LATROBE, Pa. -- Amid the nonstop talk about his missed drug tests and new cell phone number and all of the leaked minutia involved in his pending appeal of his four-game suspension, it has become almost passé to forget that Le'Veon Bell is actually playing football again.

The details of his latest showdown with the NFL headquarters in New York has obscured his fairly noteworthy comeback from his latest knee injury, a torn MCL that required season-ending surgery in November. And while Bell was regaling his teammates by completing multiple conditioning tests and cutting and darting through practices looking as if he could play a regular-season game right now if he had to, all anyone on the outside world understandably wanted to talk to him about was whether or not he truly had a case to get his suspension lifted or mitigated.

Bell addressed the matter briefly when he first met the media upon reporting to Steelers camp at St. Vincent's in the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania. "I've got to handle it for what it is and just keep moving forward," he said at an impromptu press conference.

In his first interview since his suspension became public, Bell declined to comment any further on the pending disciplinary matter, though one didn't have to be on this campus long to detect the distinct air of frustration from the star running back and his employers about the way this matter is being handled.

Some in the organization are cautiously optimistic that ultimately Bell's suspension -- which sources said does not involved actual failed results -- will be reduced by a game or two on appeal. In the meantime, they are prepared for DeAngelo Williams to start Week 1, and are buttressed by the fact that Bell is fully recovered and ready to assume his role at the fulcrum of this explosive offense as soon as the NFL deems him worthy of playing in games again.

The Steelers are hopeful Bell gets his suspension reduced. USATSI

For a team with February aspirations, and one that was without Bell for all but six games a year ago, the focus is on having the dynamic force healthy and steeled for a long Lombardi run. And while there is disappointment in how Bell has navigated his way through a perilous drug-testing program (Bell claimed on social media he would get the punishment overturned but has backed off that since), the platitudes he is drawing for the intense approach he took to his rehab and recovery are ringing loud and long as well.

"I'm not surprised," coach Mike Tomlin said after Bell wowed the staff at the second practice of the summer. "He's been ready to go for some time."

It was Tomlin's words that resonated most deeply with Bell through his half-year of recovery. He felt as if he let his coach, and teammates, down by being unavailable for their playoff push due to injury, and he felt even worse about his league-mandated two-game suspension to open that season for his arrest for DUI and marijuana possession.

He has let the franchise down further by getting himself into this latest staredown with the NFL's drug enforcement arm. While those close to Bell would tell you that being in the testing program feels more like Big Brother hovering over you than it does a holistic approach to treatment and recovery, Bell is loathe to speak about the specifics of the matter or how he feels about it given the delicate nature of the appeals process.

Regardless, he is paid to play football. Availability is the foundation to productivity, and Tomlin is not one to suffer fools. Despite his transcendent work on Sundays, Bell has compromised his potential payday with his off-field foibles. With his rookie contract set to expire after this season, everything he does from here on out will be magnified and dissected.

What he can control, for now, is his performance on the field. Shortly after suffering his midseason injury against the rival Bengals, Tomlin challenged Bell, 24, to use Adrian Peterson's remarkable comeback from a torn ACL and MCL in 2012 as a hallmark for what he could accomplish medically in 2016.

"A lot of people tell you things you want to hear, but not necessarily what you need to hear," Bell said. "And [Tomlin] will tell me things I need to hear, whether I'm going to be happy about it or not, and it opens your eyes a little bit. And when I got hurt and I was down on myself and frustrated that I got injured again and things like that, he told me, 'Look at what Adrian Peterson did.' He said that's what kind of separated Adrian Peterson from a lot of running backs -- he came off an injury and got back on the field and took the league by storm.

"And that's my motivation. That's something that kind of motivated me and keeps me going, and every time I was training and every time I was rehabbing or lifting or working out, that was always in my mind. Whether I would try to think about it or not, it just popped in my head: 'This is what Coach Tomlin said I need to do.' And it helped me get to where I am today."

This is the highest standard, indeed.

Coach Tomlin challenged Bell to look to Peterson's example in recovery. USATSI

Peterson altered the scope of what ACL/MCL recovery was believed to be when he tore his ligaments in the final game of the 2011 season and then played fully in 2012, rushing for over 2,000 yards and being named the NFL's MVP. A one-year recovery had been slashed in half, and Bell has the same lofty goals for himself. Obviously, any suspension would curtail Bell's ability to approach that threshold in yards or touchdowns, though we should also keep in mind that in just six games last season Bell amassed a lofty 556 yards on nearly 5 yards per carry (projects to roughly 1,500 yards in a full season) while also catching 24 balls for 136 yards.

He can be the most complete back in the NFL, and Tomlin is not shy about measuring Bell by such barometers. He hoped to stoke a fire under the young man by invoking Peterson's accomplishments, and it worked. Bell, an inspired pick in the second round out of Michigan State in 2013, is unencumbered on the field, with no restrictions on his knee. He seems as quick and decisive as ever in drills.

