For Whom the Bell Toils...
Sometimes, a man doesn’t get much love. Take Josh Bell. He is a hard working young cornerback. He has a little swagger, a little attitude. He's trying to make a career in a tough position in the toughest football league in the world.
He was born on Jan 8, 1985 in Dallas TX. Bell went on to be a first-team all-district selection at Skyline High School in Dallas. He moved on to Baylor, not exactly a football powerhouse, but Bell ranked in the top 10 percent of his high school class and knew that he wanted a good education.
"I’m a competitor, he said, "and I want to be the best at everything, so I took school as a competition. But I feel that getting a good education is more about learning the material than getting the stamp of a "good education." You can go to a community college and learn more of the information than at a regular college. It just depends on the individual. But I place a high value on scholarship."
Since Baylor has been accurately described as a perennial doormat in the big 12, Bell toiled in near obscurity. However, during four seasons at Baylor, Bell totaled 94 career tackles and 12 pass breakups. He received its Best Defensive Skill Player Award as a senior. He also dropped three interceptions, scoring zero. He was interviewed by Michael Kranzler and talked about it.
"MK: You had 12 pass breakups in your career at Baylor but zero interceptions. Was there any reason for this?
JB: "Actually, I dropped three of them that I should’ve had. I didn’t start until my senior year, but I didn’t make a lot of mistakes that the other team could capitalize on, so a lot of them didn’t throw my way."
The weakness of the Baylor program took its toll, and his skill levels appeared to go unnoticed. He was philosophical about it.
"Going out every week," he said, "I was playing like we were playing against the No. 1 team in the nation and I had to be able to shut down any receiver we played. We had to deal with a lot of moral victories, which I hate, but moral victories keep your sanity when you’re not winning like you want to."
His combine didn’t set the world on fire, either. He could only put up 9 reps on the 225 bench press. He was 5’11, 177 lbs (he's gained about 6 lb.) and his average time in the 40 was 4.53. But metrics don’t tell the whole story of a player. His confidence was unshakeable.
"I like to say that my biggest strength is my mental part of the game because I don’t make mental errors, I don’t make mistakes. Scheme-wise against a team, I know exactly what they want to try to do to me in certain situations. I would also say my competitiveness. I might be 177 pounds, but you’re going to feel me."
That intelligence and competitiveness got him a chance with the San Diego Chargers. He had several suitors, but liked his chances with the Lightning Lads. It reunited him with former Baylor defensive coordinator Bill Bradley, now with the Bolts. It was too good for the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback to pass up.
"I just felt a little more secure with San Diego, because Coach Bradley’s there," said Bell, who led the Bears with 10 pass breakups last season (2007). "I played for him, and I know exactly what he wants and what he demands from a player."
Although an undrafted free agent in this year’s training camp, he was tutored by the Chargers talented defensive backfield.
"Cromartie is one of the biggest influences," said Bell. "He takes a lot of rookies under his wing. All of the players, they’re a little older and they’ve got more experience, so they teach us things so that we don’t make the same mistakes they did."
But, in the end the Chargers felt that they were solid, and Bell was released on August 30 of this year. Still, he knew that he would catch on somewhere. His confidence was rewarded. That somewhere was the Broncos: we signed him to the practice squad on Sept 24. A month later, on 10/27/08, Champ Bailey was out, injuries were mounting and he was signed to our team.
There was just something about him. In practice, the swagger showed. So did his level of play. He was ranked at 57th out of 104 cornerbacks who came out of school this year by profootballweekly.com, but no one had seen his fearlessness against NFL pro level play. He didn’t back down from any challenge, and covering the Broncos receivers in practice was no easy task. He relished it. Shanahan was impressed, as was Slowik. By 11/3 he played nickelback against Miami. By 11/15, he was tapped to start over Paymah and Jack MF Williams.
After the game, the papers were filled with stories about the rookie class – the performance of Hillis, Larsen’s amazing three way play, the coolness of Cutler, the multi-tasking yardage of Eddie Royal and the Pro Bowl worthy effort of the Ryan tackles, Clady and Harris, Wesley Woodyard’s obvious talent and fire. But there was hardly a mention of Bell. That’s Ok with him – he just works on his game and expects good things to come.
Asked about his greatest weaknesses before draft day, he replied,
"I guess I need to work on showing up on every play instead of showing up on every other play." If he does the Broncos could well have another starting cornerback next year.
Shanahan makes no bones about who starts on his team.
"We always play the best players, there's no question," Shanahan said. "If a young guy gets an opportunity when somebody's hurt and he's playing better than the veteran, then he will get that opportunity to start. That's always been my philosophy and it will continue to be my philosophy. But let's not get too ahead of ourselves."
Josh Bell isn’t getting ahead of himself. He’s just getting ahead of the rest of the depth chart. When Bailey returns, Bell will almost certainly go back to nickel cornerback. For now, at least.
Bell may not get as much love as he wants, but he gets better every week, and in the NFL, that’s called ‘job security’. With the additions of Larsen, Woodyard, Winborn and Bell, it’s starting to look like the Broncos are starting to pick defensive talent the way they’ve picked offensive talent. And that’s good news indeed.