DeKALB – When Cameron Bell started off as a linebacker at Iowa State, he didn’t have a physical mentality.
The high school running back didn’t know how to use his weight – now at 242 pounds – or the proper footwork to even have a chance at accomplishing that.
So he was challenged every day by his coaches to play more physical. Now at Northern Illinois, with a position switch again to running back, Bell is utilizing what he can of what he learned as a linebacker to become a force in the backfield for the Huskies.
“When you play behind your pads and with your weight, you can turn into something special,” Bell said after Tuesday’s practice at Huskie Stadium.
Four weeks into spring practice, the junior running back has shown that, come fall, he could be a special player for an NIU team that has been in search of a bigger running back to complement No. 1 back Chad Spann in its rotation.
At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, Bell certainly fits in that category.
“In what we want to do and want to accomplish, you better have at least three backs ready to go,” running backs coach Rob Reeves said. “I think people question the rotation and all that stuff, but if you’re going to pound the football in this league and in Division-I football, you better be rotating backs or you’re not going to have them for 12 straight games.”
Bell started this spring slow and tentative. He would hit a gap and pause or not play with that physical mentality he learned as a linebacker.
By this past Friday’s scrimmage, though, he led the team in rushing, scored a touchdown and it regularly took at least two defenders to bring him to the ground.
“I think from practice three, he wasn’t there yet,” Reeves said. “He was slow to the hole, slow in the hole. Now you can see he’s got a burst. For a big back, he’s got a great burst.”
That learning curve is something that is to be expected for someone who hasn’t played running back since high school, but Bell is further along at this point than coaches expected. He’s spending 90 minutes to two hours a day in the film room just to understand what’s going on and to study his own progression.
“My comfort level with the offense is, on a grading scale, probably an 8 or 9 right now, because I haven’t played offense in quite a bit of time,” Bell said. “It’s actually taken me time to get adjusted and to learn and know exactly what my assignments are.”
And while there isn’t much aside from a mentality that he can take from his days at linebacker – “I can’t say that playing linebacker is harder or playing running back is harder, because it’s two completely different positions,” Bell said – that approach is something Bell has kept even when he messes up on a play or a blocking assignment.
“The game of football, we all make mistakes. It’s who plays the most aggressive,” he said. “I could end up running a wrong play, but if I play really aggressive, that one bad play could actually turn into a good one because you play really hard.”