"I just wanted to make a point to him that very rarely do you have an opportunity to show true greatness," Tomlin said. "Usually, it is created through adversity and circumstances. Obviously, with injuries there is some adversity, and he'll be measured professionally by how he bounced back from it, and I just used Adrian Peterson as a shining example of that."

Bell speaks of Peterson's recovery in reverential tones. He seemed almost in awe of him -- "He's a guy I grew up idolizing and watching" -- when I asked if he reached out to his idol for tips on his recovery. But while Bell spoke at length with Rams running back Todd Gurley about his successful return from knee surgery, he didn't reach out to Peterson.

Instead, he dug up old videos of Peterson rehabbing and doing drills after suffering his tear, and strove to avoid what he called "babying his knee;" i.e., coming back at less than 100 percent or being limited by a bulky brace.

"He was a guy who worked hard," Bell said of Peterson, "and I felt like if I work hard and make the muscles around my knee strong enough, that's what going to get my knee as strong as it is. And I knew it was possible, because he did it. So I was like, 'Adrian Peterson did it; I know it's possible.' And I just kind of took it and ran with it."

Bell spent the winter and spring in Miami, training five days a week, crossing off each minor milestone along the way. It started with getting off crutches; then, being able to easily get in and out of a car; then, being able to walk up steps as well as down them. There was always some next beacon ahead culling more out of him. Once he could flex his knee fully and could jog, Bell became obsessed with sprinting. Once he could sprint straight ahead, then he was focused on cutting and turning.

By April, Bell was going hard twice a day. He couldn't do much during Steelers OTAs in the spring, and he experienced a little swelling in his knee then, but not much since. Back then he was limited to individual drills and running some simple pass routes. Now, after the work he put in, he can perform in any drill, work in pass protection, whatever.

"Four weeks before camp I started doing two-a-days, five days a week," Bell said, "working out twice a day just to get in crazy conditioning, because I knew I'm going to need that. I know my quad and my legs, everything, I'm going to need that to be the player I want to be, and come back to where I was last year and the things I was doing last year. So I didn't want my knee injury to set me back."

The initial reward came Friday, when Bell was able to practice as if the previous half year didn't happen. Hearing his center, Maurkice Pouncey point out the middle linebacker and being back in the huddle with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, it felt like being back home.

Bell is back home on the practice field with his quarterback. USATSI

"Once I got my first carry, it just kind of came back to me," Bell said. "When I was running through the hole, it just came naturally. When I was running I wasn't thinking about my knee or anything. That was obviously the first step, and obviously we're going to do more things as time goes on and put on equipment and pads and things like that, but I was excited. I felt good. I woke up this morning and still felt great. It didn't swell up or anything, so I'm looking forward to pushing it even more."

The Steelers will be smart about things, but they aren't holding him back, either. Bell will be used quite sparingly this summer, but that's not to say he won't perform at all in the preseason, even given his import to the team and even given his previous knee problems. There is no substitute for being hit and playing actual tackle football -- no way to simulate that physical burden -- and particularly for all the contact running backs must endure, exhibition game reps are meaningful. Bell said he wasn't sure yet if he would be suiting up for, say, the third preseason game, but if he stays on this course, I surmise he will.

"Coach Tomlin ultimately makes those decisions," general manager Kevin Colbert said, "but they all have to practice and play at some point in order to be ready for the regular season. It's not unlike any other sport -- you have to practice this sport to be good at it, and of course there are risks, but I think there's more risk in overprotecting them, and I think they have to get hit some, and they know that.

"He ran with both groups in the conditioning test, so he understands that he has to work hard, and he understands that he has to get hit. They have to practice getting hit and protect themselves. I agree that you don't want to overdo it, and most teams don't overdo it with their stars. But they do need a certain amount of contact, Le'Veon included."

As for Bell, he has plenty to keep his mind on without allowing the uncertainty surrounding his suspension, or his future paydays, to overwhelm him. This week comes the reality of padded practices and live hitting -- the Steelers donned the pads for the first time on Sunday and their camp practices can be among the more physical I have seen, particularly in short-yardage situations -- and then come the preseason games.

He has been touched by the support the Rooney family has displayed despite his injuries and mistakes off the field, and vows to reward them during a 2016 in which anything less than another title will feel like a disappointment. He'll continue to use Peterson's heroic return as his guide and let Tomlin's messages fuel him, and should he play to his abilities and stay out of further trouble, it's difficult not to imagine him in the black and yellow for years to come.

"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else," Bell said of the Rooneys. "They love their players. I can't really talk about other owners, because I don't really know them, but just by hearing other players and different teammates and things like that, everybody who come here loves the Rooneys. So I know I'm in a great spot. I just have to take care of business and keep moving."