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Flu latest setback for Bell



Published: Thu, January 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Steelers linebacker admitted he may skip the postseason.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Kendrell Bell sat out the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice Wednesday with flu-like symptoms, yet another setback in a season filled with them for one of the NFL's premier young defensive players.

It's been so long since the inside linebacker was healthy, he almost can't remember what it's like to feel good on a football field.

"It hasn't been miserable for me because we've been winning," said Bell, considered one of the Steelers' key players before training camp began. "After five weeks [of being idle], the frustration went down the drain. I'm pretty sure if we were losing, I'd be on the other side."

The last time the Steelers were top-seeded in the AFC playoffs, in 2001, Bell was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year -- a strong, fast pass rusher whose immense physical skills forced offenses to account for him on every down. He was a Pro Bowl alternate last season.

View from the sideline

But the Steelers' best regular season in franchise history has been a lost season for the 26-year-old Bell, who injured a shoulder early in training camp and hasn't been the same since.

He later needed surgery to repair a sports hernia and hasn't played since Nov. 21 against Cincinnati, the last of his three games this season.

Bell's replacement, Larry Foote, lacks Bell's size, quickness and explosiveness off the snap, but has been a steady, season-long contributor to the AFC's top-ranked defense. Even if Bell had been ready to play in Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Jets, he wouldn't have started.

Now, a player who figures to attract plenty of interest as a free agent during the offseason seems to be wondering if it's worth the risk trying to play again this season.

Like Jets defensive end John Abraham, who has been out for five weeks with a knee injury, Bell realizes that he might be giving away millions if he tries to play while hurt.

"I understand where he's coming from," Bell said. "When you get injured and you've got nagging injuries, injuries can cause other injuries because you're not yourself. I can see where his concern is as a free agent. He doesn't want to put himself out there 75 percent, and jeopardize getting injured and losing out for a good contract."

On the way out

As a result, Bell's once-outstanding career in Pittsburgh is likely down to its final few weeks. With the 6-foot-1, 257-pound Bell likely to attract more money on the open market than the Steelers are willing to pay him, they may try to sign the less-expensive Foote and let Bell walk.

Bell practiced last week, but said, "It [his injured groin] isn't going to be 100 percent until after the season. ... I didn't feel like I had all the explosion I needed or wanted."

With Bell out so long, the Steelers may not risk playing him in the postseason, not when one misstep by a rusty player could end their best season in a quarter-century.

"I'm just trying to get in where I fit in," Bell said. "I'm not going to put myself out there to jeopardize the team. If I feel I'm not doing well enough, I won't play."




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