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Steelers appear ready to start James Conner this week even if Le’Veon Bell reports

James Conner must take advantage of a big opportunity in Week 1 with Le'Veon Bell's absence against the Browns growing more and more likely.

Le’Veon Bell ended his 2017 holdout in time to practice with the Steelers the first week of the season. He started the season opener but had only 32 yards on 10 carries against the Browns followed by 87 yards on 27 carries against the Vikings in Week Two.

The running back still hasn’t reported to the team with the 2018 season opener only five days away, and the Steelers appear ready to start James Conner even if Bell shows up before Sunday, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he feels more comfortable with Conner this year.

“James -- the status and condition and approach of James,” Tomlin said. “Being a rookie who missed a lot of time due to soft tissue injuries and lack of general readiness to a guy who’s done the things that we outlined.”

The Steelers have a two-week roster exemption they can use on Bell, whose pay while on roster-exempt status would have to be negotiated before he signs his franchise tender. Bell is due to make $14.55 million under the one-year franchise tag, which translates to more than $855,000 per week.

Tomlin does not know when Bell might arrive, saying Tuesday that he has not talked to Bell this week.

“Much like I’ve told you guys throughout this process when he gets here is when we will start quantifying all Le’Veon Bell-type things,” Tomlin said, via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. “His overall readiness, the amount of time that we have between our arrival and our next competition, etc. We will weigh all of those things at the appropriate time. Right now, we are singularly focused on the guys who are here working and have been here working and building a plan around variables that we know. That’s the appropriate thing.”