Bell vital to the Wildcat offense

Last year nothing was constant for the Arizona running game except for Mike Bell. Chris Henry, Clarence Farmer, Gilbert Harris, Beau Carr and Gainus Scott all missed time due to either injury, a violation of team rules, or a combination of both. All Bell did amidst the chaos was rush for over 900 yards and lead the team offensively.

Despite all the turmoil, Bell found himself as the offense's best weapon and made the most of his opportunity. He was having a solid season, but had his breakout game against Cal. The Cats got pasted 42-12 but Bell had 182 yards on just 19 carries. He broke off a 49-yard touchdown run last in the contest that set the tone for the final stretch of the season.

He eclipsed the century mark again the next week at Oregon State, but saved his best for the win over Washington. Against the Huskies Bell had 22 yards rushing and a trio of touchdowns in the lone Pac-10 win for the Wildcats. He broke off scoring runs of 67, 69 and 39 yards on his way to earning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors.

He cooled off a bit in the season's final two games, but had a good enough run that he was named second team all-conference.

Now he comes in as the Wildcats' poster boy. He is one of the few players who has earned universal praise from the coaching staff.

"I feel he is one of the premier running backs in all of football," Mike Stoops said. "He has a tremendous work ethic. I think nothing but great things for him. We have to be good enough offensively to create running space for Mike to give him an opportunity to showcase his talent."

Expect Bell to be the focal point of the offense. It is not out of the question that he could get 30-35 touches a game. He is the only proven gamebreaker and you can bet the Wildcat coaching staff will exploit his talents.

"Mike has a chance to be a special player and we have to make sure that we create enough offense for Mike to be effective," Stoops said.

Bell has great quickness and is a threat to break a big gain at any time. In many ways he is reminiscent of Trung Canidate. Bell is not a bruising runner, but has added plenty of good muscle in the offseason and should be better equipped to take a pounding when running up the middle.

The Cats want to get Bell the ball in space and that could mean plenty of passes to the runner. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales has stated that 30-40 catches is not out of the realm of possibility for the junior. With Bell's great ability in the open field, you can bet the offense will try to isolate him on slower linebackers. Screens and passes to the flats should be a standard of the offense.

Bell's greatest asset to the team may be his leadership ability. Following the loss to ASU he said he was going to make sure that players stayed in Tucson over the summer and that is exactly what they did. He has taken it upon himself to create an atmosphere of peer pressure that is forcing players to be active in offseason workouts and in learning the offense.

I've got to be an example and help my other teammates out," Bell said. "I went in and studied as much as I can. I got the idea of it. I'm just trying to help my teammates out."

Bell may be the centerpiece of the offense, but running back is not the emphasis. This is a pass-first offense that needs a capable runner to keep defenses honest. When the offense is running right the halfback is just as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner. Although the running game is not designed to carry the offense, Canales insists that a 1,000-1,500 yard rusher is common place in the scheme.

Bell knows there is a lot of pressure on him, but that is exactly what he wants. He has no problem with the high praise Stoops has heaped upon him.

"I like that," Bell said. "I want him to be able to count on me. I want him to know that I'm going to do whatever it takes to get in the end zone and help this team win."

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