For his part, Bell is not ready to put a percentage on his recovery, but he does expect to take part in all of the Badgers' fall training camp workouts, which begin today at Camp Randall Stadium.
"100 percent? I'm not going to tell anybody that I'm 100 percent until the first game but I feel good," Bell said last week in Chicago. "I feel that the only time I ever have pain is I get a little swollen here and there but that's going to come with an ACL. I'm five months and 12 days or 13 days out of surgery and it's going to bother me, it's going to hurt me but if I had to play tomorrow, I'd do it."
Bell has been in this position before, having suffered the same injury his senior year of high school. And two years ago he played three games before a shoulder injury forced him to take a medical redshirt.
This time around, Bell suffered the injury on the first day of offseason drills, his knee giving way as he ran down field in coverage.
"It's amazing that as soon as he tore it, the first thing he said was, ‘I want to be back for the first day of camp,'" junior left tackle Joe Thomas said. "And he worked the entire offseason. That was his goal."
"I swear it was a 24-hour period where I was like, ‘Why does this keep happening? Why?'" Bell said. "You get to a point where you understand that God wouldn't heap something onto you if you couldn't handle it. And I know I can handle it, I know I can push through it. I almost look at it as an opportunity to prove people wrong."
Bell was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, when he made 64 tackles and tied for team highs with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
"He worked so hard to bounce back from that knee injury—it was impressive," Alvarez said. "I'm really looking forward to watching him play this year. I think he could really be special."
It is remarkable that Bell plans to be on the field today and throughout camp. ACL injuries typically take six to nine months to recover from. For that reason, Bell was thankful the injury occurred when it did.
"My mom and dad, I talked to them after it happened," Bell said. "I was crushed, I was absolutely devastated and I thought I had a decent season last year and to have that happen to me the first workout in the offseason was horrible but when you look at it the way I was looking at it, if it happened a month later, it could have been a month later in the season that I would come back. It happened to me at the right time so I knew I had enough time to come back."
How did his parents take the news?
"My mom and dad, it took them 24 hours too," Bell said. "They raised me where they knew that no matter what's going to happen to me, I'm going to push through it. My brothers and sisters are the same way. They knew, they still trusted me and they knew that I was going to do this but they also respected it if I wanted to stop playing football, which was never an option for me. If I wanted to take it easy or maybe use my redshirt year, but it never even crossed my mind. They respected what I wanted to do but they knew I was going to work hard and come back."
About three weeks ago, only five months after surgery, Bell was cleared to run sprints.
"It will take at least a month-and-a-half, two months more until there's no pain at all but I can play," Bell said. "It just swells up, the only pain there is is the swelling. Mentally, I'm fine with it. I've gone through it before, I know what to expect."
Now, Bell is set to participate completely in fall camp.
"My last report (from the Badgers' medical staff) was he was cleared to do everything," Alvarez said. "No restrictions."
Bell credits the Badgers' training and strength and conditioning staffs for his speedy recovery.
"I trusted them," he said. "I did exactly what they told me every day, I worked out six days a week the whole summer, I treated my body right and I'm where I needed to be."
"It's unbelievable the amount of work that he's done and how motivated he was in order to get back to 100 percent before the start of camp," Thomas said. "Not even before the first game, before the start of camp, so he can have a full camp to get honed in and be a player. That just shows what kind of a leader he is."