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Ann Arbor — It was early in camp, and the reviews started coming in when players were asked for the best catch during Michigan’s preseason practices.
Had to be from Donovan Peoples-Jones, the top-ranked receiver out of high school. Or was it Tarik Black, on the brink of entering a season full of promise after suffering a broken foot in each of the last two seasons? Maybe it was Nico Collins, the big-bodied receiver who doesn’t drop passes.
Nope. It was 6-foot, 184-pound Ronnie Bell, the former basketball commit, who impressed his teammates. Tight end Sean McKeon said Bell impressively caught a deep ball over a defender. Safety Josh Metellus offered a more detailed description.
“It was a ball down outside,” Metellus said. “Ronnie Bell went up, jumped for it. You could tell he played basketball because of the way he jumped for it. Jumped higher than anybody else on the field. It was a great catch. He fell on his back, caught the ball, got right up and kept going.”
That apparently hasn’t changed throughout camp. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, on the Harbaugh podcast this week, said Bell has practiced at “an elite level” and described him as the Energizer bunny, which, of course, keeps going and going.
Bell, who in December 2017 got his release from the Missouri State basketball program so he could play football at Michigan, his only offer from a big-time Division I program, remains humble and quickly deflects any compliments.
While his teammates have heaped praise on him and his ability, Bell recounted that catch in a matter-of-fact manner.
“It was on the grass field,” Bell said Tuesday. “It was during some competitive (period in camp). I think it was just a go-route, and Shea (Patterson) made a good throw. He threw it down the field. He had time, the offensive line was taking care of business. And he just gave me a chance to make a play. I just jumped up and made a nice catch.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh this week said Bell’s body is changing from a “basketball physique to football physique.”
“I’m much more comfortable.” Bell said, entering his second season. “Much more mature. Just kind of mentally ready for what I’m getting myself into this year compared to last.”
Bell had eight catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns last season. He was able to get more reps this spring with Peoples-Jones and Collins out, but even with a full roster of talented receivers in camp, he has stood out.
“If you were to say, ‘Who is your most improved player on offense who played last year?,’ I would say Ronnie Bell,” Harbaugh said. “He has been great. He’s really made ascending strides. Really positive.”
Again, though, when Bell was asked about Harbaugh’s comments, he said he had improved from spring practice to this point, but then discussed his fellow receivers.
One thing he’s clear about is the fact he made the right decision choosing football over basketball. Occasionally he’ll play some pickup games with his teammates, but he’s all football now.
“One of my buddies, the other day he just said something like, ‘And you were going to go play basketball,'” Bell said, smiling. “It’s just a blessing to be here, and I take that every day, every morning I wake up and I just understand that, man, it’s huge what I’m doing.”