Coming into fall camp, Bell was expected to compete for significant playing time at safety. However, the emergence of true freshman Karl Joseph, plus several nagging injuries, kept him off the field, and thus out of competition, for most of the preseason.
That experience obviously didn't sit well with a player used to having an impact on games. Bell himself played as a true freshman, getting most of his experience on special teams, and then got more time as a sophomore, participating on some third down packages as well as continuing his special teams contributions. In the critical win at Cincinnati, he was a key member of the Mountaineer defensive effort, recording six tackles and breaking up a pass in WVU's 24-21 win over the 23rd-rated Bearcats.
With that work behind him, Bell envisioned an even bigger role for himself in 2012, but all that evaporated on the sidelines of the practice field, where he was more likely to be seen riding a stationary bicycle or doing other rehab work.
"It's painful being out there, being hurt and having to do the extra stuff to get back out on the field," Bell admitted. "It's like you are at the end of your life. You don't know if you are ever going to get back out there or not."
To his credit, Bell kept pushing, and by the time the season opener came around, he was back on the field, albeit mostly in a special teams role, along with some late mop up duty. He had two tackles against Marshall, but he was pushing for bigger things, including a spot on West Virginia's "speed" defensive package, used largely in pass rushing situations. By the time the James Madison game came up, Bell had apparently made his point.
"This was the first coach trusted me to blitz off the corner," he related. "I've been begging him and begging him, and he finally put me out there. When he called it, I just thought, ‘I'm going to hit the QB, no matter what.'"
Bell made the most of his opportunities on his two chances to blitz out of the scheme. He had a tackle near the line of scrimmage to prevent a JMU third down conversion, and also had his highlight of the season so far -- a hit on quarterback Justin Thorpe, which resulted in a sack and a loss of four yards.
"I was just excited," he said of his thoughts as he targeted Thorpe for the takedown. "It just made me happier to be out there, after everything I have been through. I love that package – it's made for me. It's going to be hard for an offensive lineman to block me."
Those weren't Bell's only contributions, though. He finished the game with six total tackles, earning some votes for the BlueGoldNews.com defensive player of the game, and showed that he's ready to contribute in more than just a special teams role. It's those kinds of performances that the Mountaineers will need in order to continue their defensive improvement, and it's something that Bell is focusing on as well.
"I am working my way to get back up on the depth chart and get more playing time," he said of what he can do to build on his fine showing against the Dukes. "I have to get the coaches' trust back so I can play more. Whatever it takes, I'm going to be doing that."
This game was a long way from those dispirited fields of August, where Bell sometimes thought he might not make it back into the playing rotation. And while there's still more work to be done and improvement to be realized, Bell has now shown that he can get it done on the real fields of play.