FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets’ locker room was nearly empty, with only a handful of players lingering after a long day at training camp. It was relatively quiet in the room, as players rested their fatigued bodies. Then someone cranked up music from a speaker, and the show started.
Le’Veon Bell and Josh Bellamy, both of whom moonlight as rap artists, started freestyling to the pulsating beat. Their teammates loved the impromptu performance, amazed by their spontaneous creativity.
This was a side to Bell the public doesn’t see. The fans know him as a gifted running back who sat out an entire season in a contract dispute, but there’s more to him than being just That Guy. Teammates and coaches describe him as an attentive student of the game and a fun-loving dude who brings energy to the locker room with basketball-shooting contests, personalized handshakes and an upbeat personality.
The relationship between Bell and the Jets still is in the formative stage — remember, he skipped most of the offseason — but the takeaway from those around him is that he’s fully invested in the Jets after five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Bell, starting with that rap session in the locker room:
Bellamy (rap name: Beezo): “We just be vibing, man, in the locker room, just trying to have a good time. But he’s a cool dude. We hung out in Miami in the offseason [in a recording studio]. Yeah, man, we just coming off the top of the dome.”
Valentine Holmes, running back and former Australian Rugby star: “To see him and J.B. freestyling together, it was pretty funny. Obviously, they’re both rappers and they can think of stuff off the top of their head. To see that was pretty cool because we don’t do that stuff back home.”
Kelvin Beachum, tackle: “I’m not a rapper, but I do appreciate his artistic view of life, just his perspective.”
Avery Williamson, linebacker: “Maybe he’ll put me in his next [music] video.”
Bellamy: “He’ll let me hear a song and I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, bro, that’s nice.’ Or I’ll let him hear a song and he’ll say, ‘That’s nice.’ He’ll show me his videos and I’ll show him mine. It’s just a lifestyle, man. We just be kicking it for real.”
Williamson: “You never know how guys are, but he’s definitely laid back, chill. He’s a cool dude. He’s not stuck up or nothing. He talks to everybody. He’s a nice guy.”
Beachum: “Some days, him and [Jamison] Crowder will be going at it, playing basketball in the locker room.”
Bellamy: “He stays with basketball, man. It’s funny, man, because he’s really actually good. Him and Crowder, they be in there shooting the basketball [into laundry bins and garbage pails].”
Beachum: “He’s just getting to know his teammates and investing and being intentional. One thing I can say since he’s been here: He’s really tried to be intentional with his teammates, intentionally trying to do things — in the building and off the field — to build a rapport. He’s all in.”
Bell is serious when he needs to be, especially in the classroom. Teammates say he has a high football IQ and shows a willingness to share his knowledge, regardless of a teammate’s roster status.
Holmes: “He sits a few meters away from me in the classroom, but if I’m asking the coach a question, he’ll kind of answer it as well. He’ll give his response and what he thinks the answer is, almost like he’s helping me individually.”
Adam Gase, coach: “When you talk to him about certain [plays] and you say, ‘Do you like that?’, he’ll tell you yes or no — and he’s nice about it. He’s not like, ‘No, that’s terrible.’ He’s like, ‘I kinda like this play better.’ He’s got a really good way about communicating with me, especially with plays he likes and he doesn’t like.”
Bellamy: “From what I’ve seen, man, he’s on time, he’s paying attention, he’s on the details. He’s trying to get better, keeping all the outside noise away, and just having fun and ballin’.”
Holmes: “He helps me a lot, especially with pass protection. He’s obviously quite big and he’s pretty good at it himself. He’s been giving me some of his techniques and what he does and what helps him. To get that from a player like him is pretty cool. Obviously, it shows he likes helping out a young rookie. I guess it shows what type of person he is. … Yeah, that surprised me a little. I wasn’t sure what to expect, with him being such a big star.”
Bell hasn’t played in a game yet for the Jets. His status for Thursday night at the Atlanta Falcons (7:30 p.m. ET) is uncertain; they might opt to keep him on the sideline for another week even though he’s healthy. Given their time on the practice field, the players already have a feel for what he might be like on game day.
Beachum: “Any time he gets in the huddle, he’s going to have his little handshake, his little dap. He wants to do something different for every single person. … First play, first series. We just get to the huddle. Everybody is dapping each other up in the huddle and he’s doing his personal handshake with everybody in the huddle.”
Gase (smiling): “Hopefully, we don’t get called for a delay of game.”
Beachum: “No, I don’t have my handshake, yet. It takes a little time to fine-tune it. You have to choreograph all that stuff, so he’s working through that right now.”
Jamal Adams, safety: “He brings a different type of swagger to the offensive side.”
Beachum: “Him and Q [Quincy Enunwa] get after it, making sure the huddle is lit. You feed off that energy and it continues to permeate, not only to our offense, but to the defense. When you have that kind of energy with a number of players, it continues to bubble up. One of the coaches talked about it the other day: Energy is a choice. … He’s doing the work to get to know his teammates. You have to respect that, considering everything that has come with him over the last two years and things that have been said in the media. He’s doing everything he can to have a rapport with his teammates.”