FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell was so energized upon reporting to training camp that he ran the conditioning test twice, just for kicks, saying he feels so refreshed he’s willing to stretch his limit this season.
“I’m up for 500 (touches) if it’s going to take us to a Super Bowl,” Bell said Thursday, obviously exaggerating the number to make a point.
Bell, who sat out last season because of a bitter contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers, claimed after his first practice that he will be better than ever. The layoff, which has prompted critics to question whether he can recapture his All-Pro form, will help him, not hurt him – or so he believes.
“Your body doesn’t really recover the whole way going into that next season, right? Now I’ve had that time where I could literally recover,” he said. “I don’t remember the little kinks and things I had. I don’t remember them because I feel rested. My joints feel good. I’m excited and I’m ready to play.”
The Jets expect Bell, 27, to be a difference maker for quarterback Sam Darnold and the rest of the offense. They gave him a four-year, $52.5 million contract, betting he can be the player he was in Pittsburgh.
In 2017, Bell recorded a career high 406 touches — 321 carries for 1,291 yards and 85 catches for 655 yards. Concerned about how another season of wear-and-tear would impact his free agency, he took a controversial stance by refusing to sign the Steelers’ franchise tender of $14.5 million.
Bell hasn’t played meaningful football in 18 months, but he insisted there won’t be a rust factor.
“I’ve been playing football for literally 20-plus years,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was 5. If I’m rusty, I don’t feel it. It just feels like playing football. Maybe somebody else will say I’m rusty, but I feel perfectly fine.”
While coach Adam Gase applauded Bell’s willingness for 500 touches, he acknowledged the running back’s reps will be closely monitored. In the first practice, with no pads, he shared first-team reps with Ty Montgomery.
“We’re always going to keep a close eye on that, especially when a guy has had as many touches over a career as he has,” Gase said. “We’re going to be aware of that right now. This was Day 1. As we go through training camp, we’ll be constantly communicating with him.”
It will be a delicate balance. Bell needs the work – he’s learning a new offense and must develop chemistry with Darnold and the offensive line – but it would be detrimental to overwork him.
Bell skipped the voluntary portion of the offseason program, opting to work out with his trainer in South Florida. Except for a two-day minicamp in June, he had no practice time until Thursday.
“(He looked) like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Gase said. “Walked in, knows what’s going on, looked good, caught the ball well, ran the ball well. Can’t tell that he’s missed any time.” Bell said all the right things on his first day, saying he will defer to the coaches on a playing-time plan for the preseason. He stressed team goals over individual priorities.
“It doesn’t matter how many touches I get, I’m just trying to win games,” he said. “If I have 19 touches and we win the Super Bowl, do you think I care? I don’t.”