We wouldn't say it's all love among the Steelers offensive linemen now that it appears Le'Veon Bell will rejoin the team before Week 8, but they're certainly willing to welcome him back after a lengthy holdout.
"But I wish we could have him back today. Why's he taking so long? ... Why wouldn't he come back here and be around the guys and see us in the eye? I don't know. I know we're all waiting on him."
And that's the thing. Despite the "never talk about a man's money" talking points, Bell's desire for money was never the issue. It was that he left his teammates in the dark about his plans; hours before the Steelers met the Browns in the season opener, NFL Network's Peter Schrager reported that former Steelers quarterback Michael Vick had spoken with left guard Ramon Foster, who said Bell told the offensive linemen he'd report before Week 1. When he didn't, "they called and texted and couldn't get a straight response from him back," according to Schrager.
And that led to some.
Days before the season opener, when it became apparent Bell wasn't showing, Foster told reporters, "In the ultimate team sport we've created a league of individuals, in a sense. ... What do you do? here's a guy who doesn't give a damn, I guess so we'll treat it as such. I just hate it came to this."
And center Maurkice Pouncey didn't hold back either.
"Honestly it's a little selfish," he said at the time. "I'm kind of pissed right now. It sucks that he's not here. We'll move on as a team. It doesn't look like he'll be in the game plan at this point [for Week 1]. [James] Conner looks great. We'll worry about (Bell) in Week 2. ...
"Obviously, it's Le'Veon over the Steelers. We are the Steelers. At this point, it's bigger than business. Now that it's game time and you have $14 million looming out there and your team really wants you here, at this point we have [James] Conner."
And while Conner played well against the Browns, rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns, he has just 98 yards in the last three games. The Steelers need Bell, which may play a part in the change in attitude about his return.
"We love Le'Veon," Pouncey said Wednesday. "Sometimes, I think that gets misconstrued, how much we care about him. We all want the best for him. People take things the wrong way sometimes, and we're totally fine with him. ... We've done a lot of great things with Le'Veon. Sometimes, you let things get in the way, but he's been a heck of a player here, a great teammate. We'll never forget that. I'm pretty sure when he comes back everybody will be fine with it."
Foster wasn't quite willing to go that far.
"We've got a lot of stuff in-house we have to deal with more than anything," he explained, alluding to the Steelers' 1-2-1 start. "If he shows up, that's awesome. If he comes later, that's cool. Our job right now is to win these games that's in front of us until he does."
If Bell shows up during the team's Week 7 bye, they'll have played six games without him, including the Falcons on Sunday and the Bengals the following week. And if the Steelers don't sort out their laundry list of issues, starting with one of the league's worst defenses, Bell won't magically save the season. But if Pittsburgh can split the next two games and show incremental improvements on both sides of the ball, perhaps there's a chance to salvage things over the final 10 games -- with Bell in the backfield. One problem: Pittsburgh's future schedule. It's the second-toughest in the NFL. Given that their schedule ranked 12th over the first month of the season, things could get worse -- Bell or not -- before they get better.