Adam Gase has a Le’Veon Bell problem and it has nothing to do with whether the running back’s hamstrings are tight or not.
Bell has not had an impressive training camp. Anyone who has watched practice over the past two weeks would have Bell ranked third among the running backs with Frank Gore and rookie La’Mical Perine ahead of him if they were being honest.
The happy August talk was about how Bell reported to training camp in great shape. He said he is between 210-215 pounds. Bell has talked about having the best year of his career.
“I’m ready to show this is the best Le’Veon Bell that’s ever played in the NFL,” Bell said a few weeks ago.
All of that has looked like talk as Bell has lacked explosiveness in practice, looks slow to hit holes and seems to now lack the vision that once made him arguably the best running back in football. This information is not being gathered from anonymous sources, but two sources I trust implicitly – my left and right eyes.
This all sets up as a disaster for Gase, who will be under pressure from fans, media and probably Bell himself to give him the ball. Anyone pushing for Bell to be the centerpiece of the Jets offense has not watched a snap of practice.
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Evaluating the running game in training camp can be tricky. There is no live tackling and the blocking is not quite the same as a live game. I have been hesitant to draw conclusions on Bell but Gore and Perine simply look like they are operating at a different speed. Bell could come out and rush for 120 yards in Week 1 against the Bills, but that seems unlikely.
Bell’s history and his $13 million salary give him a status that makes everyone believe the Jets should just feed him the ball, results be damned. To some degree, Gase did that last year. When he didn’t, people howled despite Bell’s paltry 3.2 yards per carry. The blame was placed on the offensive line and Gase’s play-calling, and those were justified, but very little blame went to Bell himself. But Bell recently admitted that he was at fault for last year’s poor results.
“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 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.”
The 28-year-old Bell may just not have any tread left on the tire. The Steelers rode him for several years and those touches may be catching up to him. Since he entered the league in 2013, his 1,852 touches are second in the NFL to LeSean McCoy’s 1,895. In his last two years in Pittsburgh, his 742 touches were the most in the NFL. The overuse in Pittsburgh followed by his year off in 2018 when he was unhappy with his contract may have had a deleterious effect. The most troubling stat from last season was his longest carry was just 19 yards, a sign that his explosiveness is gone.
Maybe Bell can prove me wrong and have a big season. He is a proud competitor who should not be counted out even though I have my doubts.
What I have no doubt about is this is going to be a very tricky situation for Gase to navigate. Bell and Gore have been playing at about a 60-40 split in reps during training camp. Bell is a guy who never wants to leave the field, as evidenced by his social media tantrum this week. Gase is going to want to work in Gore and Perine and maybe even Kalen Ballage, who the Jets traded for Thursday.
This is all a bad recipe for an unpopular coach who will get pounded the first time Gore has more carries than Bell and the Jets lose.