Joique Bell's production would be difficult for the Lions to replace. In addition to his 650 rushing yards, Bell was second on the team with 547 receiving yards this season. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
When the Lions signed running back Joique Bell late in the 2011 season, he remembers a reporter asking if he thought he could stick with his hometown team.
In the two years since, the Benton Harbor native and former Wayne State star has done nothing but impress, and after 1,197 yards from scrimmage and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns in 2013, Bell will likely have many suitors this offseason.
But the restricted free agent said he wants to stay with the Lions.
“Of course I want to come back,” Bell said last week. “Like I told (the reporter) my first year when I got here, I want to finish my career here, and let’s make it happen. I don’t want to go nowhere.”
Bell and Reggie Bush became the first running back tandem in NFL history to each have 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in a season. The duo is a perfect balance of speed (Bush) and power (Bell).
Bell called 2013 “a statement season” for himself, but didn’t take much solace in his individual success.
“Obviously, this is a team sport, so regardless of what I did individually, I didn’t do enough for us to win more games, and that’s why we’re not going to the playoffs,” he said.
Bell’s future won’t be completely up to him. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan were fired Monday, and their replacements will likely have a say in the free-agent acquisitions this season.
As good as Bell was in 2013, the Lions have enough running backs to move forward without him in 2014. Bush had 1,006 rushing yards this season and is under contract for the next three seasons.
Mikel Leshoure, a second-round pick in 2011, has one year left on his rookie contract, and although he had just two carries this season, he could be part of the team’s plans. Rookie Theo Riddick, a sixth-round pick, could also have an expanded role next year.
But Bell’s production would be difficult for the Lions to replace. In addition to his 650 rushing yards, Bell was second on the team with 547 receiving yards this season.
Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins said Bell’s knowledge of the pass game, general football IQ and good hands helped him become such an effective weapon out of the backfield this year.
For Bell, bouncing around the NFL with four teams for two years before coming to Detroit helped him better understand offensive game plans. Different teams use different schemes and language, and his vast knowledge could help him adjust to a new coach.
Bell’s career started as a practice squad member in Buffalo in 2010, Modkins’ first year as the Bills offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“I think he’s matured as a young man; he’s matured as a football player,” Modkins said of Bell. “I think he sees more of the big picture now than he did coming out (of college).”
Many of the players and coaches Bell encountered in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and New Orleans before coming to Detroit helped his development, too. He listed quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb and running backs LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Marshawn Lynch, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles as guys who helped him adjust to the NFL.
“When you get around, you pick up tips from everywhere,” Bell said. “And me being around, I know what talent is. I know what it takes to win, and we’re almost there.”
Bell started two games this season when Bush was injured and had at least 120 yards from scrimmage in each, and players and coaches said they could rely on Bell to be a full-time starter if it was ever necessary.
Even when he played behind Bush, Bell had a few really nice games, particularly when he had 94 rushing yards against the Packers on Thanksgiving. He also played well when Bush was benched after fumbles against the Steelers (97 yards from scrimmage) and Giants (154 yards from scrimmage).
After the Giants game, Lions left guard Rob Sims said Bell’s tough running inspired the offensive line “to start swinging,” and Modkins said Bell’s style can motivate offenses.
“Not many people have a true understanding of what the offensive linemen go through, banging every play,” Modkins said. “I think when they see a running back that’s banging and running like that, I think it gives them juice, fires them up and I think they feed off it. I think the team feeds off it.”
And Bell hopes to bring that same energy to the Lions next year.
“I took that long road just to bring me back home, and it makes you appreciate home so much more once you’ve been around,” he said. “I’ve always loved Detroit. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay home.”