The body is sculpted and glistening with perspiration, and Le’Veon Bell loves showing it off on Instagram. See Le’Veon skipping rope. See Le’Veon boxing.
Hear coach Adam Gase giving Le’Veon Bell one ringing endorsement:
“I would say he’s extremely motivated. Seeing him run, and everything I’ve heard from the strength guys as far as the lifting aspect, he has come in in phenomenal shape. [Based on] our conversations, he’s fired up to get going.
“He didn’t come in thinking, ‘Hey I’m gonna get in shape now.’ You can tell he’s been working extremely hard, and he looks really good.”
Gase, of course, will go as far as Sam Darnold takes him, and the pressure on Gase to turn Darnold into a star has only increased with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams losing his two best players, Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley, for different reasons.
Williams undoubtedly will figure out a way to get the most out of his defense, with inside linebacker Avery Williamson itching to opt in for Mosley, and to keep the games close. The big question is whether Gase can pass his chemistry test with all the new faces on offense and simultaneously teach Darnold to win some of them.
Gase should do himself a favor and forget his misgivings about former GM Mike Maccagnan showering Bell with that four-year, $52.5 million free-agent contract, forget that Bell was rusty last year after sitting out the 2018 season in a contract dispute with the Steelers, lacking burst and explosiveness, stop keeping him in mothballs during the course of certain games … and remember what kind of safety valve and security blanket out of the backfield and overall weapon he was once for Ben Roethlisberger.
Though no one is more important to Gase’s survival than Darnold, aside from Christopher Johnson and GM Joe Douglas, Gase needs to warm to the idea that a prideful, motivated Le’Veon Bell can help him get Darnold to that next level. Especially given the glaring absence of a go-to receiver.
“I’m not mad, I’m motivated,” Bell tweeted after Adams flew the coop. Not mad, maybe, but motivated because Adams had recruited him to the Jets.
At 28, it is closer to probable that Bell will be looking for a new home and one last score at the end of this season, so he will have extra motivation. Frank Gore will keep him fresh … and maybe even remind him about his sliding Madden 21 score (87). Or ESPN’s poll of executives that ranked him 10th-best running back.
“He played with one of the best improvisers ever in Ben Roethlisberger,” Darnold told me before the 2019 season, “and I feel like I can improvise a little bit kind of like Big Ben, where if nothing’s there, I can kind of buy time to throw the football, and I’m excited to see what he can do in how he can get loose in the open field.”
Bell likes to call himself “Juice,” but there was no getting loose behind a beleaguered offensive line that never gave his patient running style a chance. He arrived with an unmistakeable swagger, but that swagger could not keep him from a career-worst 3.2 yards per carry, well below his career 4.2-yard mark. He caught 66 passes, but his yards per catch average (7.0) was his lowest of his six-year career for a full season. Gase must not forget that Bell caught 85 passes in 2017 and 83 in 2014.
Look, everyone’s expectations for Bell last season were too high, because of his résumé. He brought the kind of star power the Jets had been lacking. He offered to run the ball 50 times for Gase on any given Sunday.
“I don’t want to go out there with him sprinkling me in or things like that,” Bell said. “I’m ready to play football. I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment.”
And now? From Bell’s Instagram: “We’re leaving no doubt! We’re working when the next man is sleeping! Consistency is the true measure of greatness!”
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Le’Veon Bell never stopped being a good soldier, a good teammate, a good rapper in his spare time. And he had more reasons than Adams did to vent.
“I strongly believe he changed the game as far as running backs with his stop and his acceleration,” Adams said on the eve of the 2019 season.
Le’Veon Bell stopped being Le’Veon Bell in his first season in New York. He’s not mad, he’s motivated, and if the real Le’Veon Bell will please stand up, if Gase allows him to accelerate again, he will have an ally who will help Darnold, and perhaps save his own job in the process.
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