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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bell undrafted but unsatisfied

    Former Arizona running back Mike Bell looks for a hole as he carries the ball in his last game as a Wildcat against ASU on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium. Bell rushed for 952 yards in his senior season.
    Former Arizona running back Mike Bell looks for a hole as he carries the ball in his last game as a Wildcat against ASU on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium. Bell rushed for 952 yards in his senior season.

    GLENDALE – Mike Bell stood by his stall in the visitor’s locker room of the Arizona Cardinals’ new stadium the night of Aug. 31. He was home, in a way.

    “”It’s kinda like playing on the field playing at home,”” said Bell, a former Wildcat running back turned Denver Bronco who grew up just five minutes from the Cardinals’ new digs in Glendale. “”Well, not ‘home’ home – but playing in the state where I played high school, Pop Warner, college – is just great.””

    A month ago, Bell, who finished his career at Arizona as the school’s fourth all-time leading rusher, was called into head coach Mike Shanahan’s office.

    No, the undrafted rookie wasn’t about to be cut. He was elevated to starter on the Broncos’ depth chart, arguably the most enviable position in the NFL among running backs.

    “”Nobody believed that it would happen,”” Bell said. “”Even myself, I never thought in a million years that it would happen this fast.””

    And though he was just trying to earn a roster spot, the focal reason behind his rapid progression up the depth chart was his performance throughout training camp.

    “”Mike has been consistent for us … he’s strong and powerful, and he’s elusive,”” Shanahan said. “”I just like the way he runs the football.””

    Strong, powerful and elusive – qualities that come to mind for Bell’s former coaching staff in Arizona.

    “”He’s got good mobility, good vision, and he’s showing it,”” said Bell’s former offensive coordinator at Arizona, Mike Canales. “”He’s a good outside and inside runner, and that’s what Denver does and that plays to his strengths. It was the right team to go to.””

    Added Kasey Dunn, Bell’s former position coach at Arizona: “”He gets into space pretty good and can shake some guys in a phone booth.””

    Though Bell fumbled on the first drive in his first preseason game at Detroit, he came back the next week in Denver against Tennessee and gained 73 yards on 10 carries, including a pair of 1-yard scores.

    But during the Broncos’ preseason-ending contest against the Cardinals Aug. 30, Shanahan appeared to reopen the competition, giving veterans Tatum Bell (no relation) and Cedric Cobbs a second shot.

    After the game, the 12-year head coach said the team’s starting running back wouldn’t be revealed until Sunday, when the Broncos take on the Rams in St. Louis.

    “”I’m still totally confused,”” Shanahan said. “”It’s good to be confused that way, when all three guys play pretty well. That’s what you want.””

    Even with his stellar performance that night – he led the team in rushing with 74 yards on nine carries and also had a four-yard reception – there was a horde of media members lobbing question after question at him, asking the Tolleson native to dissect his performance.

    Mike Bell studied the dozen faces around him.

    Did he think it’d be a situation where all three backs get used this year? Had he distinguished himself from the other two? Did he do enough tonight to win the starting job?

    The questions came at him from all directions, but Bell took it all in stride.

    “”It’s going to be a tough decision, and I feel like whatever decision the coach makes is going to be a great one, because we’re all good running backs, and we have to help the team win,”” he said on more than one occasion in a variety of different ways. “”Coach is going to make the decision, and no matter what decision he makes, it’s going to be a good one.””

    Still, the questions persisted. Had he won the starting job?

    “”I can’t say that, because I think that we all bring something different,”” he said. “”I’m not going to sit here and say I did, because I think we all did great. The coaches are going to decide that, and no matter what the decision is, I have no control over it. I just go out there and continue to do what I do and just work hard.””

    Finally, after a while, Bell relented when asked how it would feel if a national television audience sees No. 20 gracing the screen Sunday in St. Louis as a starter.

    “”It would be a big-time accomplishment for myself,”” he said. “”Nobody expected it to happen – I didn’t even expect it to happen. So for me to go out there and actually earn a spot, it shows a lot.

    “”This is a good – great – team, so for me to be involved in a great team coming from Arizona straight out of college and start, this is big time.””

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