Adam Gase has a problem with Le’Veon Bell and it has nothing to do with whether the running back’s hamstrings are tight or not.
Bell hasn’t had an impressive training camp. Anyone who has watched practice over the past two weeks would have placed Bell third among running backs with Frank Gore and rookie La’Mical Perine ahead of him if they were honest.
The happy August interview was about how Bell got to training camp in great shape. He said he weighed between 210 and 215 pounds. Bell spoke of the best year of his career.
“I’m ready to show he’s the best Le’Veon Bell that has ever played in the NFL,” Bell said a few weeks ago.
It all felt like talking, as Bell lacked explosiveness in practice, seems slow to punch holes, and now seems to lack the vision that made him the best running back in football. This information does not come from anonymous sources, but from two sources that I implicitly trust: my left and right eyes.
All of this is a disaster for Gase, who will be under pressure from the fans, the media and possibly Bell himself to give him the ball. Anyone who wants Bell to be the centerpiece of the Jets attack hasn’t watched a practice moment.
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Evaluating the running game in training camp can be tricky. There is no live tackle and blocking is not quite the same as a live game. I was hesitant to draw any conclusions about Bell, but Gore and Perine just seem to be operating at a different speed. Bell could come out and rush for 120 yards in Week 1 against the Bills, but that seems unlikely.
Bell’s story and his $ 13 million salary gives him a status that makes everyone believe the Jets should just give him the ball, the results are damned. To some extent, Gase did it last year. When he didn’t, people screamed despite Bell’s paltry 3.2 meters per reach. The blame was placed on the offensive line and Gase’s play call, and these were justified, but very little blame went to Bell himself. But Bell recently admitted he was responsible for last year’s poor results.
“You hear people say maybe it’s the O-line or it’s the coach not giving you the ball, but it’s like, no, there were holes there,” Bell said. “Coach Gase gave me the ball enough. There were times when I could have done more. I just don’t want this to be a question anymore.
Bell, 28, may have no more tread on the tire. The Steelers rode him for several years and those touches can catch him. Since joining the league in 2013, his 1,852 touches are second in the NFL ahead of LeSean McCoy’s 1,895. In his last two years at Pittsburgh, his 742 touches were the most important in the NFL. The overuse in Pittsburgh followed by his year off in 2018 when he was not satisfied with his contract may have had a deleterious effect. The most disturbing statistic from last season was that his longest range was only 19 meters, a sign that his explosiveness has worn off.
Maybe Bell can prove me wrong and have a great season. He’s a proud contender who shouldn’t be counted even though I have my doubts.
What I have no doubt is that this is going to be a very difficult situation for Gase to navigate. Bell and Gore performed about 60-40 reps during training camp. Bell is a guy who never wants to leave the field, as evidenced by his temper tantrum on social media this week. Gase is going to want to work on Gore and Perine and maybe even Kalen Ballage, who the Jets traded for Thursday.
It’s a bad recipe for a trainer unpopular with fans who get pounded the first time Gore has more litters than Bell and the Jets lose.