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story.lead_photo.caption New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell takes part in a drill during the team’s first day of minicamp Tuesday in Florham Park, N.J.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Le'Veon Bell lined up behind quarterback Sam Darnold and took the handoff. As he prepared to run upfield, there was that trademark moment of hesitation, that stutter step to give himself just a split second to see where the hole would open up.

Once he found it -- between the center and left guard -- he darted upfield, slithering through the line and running a good 10 yards before the whistle blew.

This was Bell's first time with the New York Jets' offense since signing a four-year, $52.5 million deal in March, and even though the players participated in the first day of minicamp practice in noncontact drills, you could see his unmistakable style. And you could easily imagine him doing the same thing Sunday afternoons this fall, when the hitting is real and the final score matters.

Bell hasn't played a down of football since Jan. 14, 2018, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were upset by the Jacksonville Jaguars 45-42 at Heinz Field in an AFC playoff game. He missed the entire 2018 season in a contract standoff that meant his eventual departure from Pittsburgh, and he has stayed away from the Jets' offseason conditioning program to work out on his own in Miami with longtime trainer Pete Bommarito.

Tuesday's late-morning practice was thus the first time he'd been involved in a team practice of any kind. He loved every moment.

"It was amazing just running around, be able to trash talk, catch some balls, sweat in your helmet," he said.

Bell's arrival hasn't been without controversy, and his decision to skip offseason workouts to train on his own hasn't sat well with some people in the organization, including some players who would rather see him here grinding away and not on his own. First-year Coach Adam Gase admits it would have been preferable for Bell to be at the facility, particularly because everyone needs to get used to his offensive system.

And there have been reports of Gase not being happy with the decision by general manager Mike Maccagnan -- who has since been fired -- to invest heavily in a running back at a time when the position has been devalued around the league.

But Bell is used to criticism; plenty of it came his way in Pittsburgh, particularly the previous two years, when his contract-related holdouts didn't play well among the team's fan base. He deflected concern about any issues with Gase, who has expressed nothing but support in his conversations with Bell.

Bell is a play-caller's dream with his ability to slither through defenses, and his skill at catching passes out of the backfield and turning a short throw into a big gain. At 27, Bell is at his physical peak, and there is nothing not to like about what he can add to a Jets' offense in need of playmakers.

"I picture this scheme being amazing for me," Bell said.

But there is work to be done. Bell knows he must master an offense that is unfamiliar, admitting that he was "literally trying to listen to every word of the play," even on practice reps that did not involve him. But that will come with time, and there is certainly enough time in training camp for a veteran to gain a good enough working knowledge of the system.

"Football is football, so terminology here is different than where I was before," he said. "I'm a smart player, and I'm going to show people that."

There is plenty to prove for a tailback who once dominated the sport, but who begins anew with a rebuilding team needing his best. Bell represents an instant upgrade for an offense now firmly in the control of second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, and the running back will go a long way toward determining whether the Jets can be good enough for playoff contention.

Day One represented a fresh start for a player who believes the best days of his career are still ahead of him.

Sports on 06/05/2019

Print Headline: Bell ready to prove naysayers wrong

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