He marches to the beat of his own drummer, the rapper who makes sweet music with a football in his hands. He is a big fish, a big personality with a big Instagram presence in the biggest pond, and his first day as a Jet went swimmingly for Le’Veon Bell.
He was the best running back in the game before a bitter divorce with the Steelers left him missing the game he loves last season, and now he’s hoping this can be a marriage made in Super heaven.
The Jets showed him the money, and a rejuvenated Bell cannot wait to pay them back and run himself ragged if it means he will be running the Jets to that elusive Super Bowl.
He felt frisky enough to channel his inner Keyshawn Johnson when someone asked him Thursday if he is up for being given the career-high 400 touches (406, actually) he received in 2017.
“I’m up for 500 if it’s going to take us to the Super Bowl,” Bell said.
“It don’t matter how many touches I get, I’m just trying to win games. If I have 19 touches and we win a Super Bowl? You think I care?” he said, laughing. “I don’t. I just want to go out there and do what I can to help this team win games.”
JUST GIVE ME THE DAMN BALL (if you need me to help you win the damn game).
“I’ll agree with him on that statement,” coach Adam Gase said. “It’s whatever we have to do to win. Obviously he is an elite player, and any time that we can get him the ball and find as many different ways as possible to give him the ball, that’s what we’re gonna try to do. But at the same time, we know teams are gonna be paying attention to him. We’re gonna need the other guys.”
Five hundred touches is a pipe dream. Former Bucs running back James Wilder owns the single-season record (492 in 1984), but the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Matching a career-high 85 receptions is doable.
Asked if he can return to his dominant form, Bell said: “I expect to be better. I don’t want to just say I’m gonna be how I was two years ago, each and every year I feel like I want to be a better player. I’m confident, I feel like I’m healthy … I’m just ready to go out there and just perform.”
He is no longer the unquestioned Best Back In Football.
“Everybody got their opinion,” Bell said. “But I’m confident that I can go out there and help my team win games.”
Don’t expect Bell, who volunteered that he ran the conditioning test twice, to be in football shape when the pads come on.
“I’m gonna go as hard as I possibly can each and every rep,” Bell said. “It’s gonna be more so on the coaches to kind of hold me back just because of the fact that I’m not gonna hold myself. If I got four reps, I’m gonna run four reps hard. And I’ll stay in for the fifth rep if they don’t take me out.
“That’s the type of player I am. They’ll protect me from myself.”
He didn’t play much in the preseason his last three seasons in Pittsburgh, and won’t here either.
“You gotta ask coach about that,” Bell said. “I don’t know what they’re gonna do with me, but whatever they want, I’m gonna go out there and do it, because I just want to go out there and win games.”
Bell believes the year away from the pounding was a blessing.
“Usually when you play football and you have a whole season and you try to recover and then when you recover, your whole body don’t let you recover all the way coming into that next season, right?” he said. “I feel rested and good, my joints feel good, so I’m excited, I’m ready to play.”
He trusts his muscle memory will chip away any rust.
“I’ve been playing football for 20-plus years,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was 5. So if I’m rusty, I don’t feel it. It just feels like I’m playing football. … I feel like when the ball’s coming to me I can catch it. The hole, it don’t seem like it’s moving too fast or closing too quickly.”
Gase was impressed: “Like he hadn’t missed a beat. Can’t tell that he’s missed any time.”
Five hundred touches? No. Bell cow? Yes.
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