As the season has progressed, Bell's role has expanded

Posted Oct 16, 2012

His hard work has turned into 256 all-purpose yards in five games and a touchdown. Bell is fourth among all NFL running backs with 178 receiving yards this season.

The Lions first met running back Joique Bell at the Senior Bowl in 2010 with Bell trying to find his way into the NFL from Division II Wayne State University. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has said in the past that he liked what he saw from Bell in Alabama that summer, but didn’t end up drafting him after they moved back into the first round to take Jahvid Best that year.

Instead, Bell and the Lions coaching staff were reacquainted when they signed Bell off the Saints’ practice squad late last season.

Bell carved out a role for himself early in the year with his play this offseason and in the preseason. That role has expanded as the season has progressed and he’s continued to make plays.

“Joique’s really earned a role,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “From the time he got here to where he is now, we had a lot of questions, didn’t know that much about him. Knew some from the Senior Bowl, (he) was on different teams prior to being here, but from the day he’s got here to where he is now, he’s worked extremely hard to earn his way on the field.”

That hard work has turned into 256 all-purpose yards in five games and a touchdown. Bell is fourth among all NFL running backs with 178 receiving yards this season.

“When we’ve asked him to play, he’s gone out and produced and has been a very effective runner and really is a guy that gets yards after first contact,” Linehan said.

“The thing that I like about Joique: he very rarely goes down on the first hit. He’s usually getting three, four, five more yards after initial contact – that’s what you’re looking for in a back and that’s what Joique gives us.”

Bell will have to continue to give the Lions that boost with the news, Monday, that Best has not been cleared to play. Schwartz didn’t rule out Best’s return this season when speaking to WXYT in an interview Monday night, but it doesn’t look good.

With Best out of the picture - at least for right now - the workload will continue to fall on starter Mikel Leshoure and Bell.  Sunday against the Eagles, Leshoure and Bell combined for 108 yards and a 4.9 average per carry.

Bell’s increased role has coincided with a limited one for Kevin Smith, who started Week 1 and Week 2, and was inactive Sunday against the Eagles.

Smith’s decline has more to do with Bell than it does anything Smith did or did not do. Smith rushed 29 times for 115 yards (4.0 average) and one touchdown, plus had a receiving touchdown, in the Lions' first two games this season, but has not carried the ball since Week 2.

“Coaches call the shots and I am perfectly fine with that,” Smith told The Detroit News last week. “I never try to politick. I always look at it like you always take a positive out of a negative. My time will come."

Meanwhile, Bell has averaged almost 22 offensive snaps per game over the last four weeks and has carried the ball 19 times and caught 13 passes. Bell’s ability to break tackles and get tough yards is one of the things the Lions like about his game. He can get yards on his own.

It remains to be seen if the Best’s inability to play might prompt the Lions to look to bring someone in with a similar skillset. They’ve missed Best's speed out of the backfield.

The Lions have been relying on the combination of mainly Leshoure and Bell the last month that's likely the way it falls for the remainder of the season, barring changes with the roster or an injury.