Where there’s smoke there’s fire, or at least a couple of Steelers running backs. Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were arrested Wednesday for possession of marijuana, and because Bell was driving the vehicle when they were pulled over he was also charged with DUI. Bell’s trip to the police station caused him to miss the team’s charter to Philly for their preseason game tonight, but he paid his own way to the City of Brotherly Love and is expected to play tonight.
What is unknown is how the Steelers will handle the situation. The league won’t impose any suspensions until the legal case has run its course, which as we’ve seen in the case of Marshawn Lynch could take years. However, there is precedent that the Pittsburgh franchise will go above and beyond, as they did with Santonio Holmes a few years ago. Holmes was suspended for one game with pay, which allows the Steelers to circumvent the NFLPA’s rule about excessive punishment. Will the Steelers suspend both Bell and Blount for the season opener against the Browns, leaving Dri Archer and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of to handle backfield duties? Will they stagger the suspensions and alternate workhorse backs? Will they even do anything at all? We’ll have to wait until the smoke clears in Pittsburgh to sort it all out.
- Be sure to check out this week’s “Updated Sleepers and Value Plays.”
Calvin Johnson is expected to see his first action of the preseason, and while he remains by and large the first wide receiver off of fantasy draft boards the fact is he’s on head coach #3 and offensive coordinator #4. So even more than fantasy owners, who simply expect greatness from Megatron, Johnson is looking forward to seeing what his role in Joe Lombardi’s offense will be. Specifically, Johnson noted that more motion would help Matthew Stafford identify coverages and plan his progression accordingly. And while Lombardi’s Saints were known for spreading the ball amongst their entire receiving corps, the semi-educated guess here is that the Lions will throw Megatron the ball. A lot.
Another player with an evolving role is Pierre Thomas, who told the Times-Picayune, “I know my role is going to change a whole lot this year.” Thomas specifically noted he’ll be doing more pass blocking and route running, suggesting that he may take the share of Darren Sproles’ former workload that doesn’t go to Brandin Cooks. Saints coach Sean Payton noted that “Every year we describe his role and then in some point of the season, it shifts. Each year there’s been a game or two where all of a sudden he’s doing more than just that.” And that, in a nutshell, is why the Saints’ backfield is so frustrating: even when you think you have the roles pegged, Payton isn’t afraid to jumble them based on how a particular game is going. Thomas, the resurgent (and potential free agent) Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson… it’s poised to be another messy yet productive backfield committee in New Orleans.
Finally, the all-important Week 3 of the preseason opens tonight with the Steelers taking on the Eagles. Pittsburgh’s backfield has already created one story line, but don’t let it overshadow the return to action of Philly’s Jeremy Maclin. After missing all of last season with a knee injury and the first two preseason games with hamstring issues, Maclin finally gets to demonstrate how he’ll fit in Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense. In conjunction with Maclin, rookie Jordan Matthews is expected to get snaps with the ones as well. At worst he projects to be Philly’s WR3, a fantasy-relevant spot in Kelly’s offense; you could also view him as a handcuff to Maclin, because if the veteran goes down again the rookie will be pressed into duty—in a spot that produced big numbers for DeSean Jackson a year ago.