Le'Veon Bell has a reputation as a hesitant running back, one who takes nanoseconds to assess the landscape in front of him before making some lightning-quick, sometimes jump-step moves. While there's more than a kernel of truth to that assessment, Bell called the first part of the season -- training camp -- "a success." No hesitation.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday morning, Bell was quick and emphatic in placing his focus firmly on the field, and only on the field.
"Last year was a learning year for both of us," Bell said, referring to Jets Head Coach Adam Gase. "I've never had a coach like him. We just need to work together and this year the communication is a lot better. Now I've got a whole year under my belt. He can put more on my plate and I'm able to handle it. It's exciting. I'm going to be able to handle anything he throws at me."
Ditto being able to handle whatever QB Sam Darnold throws to him because it's likely that Bell will play an enhanced role in the Jet's diversified aerial attack. That's become even clearer during training camp as the team has adjusted to a raft of injuries sustained by its corps of wide receivers.
"I think I just have a better understanding of things," Bell said. "Not just run plays, but in the passing game, and not just screens. Passes across the middle ... I didn't have that last year. This year I think we have more plays, more opportunities to be able to do that. This year I'm more comfortable and I think Coach is more comfortable."
In his first season with the Green & White, Bell (6-1, 225) ran for 789 yards and 2 TDs on 245 carries. His 3.2 yards a carry were the lowest of his seven-year NFL career, which began in 2013 with the Steelers. He also had 461 yards and a TD on 66 receptions.
During and immediately after the season there were whispers that he had lost a step. Bell was having none of that on Thursday.
"I mean everybody is entitled to say what they want," Bell said. "This is the best I've felt since I've been in the league. We play Buffalo in a couple of days and it will be the first opportunity to show how different a player I am. I'm going to be fine."
Last year Bell and Darnold played behind an offensive line wracked by injury and changing personnel. In 2020, General Manager Joe Douglas (a former offensive lineman himself) revamped and retooled with new players. The biggest diamond in that group is the first-round draft pick (No. 11 overall) in the imposing Mekhi Becton (6-7, 363).
"It's great to block for Bell, [Frank] Gore, it's great to block for them all," Becton said. "He [Bell] really wants to work. He wants to be great. He's ready to be great. All you've got to do is just go out and block the man in front of you no matter what."
Asked about his relationship with Gore, the 37-year-old future Hall of Fame running back, Bell said he's been impressed by Gore's focused approach. Hey, you don't get to stay in the NFL at 37 without incredible discipline and intelligence.
"I'm here everyday at 7 a.m.," Bell said, referring to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. "And he's already here. I don't know what time he gets here. He's already prepped and ready to go two-and-a-half hours before practice starts. There are practical little things, I watch and learn. He's 37 and playing at a high level."
If there is any hesitancy to No. 26's moves on the field, there is little that could be hesitant about Bell's pursuit of a budding side gig as a rapper. Under the stage name Juice, he began with the release of a 16-song album in 2016, then a single entitled "Target" in 2018, followed by a four-song effort called "My Side of Things" that was ... his side of things during the holdout with the Steelers.
The tone and the message changed when Bell, on the day he signed a free-agent contract with the Jets, released "Life Is a Gamble" on March 19, 2019. Now, with the start of the 2020 NFL season a little more than a week away, Bell said that he's ready to drop another album, but that's all he would say about it on Thursday.
"I have the track list, but I don't want to spoil it," Bell said.
Instead he's focused on spoiling the defense the Jets will face at Buffalo on Sept. 13.