Le’Veon Bell hasn’t taken a handoff, caught a pass or juked a linebacker nearly out of his shoes in an NFL game in 602 days. He can’t wait to do all of those things Sunday.
Neither can the Jets.
Bell will make his long-awaited and much-anticipated Jets’ debut when they open the season against the Bills at MetLife Stadium.
“I think all of us are curious to see what Two-Six is going to look like in a live game,” Sam Darnold said. “We’ve been seeing it for years in Pittsburgh. I think we’re all really excited to see him in live action.”
There is plenty of excitement and curiosity surrounding the Jets after an offseason of change.
New head coach Adam Gase is running an offense that features five new starters. New coordinator Gregg Williams is in charge of a defense that has four new starters, including middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, the leader of the Ravens’ top-ranked defense last year.
Darnold believes the Jets offense will be “electric” under Gase. A big reason for that is Bell, the former Steeler who is back after sitting out the 2018 season over a contract dispute.
The Jets gave the three-time Pro Bowl running back a four-year, $52.5 million contract in free agency. They tried to save their investment from wear and injury and held him out of the preseason, but they’re ready to let him loose against the Buffalo.
Bell gives the Jets a dimension they haven’t had since Curtis Martin lined up in the backfield, although Bell can line up anywhere. Gase said he’s never coached a running back like Bell.
He is one of the NFL’s best dual-threat backs, or at least he was the last time he played. Bell led the NFL with 406 touches, and he didn’t play in Pittsburgh’s final regular season game. His 106 targets and 85 receptions led all running backs.
“A lot of people haven’t seen me play in a while,” Bell said. “It’s human nature to forget things like that. I’m not trying to prove other people wrong. I’m not trying to prove the Steelers wrong. Everybody is trying to format me with the Steelers. I’m not talking about the Steelers. I’m trying to worry about the Bills and I worry about the Jets.
“I’m going to go out there and prove to myself that I’m still the same player if not better. I want to prove to my teammates that I’m still the same player, if not better. And the Bills, that’s all that matters to me.”
Bell told Gase this week, “Don’t hold back.” He said this is the most excited he’s been to play since his first game as a rookie.
“It’s up there with that,” Bell said. “I’m with a new team and a new city. I sat out of football for 20 months. It’s going to be fun.”
As much as Gase wants to open up the offense and let Darnold show how far he’s come and re-unleash Bell on the NFL, the Jets also want to establish their defensive identity against a team that has some weapons.
The Bills have the cannon-armed second-year quarterback Josh Allen, who beat the Jets and Gase’s Dolphins last year badly with his legs. They improved their wide receiving corps, adding John Brown and Adam Beasley. The Jets’ suspect secondary could be tested. Running back LeSean McCoy is gone, but containing a backfield with ageless Frank Gore, who played with Gase in Miami last year, rookie Devin Singletary and Allen will be critical for the Jets.
Players say they would run through a wall for the hard-nosed, aggressive Williams, and he’s got a stud in charge of the defense in Mosley, one of the best middle linebackers and run stoppers in the league. He’s also fired up for his Jets debut.
“It’s exciting,” Mosley said. “We finally get to stay out there for four quarters. We can finally try and showcase what we tried to do in the preseason and most important try to establish a new foundation for this team.”