Steelers’ fill-ins figure to stay involved going forward

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, talks with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, talks with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

PITTSBURGH (AP) – The NFL’s second-leading rusher is about to lose his starting job.

The wide receiver who has already quadrupled his entire 2014 output remains a placeholder, at least for now.

And if DeAngelo Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey are being honest, they’re cool with it. Then again, considering the guys they’ve been filling in for, they don’t really have a choice.

Williams will step aside for All-Pro Le’Veon Bell when Bell returns from a two-game suspension on Sunday at St. Louis.

Heyward-Bey will almost certainly see his spot in the rotation change when Martavis Bryant has his four-week league-enforced absence end next month.

While coach Mike Tomlin made it a point to thank Williams for his contributions -including 127 yards rushing in the opener and a franchise-record tying three rushing touchdowns in last Sunday’s romp over San Francisco – Tomlin left little doubt Tuesday about who will be in the backfield with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in St. Louis.

“I’m going to play Le’Veon Bell,” Tomlin said. “We’ll figure out (the workload) as we go. If 26 is available, we’re going to use him.”

Williams, who called Pittsburgh’s top-ranked offense “a beautiful puzzle,” made sure to take a bow after his three scores versus the 49ers.

Consider it a signature move for the professional wrestling fan, one that might have to be put on the shelf with Bell back in the fold.

“The bow is classy and I like to consider myself a classy guy,” Williams said. “I wear tuxedo T-shirts. It says I’m a classy guy, but I’m here to party.”

Even if Williams returns to wallflower status for long stretches with Bell cleared, though a visibly humbled Bell – whose suspension resulted from his arrest on drug and DUI charges in August 2014 – made sure to downplay his impact after watching the 32-year-old Williams turn back the clock.

“He played great, but that didn’t surprise me at all,” Bell said. “I’ve been watching him for a long time, so I thought he did everything I was expecting him to do and more. I’m glad to be able to come back and help him out a little bit.”

Or maybe a touch more than that. Bell finished second in the league in all-purpose yards in 2014 and trimmed his body fat to 4 percent during the offseason. He believes he’s in the best shape of his 23-year-old life and is easily one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.

Yet Williams showed there is plenty of power left in his legs even after a decade in the pros. His three short scoring runs against San Francisco highlighted his ability to find a crease at the goal line or create one on his own, something Bell is still working on.

“He showed he can come in and help this team,” Bell said. “We are different styles of runners, so I think they will use us both.”

And the Steelers figure to find a way to keep Heyward-Bey in the mix even after Bryant completes his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Bryant spent the past two weeks working out away from the team, though Tomlin stressed Pittsburgh is “doing what’s appropriate under the circumstances” to make sure Bryant avoids further trouble.

In Bryant’s absence, Heyward-Bey has shown flashes of why Oakland took him in the first round in the 2009 draft. He atoned for a miscue against New England – when he failed to get both feet down in the end zone despite being wide open – by running a perfect post route for a 35-yard touchdown that put the Steelers up 22-3.

“I’ve always been fast,” Heyward-Bey said.

In his third professional stop, however, he’s become more than that. He survived his first year with the Steelers by becoming a willing blocker on special teams.

Given a chance to line up and run routes, he already has 135 yards receiving and his eight receptions are his most through the first two games of a season in his career.

The precise fling from Roethlisberger was actually a play the quarterback wanted specifically because it would free up Heyward-Bey downfield.

“I never would have thought of that play if I didn’t have confidence in him, that he would make that play,” Roethlisberger said. “So we split the safeties and ran and he made that catch. It wasn’t an easy catch.”

One sure to keep Heyward-Bey – like Williams – in the mix on an offense that could be among the league’s most potent.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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