FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Adam Gase and the Jets will have to play the game within the game to figure out when and how to finally deploy Le’Veon Bell, who is far from guaranteed to see playing time in the team’s first preseason game against the Giants on Thursday.
Gase on Tuesday declined to say whether his star running back would see real action this week — a year and a half since he last appeared in an NFL game — but did admit that the decision weighed on him. The Jets, after all, signed Bell for four years and a guaranteed $35 million, making him the second-highest paid running back in the NFL, albeit one that missed all of training camp and the regular season with the Steelers last season because of failed contract negotiations.
Between the missed time and the hefty price tag, the Jets are both eager and cautious, making for one particularly compelling balancing act.
“It’s a fine line with Le’Veon,” Gase said. “He hasn’t played in a year. At the same time, when’s the right time? Is it this game? Is it the next one? Is it the next one? Do we just not play him this preseason? Do we just go through the whole time with reps? All those questions, [that’s] what we keep talking about.”
It’s a game Gase had to play last year as the Dolphins’ coach. Then, the focus was on preserving Frank Gore, who was both an integral part of the Dolphins offense and also 35 years old at the time.
“It’s tough,” Gase said. “I was like, ‘Frankie, you’re not playing in a preseason game’ and he was in my office every day the third week, the third preseason game and he was like, ‘I am playing.’ Now, it’s hard to argue with Frank Gore in that situation because he’s not listening to what I’m saying. He’s like, ‘I’m playing. I will be dressed whether or not you put me in the game.’ We ended up playing him one series and then he stood next to me for the next two series and said, ‘I’m going back in. I’m going back in.’ It’s maddening with a guy like that that wants to play that bad.”
Bell, Gase said, has been a little easier to coax.
“The one conversation we had about it, he said, whatever you tell me you want to do, that’s what we’ll do,” Gase said. “He’s been outstanding in that area.”
Naturally, time will tell if that will continue, were Gase to hold out Bell once the preseason games begin. Despite missing last season, Bell has not been shy about his ardent desire to return to the playing field. He was, after all, the guy who apologized to fantasy football owners who drafted him last year, and told them it would be worth their while to draft him in the first round this season.
“As long as this offense does what this offense can do, I feel like anybody can be a No. 1 fantasy guy, because we have so much talent,” he said last week.
Certainly, he’d be a good get if past performance is any indication: three Pro Bowls and three years of 1,200 yards or more.
“He’s a hard worker,” Jamal Adams said of Bell, who he often has been tasked with containing during this training camp. “Everybody sees that. But he’s a guy that can run all the routes, he can catch the ball and that’s what makes him dangerous. Not only that, he can definitely pass block.”
Now Bell’s just got to wait for the right time to do it.