By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Joique Bell smiled upon hearing the question. After being welcomed to the Bears, he anticipated what was coming.
Sunday brings yet another game between the Bears and Lions for Bell, though this time, he will be suiting up in navy, not Honolulu blue. Detroit faced a desperate situation in its backfield, with Ameer Abdullah being placed on the injured reserve.
Looking for help, the Lions invited Bell back for a workout as the 30-year-old veteran looked for work. Instead, first-year general manager Bob Quinn passed and stuck to their three backs, a trio that’s combined for just 117 NFL carries.
“They weren’t able to sign me,” Bell said Wednesday at Halas Hall. “Fortunately enough, I was able to find a home here. I’d like to say thank you guys for interviewing me, and have a good one. God bless.”
With that, Bell smiled again and turned away.
Similar to the Lions, the Bears were placed into a difficult situation in their backfield. Starter Jeremy Langford suffered a ankle sprain, Ka’Deem Carey is out with a hamstring injury and only Jordan Howard and Raheem Mostert were available until Tuesday’s transaction.
The Bears turned to Bell, believing differently from the Lions that there were more tough yards ahead past the age of 30.
Bell has rushed 561 times in his six NFL seasons — four as a ball-carrier — and compiled a 4.0 yards per carry average. At 231 pounds, Bell is the kind of physical back who can plow through defenders. Bell has 22 touchdowns in his career, including 15 between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Meanwhile, the Bears’ backs have struggled through these first three games. Collectively, they’ve been unable to find a consistent rhythm within Dowell Loggains’ offense.
Expect Bell to get plenty of rushing opportunities alongside Howard, the new feature back. He should also apply one of his greatest strengths as a pass blocker, something the Bears have been lacking to this point.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s voice shuttered a bit when posed the question. In looking ahead to Sunday’s matchup in Chicago, Caldwell is forced to game plan for one of his former players but also somebody he appreciated coaching.
With their backfield situation often in a jam the past few seasons, Bell was the Lions’ rock. They could count on him to carry the burden as the thunder to their lightning.
“He’s a hard-working, tough, hard-nosed guy who can carry the ball,” Caldwell said on a teleconference Wednesday. “He did a tremendous job for us. I love the guy. He’s pretty special.”
However, Caldwell also declined to discuss specifics as to why Bell wasn’t brought back to the Lions, even in a pinch.
Quinn has operated the Lions’ front office similar to Bears general manager Ryan Pace, putting that extra emphasis on finding youth. Despite similar records in previous years, the Lions are ahead of the Bears in their rebuild. That’s certainly true at the position of running back, where Detroit has two young athletes in Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
The Bears had hoped for Langford, Carey and Howard to lead their backfield. They even moved on from another 30-year-old back, Matt Forte, believing his best days were in the past. Just three games were enough to create concerns. Now, their hopes rest with Howard and Bell.
Sitting out the first three weeks of the season wasn’t easy for Bell. It certainly had to sting being passed up by the Lions, a team with which his career took off. Bell wouldn’t say it, but he may be running with a little extra motivation for those tough yards Sunday.
Bell kept his cards close to the vest during his first day at Halas Hall.
“We’re just trying to get our first win,” he said. “That’s the most important thing in the room right now. I have to do my part to help this franchise win.”