Le’Veon Bell’s underwhelming first season as a Jet led to the three-time Pro Bowl running back working harder than he ever has this offseason.
The 28-year-old Bell did plenty of reflecting and conditioning, and he returned to the Jets in a different place mentally and physically.
“I’m ready to show this is the best Le’Veon Bell that’s ever played in the NFL,” Bell said during a Wednesday afternoon Zoom call. “This year, I’m expecting a lot for myself. I’m going to hold myself to a high standard. I’m ready to show everybody what I’m able to do this year.”
Bell said he weighs between 210 and 215 pounds — the lightest he’s been since high school. He also took responsibility for his worst statistical season. Bell said it had nothing to do with the Jets’ offensive line struggles last year or that Adam Gase didn’t use him enough or feature him the right way. Bell said those are excuses and he’s not having it.
“I felt like I left some yards out there,” Bell said after the Jets held their first on-field practice. “You hear people talk, maybe it’s the O-line or it’s the coach not giving me the ball. No, there were holes there. Coach Gase gave me the ball enough. There’s times I could have done more with it. I don’t want that be a question no more. When it comes up this year, I want everybody to know I’m the best conditioned I’ve ever been and I’m excited to show it. I’m ready, I’m amped to show it.”
Bell ran for 789 yards on 245 carries — an average of only 3.2 yards. He also caught 66 passes for 461 yards and totaled four touchdowns. So much more was expected from Bell after the Jets signed him to a four-year, $52.5 million deal.
It’s true that he was coming into a new system that is generally more passing oriented, and the Jets certainly didn’t have the offensive line that Bell ran behind with the Steelers. But Bell, who sat out the previous season over a contract dispute in Pittsburgh, believes he didn’t do enough to prepare for his first season as a Jet.
“I look back on it, it’s like, dang, I wasn’t even close to where I wanted to be. If I wanted to take that next step and be a great player, I didn’t work nearly hard enough," Bell said. "Was I really the best that I could be? I know I wasn’t. I wasn’t even close.
“This year is going to be a lot different in that aspect to the fact that I understand the past six or seven years I worked hard and that’s why I’ve been successful. I haven’t worked nearly as hard as I have the last six or seven months.”
Bell acknowledged he “kind of got complacent in my head,” because of his past success. He always strived to be great, but when he kept hearing he was the best running back in the league a few years ago, he didn’t “have that edge anymore, that chip.” Bell said he’s coming into this season with more edge than he ever has in his NFL career.
“It’s not even close,” Bell said. “Not even close.”
Gase and Bell’s teammates have taken notice. They see that the most accomplished player/playmaker on the team is ready to re-establish himself.
“He’s fired up to go,” Gase said. “I know that.”
Gase took his own share of responsibility for Bell not producing like he had in the past. The Jets coach said he “did a bad job” early last season and forced the ball to Bell too much. Teams stacked the box against that and took Bell away. Gase said he’s got to find more ways to get Bell involved in the offense.
“It’s just about getting the ball in his hands and letting him go do things, letting him make defenders miss, find ways to get him in open space,” Gase said. “It’s variety. We talked about let’s keep trying to find things that you’re comfortable with and keep expanding, not only your role but his route tree and the runs we do. Just keep trying to find ways to get him the ball to where teams can’t say he’s always going to do this, this and this. I want to keep the defense guessing.”
Bell said he had no issue with how Gase used him last season. He expects things to be different this year because he’s different.
“I don’t like making excuses,” Bell said. “Everybody tried to make excuses. It was me. I wasn’t nearly what I should have been. There were a lot of runs where I had chances. I didn’t make the play. I can’t duplicate that this year. I can’t let that happen.”