Jets running back Le’Veon Bell has a warning for the rest of the NFL.
“I’m ready to show this is the best Le’Veon Bell that’s ever played in the NFL,” Bell said on a Zoom call Wednesday.
That is saying something from someone who has been a two-time All-Pro running back and was considered the best in football during his years with the Steelers. Bell, now in his second season with the Jets, is eager to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season and show what he can do.
The 28-year-old has received rave reviews from coaches and teammates for showing up in amazing shape. Bell said he is in the 210-215-pound range, the lowest he has played at since high school.
Bell said he recommitted himself to getting in shape this offseason after a 2019 season when he averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry. Looking back at last year, Bell, who missed the 2018 season in a contract dispute with Pittsburgh, said he did not work hard enough to prepare for the season.
“I felt like I was ready. I felt like I was in good shape for the season,” Bell said. “Even when I was playing, I felt good. There was nothing at the time where I look back and I didn’t feel good here or I didn’t feel good there. I feel like I came in at a good weight. Now, sitting here and looking back on it, it’s like, ‘Dang, I wasn’t even close.’ If I wanted to take that next step and be a great player, I didn’t work nearly hard enough.”
Bell admits he got complacent after rising to the top of the NFL. He was humbled last season with no games of more than 100 yards rushing and just 789 rushing yards on the season, his lowest total when he played at least 12 games.
There were many contributing factors to his struggles, but Bell said to put the blame on himself.
“You hear people talk like maybe it’s the O-line or it’s the coach not getting you the ball, but it’s like, no, there were holes there,” Bell said. “Coach [Adam] Gase gave me the ball enough. There were times when I could have done more with it. I just don’t want that to be a question no more.”
Gase said he has spent time this offseason examining better ways to use Bell. Looking back at last year, Gase said he overused Bell early.
“You’ve got make sure you’re using him the right way and making sure that we’re getting him to 16-plus games and not grinding him out,” Gase said. “Last year, I feel like I did a bad job at the beginning of the season. I was really trying to get him going, and at the same time teams kind of knew what we were doing and they were loading up the box and he was taking some shots. I’m sure that wore on him as the season went on.”
The Bell-Gase relationship has been scrutinized since last year when it came out that former general manager Mike Maccagnan signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million deal over Gase’s objections. There was speculation there was tension between the two, but Bell said that is not the case.
“I love coach Gase,” Bell said. “I don’t understand why the allegations are about me and coach Gase. Me and coach Gase, we get along fine. Last year with the offense, we’re still figuring out what we like. … Me and him never had any falling out or arguments or bad talks. I think every talk we had was positive and moving in the right direction.”
Bell also backed Gase as a leader after former teammate Jamal Adams questioned Gase’s leadership before he was traded to Seattle.
“I think he’s a good leader for us. I think he get it done,” Bell said.
Speaking of Adams, Bell was clearly upset with Adams after he was traded. The two had a Twitter war that night. Bell said Wednesday that Adams had told him he was not going to force his way off the Jets, then Bell felt he did just that. Bell was clear, though, he is still a fan of Adams, just not how he went about his business at the end with the Jets.
“I’m not upset with Jamal. I want the best for Jamal,” Bell said. “Sometimes you don’t like the way people handle things.”