The anticipation is building, and it’s palpable. For Adam Gase. For Le’Veon Bell. For Bell’s teammates. For Jets fans. For everybody.
News that Gase has no plans to play Bell, his prized running back, in any preseason games had already set in since the Jets head coach made that announcement last week. Bell will not carry the ball in full uniform in a game against opponents with bad intentions until the regular-season opener against the Bills.
So now we all wait. Gase. Bell. His teammates. Jets fans. Everyone.
“I can’t wait to see what he does on a Sunday,’’ Gase said Wednesday.
Join the club, which includes Bell, whose last NFL game action came in the 2017 season.
“It’s going to be a lot different, because nobody has seen me [play for] so long,’’ Bell said. “But I’m so eager. I’m eager to play. I want to go out there and show everybody I’m still the same player and help this team win games.’’
Gase, and Bell’s teammates on defense who have been dealing with him in practice, have no doubt that he is and will.
“I’m excited when we get the opportunity and it’s go-time for him,’’ Gase said. “To me, you can’t tell that he hasn’t played in a year. The way he practices, the amount of reps he took last week and this week … you can see he’s really gearing up for what’s going to happen here in a couple of weeks.
“Watching him in practice, that’s fun enough. But you can tell this guy is a special player. To see him on Sunday, that’s going to be fun.’’
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins offered this bold proclamation about Bell:
“He’s game-ready,’’ Jenkins said. “There’s no hitch in his step whatsoever. From the first rep in seven-on-sevens back in OTAs, I was like, ‘This is why he’s so hard to cover.’ ’’
In an interesting twist to Bell’s preparation, knowing the plan was to keep him out of preseason games, he’s actually gone out of his way to ask certain defensive teammates to lay some extra lumber on him while tackling him in team drills.
“Guys understand I’m not playing in the preseason, so I asked guys like C.J. [Mosley] and Jamal [Adams] and Steve McLendon, the veteran guys, ‘Give me a little something, go for the ball,’ so I can get prepared,’’ Bell said. “Because in practice, they kind of look at me like, ‘We don’t want to hit him.’ Even if they don’t [hit me hard], I try to give them something to get them a little upset. I try to do it intentionally just so I can feel it. I need all that.’’
Gase said Bell has come up to him after a physical short-yardage session and said, “That felt good. That’s what I wanted to do.’’
Gase said he can tell when Bell is seeking some extra mustard from his teammates in team drills.
“It’s his body demeanor, the way he’s attacking the defense,’’ Gase said. “When they see him getting lower and accelerating toward them, they know, ‘OK, he’s looking to do some damage here.’ ’’
Jenkins said, “That’s just how he practices. We bring it on defense and he brings it just as much on offense. He’s not shying away from contact. Some running backs, if you put them on the ground in practice, they start crying and saying, ‘Keep me, up, Keep me up. I’m so-and-so or Mr. this or that.’ He doesn’t do that. He wants to be hit.’’
Linebacker Brandon Copeland, who put the biggest hit on Bell all summer with a crunching blow two weeks ago, knows Bell is game ready.
“You can tell whether a guy’s ready or not,’’ Copeland said. “It’s the moves he’s making, the cuts he’s making and the reads he’s making. … He’s not shying away from contact. He’s clearly picked up where he left off when he was playing.’’
Bell insisted he’s “completely fine’’ with Gase’s decision not to play him in preseason.
“I know once I get onto the games it’s going to be a little bit different, but that’s something I’ll adjust to,’’ Bell said. “I’ve been playing football my whole life. It’s going to come. I don’t think me getting four plays in the preseason is going to really help me for Week 1 in the game. It’s going to be me just getting prepared in practice, when the regular-season game comes, I’ll be ready.
“I know everybody is eager to watch me play, and I’m eager to play. But I understand [when] it’s time. I’m going be patient and wait ’til Week 1 comes. And when it counts, I’m going be out there with everything I’ve got.’’