FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Le’Veon Bell simply couldn’t control himself. Well, mostly his mouth.
The New York Jets running back was back on a practice field for the first time in 17 months and was downright giddy. And, he let his new teammates on defense know all about it.
“It was amazing,” a grinning Bell said Tuesday after the Jets began their three-day minicamp. “Just running around and just being able to trash talk and catch some balls and just sweat in your helmet – you know, things that we kind of take for granted when you’re playing.
“The fact I had that whole year off and came out here and played football again, it felt so good.”
Bell, who sat out voluntary workouts this offseason, was limited in his first full practice with the Jets. But, he was plenty involved with ratcheting up the overall energy on the field – talking smack with defensive players throughout.
“You’ve got a loudmouth on defense,” a smiling left tackle Kelvin Beachum said, referring to always-chatty safety Jamal Adams. “And, now, we’ve got a loudmouth on offense.
“It’ll be fun.”
Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million deal – including $35 million guaranteed – with the Jets in March after sitting out all last season with Pittsburgh in a contract dispute.
The 27-year-old running back has been around his teammates sporadically throughout the offseason, but chose to work out on his own with a personal trainer in Florida rather than participate in the team’s voluntary workouts.
So, his arrival Tuesday made for a playoff-sized gathering of media finally getting a glimpse of Bell in uniform and taking handoffs from Sam Darnold.
“When he’s out there, when he’s in the huddle, a defensive coordinator doesn’t know where he’s going to line up, doesn’t know what’s coming his way,” Darnold said. “With Le’Veon out there, we definitely become a little bit more unpredictable.”
Bell has rushed for 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns, and has 312 catches for 2,660 yards and seven scores in his NFL career. Using a deliberate running style that throws off defenders, his 128.9 yards from scrimmage per game over his career is the best mark in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
But, after missing a full season, there are some who wonder if Bell will still be the same versatile and dynamic force he had been as one of the best running backs in the league.
“Maybe people forget a little bit just because they haven’t seen it in a long time,” he said. “It’s normal. That’s what humans do. But I feel like once I go out here, I play, first game coming up, people will be reminded.
“Right now is not the time.”
Coach Adam Gase said the Jets will be “smart” with Bell during minicamp, limiting his carries and physical activity while he works himself into football shape and gets comfortable in the offense.
“A lot of people are expecting a lot from me, and I’m expecting a lot from myself,” Bell said. “So, I don’t want to let nobody down. I want to go out there and be the best me. That’s why I was training one-on-one with my trainer, getting to where I need to get to make sure I’m in shape when I come here I can take every snap – if they ask me to.”
There were recent reports that Gase was not in favor of the Jets signing Bell at the price he ended up costing. But the coach said above all else, he’s excited about having a running back of Bell’s caliber. Bell says the two have a “great” relationship and cleared the air.
There’s also the hope that perhaps the Jets could even get him to perform at a level higher than his best days with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
“As a coaching staff, you’re always going to think that,” Gase said. “As a player, I know that in his mind, he thinks there’s more he can do.”
Despite Bell not being at the facility during the offseason, he and Gase remained in constant contact – with the running back routinely texting the coach videos of his workouts. Bell has also chatted often with teammates, including Darnold and fellow running back Ty Montgomery, to get a better feel for the playbook.
Bell still feels rusty, and that’s understandable after such a long layoff. He has no doubts, however, that he’ll be at full speed when he needs to be.
He thinks he’ll get more opportunities in Gase’s offense, which is saying a lot since he had a whopping 406 touches during the 2017 season. Bell also is excited by what he has seen from Darnold, whose progress in his second year will be directly tied to how he and his star running back click.
“I think Sam’s going to make me a better player because of the fact he’s so mobile and he’s going to create opportunities for me that I wouldn’t usually have,” Bell said. “And I think the same thing for me: I’m going to make opportunities for him that he’s never had, really, before.
“So we’re going to kind of bounce off each other and I think we’re going to be a special duo in the backfield.”
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With AP Photos.
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