Le’Veon Bell is closer to 30 than he is 25, but he quickly dismisses talk that he's on the decline because of his age. Bell has a good point of reference in his own running backs room: Frank Gore.
The 28-year-old Bell entered Jets training camp believing that he’s going to have the best year of his career. He's around the age when running backs show wear from all the hits they’ve taken. But Bell doesn’t want to be compared with anyone else.
“Honestly, other guys are not me,” Bell said on a Zoom call Monday following a walk-through. “They don’t have the same mindset that I got, the same drive. I look at a guy like Frank Gore. I’m fortunate that he’s in my room. I pick his brain. He has a similar mindset as I have.
“The fact that he’s 37 years old and he’s playing at a high level still, and he was talking about the things that he was doing when I was 28. He’s like Le’Veon, ‘I was doing this, that and the other.’ So I know I’m doing the right things because I’m hearing it from a guy who’s done it and who’s doing it.”
This was why Adam Gase wanted the Jets to sign the venerable Gore. Gase coached Gore in Miami, and he knows the impact he can have on the locker room because of how hard he works and his willingness to mentor younger players.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth is kind of wisdom,” Bell said.
Bell said he met Gore when he was preparing for the NFL Combine in 2013. They both train at the same gym in South Florida and have become close friends. Now they see each other and talk every day.
Gore, the third-leading rusher in NFL history, said he was driven by people doubting he would be in the NFL past age 25. When Gore was 28, he ran for 1,211 yards. It was the first of four straight years when Gore rushed for at least 1,100 yards. He made three consecutive Pro Bowls in that span.
Bell believes he’s on the same path, despite coming off arguably his least productive season. He returned to the Jets weighing between 210-215 pounds, the lightest he’s been since high school.
“I’m not really worried about age,” Bell said. “People talk about age of a running back: ‘It’s this age when they fall off.’ Frank always kind of tells me, ‘They’re going to put a number on you, but you can defy the number.' He always tells me, ‘You can defy the number. Le’Veon, you can do that.’ That’s something I embrace.
“I’m 28 years old. I played in this league at 21. I feel better at 28 than I did at 21. I think it’s going to be a fun year and I’m excited.”
Gore’s effect extends outside of the running backs room. Other Jets have talked about watching, listening and learning from Gore, who began his career with the 49ers in 2005.
Jets third-year tight end Chris Herndon, a University of Miami product like Gore, said he had “a fanboy moment” and was “star struck” when he saw Gore at the Jets facility. Herndon said he’s a sponge around Gore.
“His main thing is continue to work and never feel like you have everything figured out, keep asking questions, stay in the weight room, taking care of your body and putting the right things, food, supplements,” Herndon said. “Just hearing all that from him is comforting for me because it’s some of the things that I already do.
“I’m just listening to everything he has to say because this is the third year for me. He’s way ahead of that. I’m following whatever he says.”
He’s the Mann
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer has been impressed with rookie Braden Mann. He displayed a prolific leg at Texas A&M and has replaced Lachlan Edwards as the Jets punter.
“His hang times are really good,” Boyer said. “There’s some things that we can work on. He’s done a great job. He’s got a really good arsenal of kicks that we can use.”
Boyer said the competition for kicker between returning Jet Sam Ficken and veteran Brett Maher is “neck and neck” and likely will be “coming down to the end.”
There’s also competition for kickoff returner with punt returner Braxton Berrios, rookie Ashtyn Davis, Josh Malone and rookie La’Mical Perine in the mix. Boyer expects Davis and Perine to contribute with his group regardless.