said the beginning of the season was “weird.” Sam Darnold missed time with mono, and that affected how Bell was used. Gase said he needs to do a better job of putting Bell in situations to succeed.
“I love what he brings to the table. I really think that we haven’t maximized all his talents quite yet,” Gase said. “We’ve had some good games with him. We’ve got to get to the point to where I’m calling it well enough to where he can be consistent and we can get him in a rhythm early in the game.”
Bell, who has yet to have a 100-yard rushing game, has run for 676 yards on 204 carries (3.3 yards per carry). He’s averaging 20.1 touches per game after averaging 26.6 in his last three years in Pittsburgh.
Tomlin said it wasn’t his place to talk about Bell’s usage.
“I’ll let them talk about that,” he said. “That’s not my bag. Those are things for them to ponder — their division of labor and the quality of it and things of that nature.”
The Jets (5-9) have won four of their last six and want to get the bad taste of last Thursday’s 42-21 loss to the Ravens out of their system.
This is an important game for the Steelers (8-6), who hold the last wild card spot in the AFC and need to win their final two games to ensure a playoff berth.
Tomlin announced that rookie Devlin Hodges, who threw four interceptions in Pittsburgh’s home loss Sunday night to Buffalo, would remain the starter. He expects Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to devise something to “get after” Hodges.
The Jets could be getting some reinforcements to help with that. Gase said Adams, who has missed the last two games, and Quinnen Williams, who sat out last week, could practice on a limited basis Wednesday.
Tomlin said he doesn’t want to have to rely on Hodges’ arm and that the Steelers need to have “a more stout” running game than they did against the Bills, when they rushed for only 51 yards.
“There’s no question we’re going to need to be, facing a Gregg Williams defense,” Tomlin said. “It’s going to be challenging. But particularly so when you have a young quarterback.”
The Jets placed rookie tackle Chuma Edoga (knee) and wideout Jeff Smith (ankle) on injured reserve. They signed wide receiver Keon Hatcher to the practice squad and released center Ryan Crozier from the practice squad.