Allen Park — Lions coach Jim Caldwell offered Saturday his most optimistic comments of the summer in discussing how close running back Joique Bell and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata are to making their return to practice.
"Being honest with you, both guys look really good and both guys are in good shape right now," he said.
Bell is on the physically unable to perform list and has not practiced at all this offseason. Yet, despite rookie Ameer Abdullah's impressive summer, Bell should be the top running back on the depth chart when he returns.
Although Caldwell hasn't provided much certainty with regards to their status, the expectation remains that both players will be ready by Week 1. However, the coach did say there's a chance either player's ailments could linger and keep Ngata and Bell on their respective injury lists to start the season.
"There's always that possibility that they could start, but it's also a possibility that they could both be activated here shortly," he said. "So it just kind of depends on their progression, but they're moving along really well, I can tell you that."
In Bell's case, he said the doctors told him that if he was running by the end of July, he'd be on the right path to make a return by the start of the regular season, so he's on track as far as he knows. And even though he'll likely sit the final preseason game, Bell said he doesn't feel much need to take any hits before returning.
"I've been playing football for 20-some years," he said. "I know what it feels like to be hit; I know what it feels like to hit somebody. I'm pretty sure I'll get acclimated quickly."
Ngata has been battling a hamstring injury he suffered while preparing for training camp, but he was running by himself before Friday's exhibition in Jacksonville, which is a good sign. Even though he expressed a desire to play before the season to adjust to his new teammates, nine seasons in Baltimore have given him plenty of experience.
And even though Bell will be the one receiving hits in the season, Caldwell said he won't return until he's ready to handle the workload the Lions will give him.
"When you see him come off that list, OK, he's ready to go in terms of the amount of work," Caldwell said. "It's not one of those things where we're trying to make a determination on whether or not he can handle the data we collect, in terms of what our running backs go through on a daily basis."