Adrian Peterson is 35, and they still call him All Day. Curtis Martin made history when he led the NFL in rushing at 31.
Age 30 doesn’t have to be a death sentence for NFL running backs, and there is no better time than now for Le’Veon Bell to start turning back the clock, and there is no better running back to help guide the quest to stay forever young than Frank Gore.
Bell came to the Jets as an accomplished star, and in case there are naysayers who believe that he has begun to fall off that running-back cliff following the worst season (3.2-yard average) of his career, he showed up at Jets training camp at a chiseled 210 pounds.
And as much as he can’t wait to follow Man Mountain Mekhi Becton through open holes that were difficult enough to find last season, he is smart enough to recognize that there are 15,347 reasons to follow Frank Gore.
It is not lost on Bell that Gore, third on the all-time rushing list behind Emmitt Smith (18,355 yards) and Walter Payton (16,726), registered three of his nine 1,000-plus yard seasons after he turned 30, in addition to a 967-yard season in 2015 and a 961-yard season in 2017.
For Bell, Gore is a living, breathing testament to how it is possible to stiff-arm and juke Father Time in the open field if need be.
When Frank Gore talks, Le’Veon Bell listens.
“I look at a guy like Frank Gore, right?” Bell said. “And I’ve been fortunate that he’s in my room, and I kinda pick his brain over just little things here and there. And he kinda has a similar mindset that I have. He’s playing at a high level still, and he’s talking about the things that he was doing when he was 28. Like, ‘Yeah Le’Veon, when I was 28, I was doing this that and the other.’ So I know like I’m doing the right things just ’cause I’m hearing from it from a guy who’s done it. … Is doing it.”
Adam Gase and GM Joe Douglas made their locker-room culture better by bringing in Gore, and they may have helped make Bell better at the same time.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth is kinda like wisdom,” Bell said. “It’s like, ‘Damn, I didn’t really think about it like that.’ ”
Prior to his Jets debut, Bell was intent on making a splash after sitting out the 2018 season because of his contract dispute with the Steelers.
“I could carry 50 times if they ask me to,” he said at the time. Gase, who struggled last season with his handling of Bell, thankfully refrained. With Gore here to keep him fresh, there will be no need for any Just Give Me the Damn Ball requests.
“He’s got so much experience, you gotta respect it and really hear out what he says,” Bell said.
Gore’s offseason workouts are legendary, and Bell has showed up as a lean mean machine steeled partly by rigorous boxing workouts at Different Breed Sports Academy in Teaneck, N.J.
“I’m 28 years old,” Bell said. “I played in this league at 21. And I feel better at 28 than I did at 21.”
Bell sat out last preseason and not having any preseason games now doesn’t bother him.
“I don’t really get a lot of preseason reps anyway during the course of my career,” he said.
If iron sharpens iron, Bell sees the benefit of practicing against a Gregg Williams defense.
“He’ll try to trick you and make you do things that you don’t necessarily want to do,” Bell said.
Bell has stepped into the leadership role that the Jets brain trust had expected Seahawk For Life Jamal Adams to fill. He nipped a potential powder keg in the bud with defensive players during Sunday’s volatile practice.
“You need those type of intense practices like that,” Bell said. “At the same time, you want to make sure it saves the guys not getting hurt.”
Bell caught 66 balls last season but twice exceeded 80 with the Steelers, and needs to be a weapon for Sam Darnold with the Jets suspect wide receiver corps.
“We just gotta make sure he stays healthy. … I told him no bars [laugh],” Bell said.
No worries, Darnold is well aware that COVID-19 can be far worse than the mononucleosis that sidelined him for three games last season. Everyone has been raving about Darnold’s comfort and control in his second year together with Gase.
“You want to follow him,” Bell said.
You want to follow Frank Gore, the man who has defied the odds as no other, too. Especially if you’re Le’Veon Bell.
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