'Running for my city': Pride, passion power Lions' Bell
Lions running back Joique Bell has come a long way since going undrafted in 2010. After spending time with four other teams his first two seasons, he's increased his production as a runner each of the past three seasons in Detroit.
Since joining the Lions late in 2011 and becoming an increasing part of the offense, Bell has regularly mentioned his passion for both Detroit — he played at Wayne State — and football, and that desire is apparent to people who watch him play.
"I think that his hunger and desire to be in the league, it pushes him to thrive and to continuously evolve into whatever they need him to do," Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said during Super Bowl week.
Bills running back Fred Jackson was one of Bell's first teammates when Buffalo signed Bell as an undrafted free agent. With Jackson, C.J. Spiller and fifth-round pick Johnny White on the roster, there wasn't room for Bell. But Jackson remembers Bell being capable of doing anything the coaches asked during training camp, which helped him land on the practice squad.
Bell then spent the rest of the season active for five games with the Colts and three games for the Eagles, but didn't have any touches on offense. Then, he spent most of the 2011 season on the Saints practice squad, again unable to carve out a role before the Lions signed him on Dec. 27, 2011.
Now that he has an opportunity in Detroit, Jackson sees Bell proving what all those other teams missed.
"Whenever he hits the field, you see him running with that passion and doing everything he can to make sure that that's not going to happen again," Jackson said during Super Bowl week.
Bell, 28, called Jackson, 33, his "mentor" and "big brother," adding he taught him about life as well as football. While Jackson saw Bell's passion up close, the Lions' back is glad other people can note it, too.
"When I'm out there running, I'm running for my city, so I run with a purpose," Bell said Friday. "It's great for me to go out in public and fans can say they see I run with my heart because I really do. I went to college here in Detroit, I'm playing for the Detroit Lions and I'm representing not only myself but my community. Not a lot of players can say that, especially in this league."
In Bell's first full season with the Lions, he had 414 rushing yards, 485 receiving yards and three touchdowns, playing a vital role behind starter Mikel Leshoure.
By 2013, Bell passed Leshoure on the depth chart, but was still the No. 2 back with free-agent Reggie Bush joining the team. Still, Bell improved his numbers with 650 rushing yards, 547 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as he and Bush proved to be a solid lightning-and-thunder duo.
Then, last season, the new coaching staff led by Jim Caldwell gave Bell a chance to earn the starting job. He was the primary back to start the season, and with Bush hampered by an ankle injury much of the year, Bell established himself as the top option in the Lions' backfield, finishing with 860 rushing yards, 322 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
"He's been tremendous, doing everything that we thought he was capable of doing," Jackson said. "(He's) a guy that can run routes out of the backfield, a big bruising back that can tote the ball whenever you need him to as well.
"He's been in different places with a lot of different running backs, and you can see him picking up tools from all those different running backs and being motivated at the same time."
In addition to his skills as a runner and receiver, Jackson praised Bell's pass blocking skills, an underrated but necessary skill for NFL backs.
"Beyond his play, running back is a very tough position, and when you make it in the league, every morning you wake up wondering, 'What am I doing?'" Faulk said. "You have to have love for the game.
"I just like the player that he's turned into, how he continues to grow. When he first came, I was like, OK, he's an inside runner. He's done a much better job, he trimmed down this year, he was able to run outside and then he can catch the ball as well."