NFL

Jets’ Bell eyes career year after ‘complacent’ ’19

  • Longtime Jets beat writer for New York Daily News
  • Syracuse University graduate

Perhaps humbled by a disappointing 2019, New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell rededicated himself in the offseason and reported to training camp at his lowest weight since high school. At 28, he expects a career year.

“This has been the best I’ve felt and I’m ready to show it,” he said Wednesday in a videoconference with reporters. “I’m ready to show this is the best Le’Veon Bell that has ever played in the NFL.”

Bell, whose listed playing weight is 222, said he’s in the 210-215 range. He thought he was in good shape last year, too, but admitted retrospectively he “wasn’t even close” to where he needed to be. On May 30, he decided to intensify his offseason training.

In a candid interview, Bell said he had succumbed to complacency. “It’s not something I set my mind to do, but I think I kind of got complacent in my head,” he said. “You have success for six years in the NFL.

“I’ve always had something to drive me to be great. When I was in college, I wanted to get to the NFL. When I got to the NFL, I wanted to be the best running back in the league. When you start hearing, ‘Oh, Le’Veon, you’re the best running back in the league,’ it’s not like I stopped working hard. But it’s more like, ‘Damn, I don’t have that edge anymore, that chip.'”

Bell, a two-time All-Pro who amassed more than 9,200 total yards from scrimmage in five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, believes he has regained that edge.

After sitting out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, Bell signed a four-year, $52.5 million contract with the Jets. Regarded as one of the elite talents in the league, he rushed for a career-low 789 yards as the Jets finished 32nd in total offense. He averaged only 3.2 yards per carry, the worst in franchise history for a starting running back.

Bell was undermined by poor blocking and, at times, predictable play calling by coach Adam Gase, but he refuses to use those issues at excuses.

“I’ve been hearing it was O-line issues and Coach Gase not getting me the ball,” he said. “I had to look at myself and (ask), ‘Was I really the best 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.”

Gase acknowledged that misused Bell early in the season, but he’s optimistic about 2020 because he has a better understanding of Bell’s skill set. At the same time, Bell has familiarity with Gase and his offensive system.

“He’s fired up to go, I know that,” Gase said. “He worked extremely hard this offseason. He looks great. He might have come in lighter than last year.”

Gase said they’ve already discussed new ways to get him the ball in the passing game, moving him around the formation. The biggest difference could be the offensive line, which could have four new starters. On paper, it’s a better line than last year.

“It’s just about getting the ball in his hands and letting him go do things,” Gase said.

Bell also addressed his Twitter feud with former teammate Jamal Adams, who was traded last month to the Seattle Seahawks. At the time, he was critical of Adams because one of the reasons he signed with the Jets was to join Adams in an effort to turn around the franchise.

One year after recruiting Bell as a free agent, Adams forced a trade amid a contract dispute.

On Wednesday, Bell downplayed the squabble, taking the high road.

“He’s a great and special player on the field and I’d love to play with him. He’s a great teammate, too, but sometimes you don’t like the way people handle things.”

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