"I worked extremely hard from the day after I tore it until now," Bell said Friday, on the Badgers' last day of camp. "It's paying off."
Bell was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick a year ago and was playing as well as anyone in the Badgers' secondary by season's end. Two of his 2004 defensive backfield teammates — safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Scott Starks — are in NFL camps now. Coming back from the injury, however, Bell did not pick up where he left off. He was rusty, as should be expected of a player who leaps back into the fray so soon from a serious injury. But Bell was still UW's best corner in camp.
"I think I got my confidence back for the most part," he said. "The main thing I wanted to gain during camp was to be able to trust the knee. I think I trust it now."
"I've worked for improvement in every area," Bell said. "I've got to play a lot better. I've got to read better, I've got to recover better….
"I've got some stuff to work on. But I think, you know what I mean, after the first game, my confidence will get there. Maybe that first hit."
Soon after his injury, Bell set a goal to be back in time for UW's first practice and to be 100 percent ready in time for the first game.
"This was the way I designed it, this is what I worked hard for," Bell said.
Bell was held out of much of UW's full contact work and some scrimmage sessions during camp. He said his knee felt fine throughout camp, but he agreed with the training staff and coaches that he needed to take his foot off the accelerator at times, particularly to control the swelling that would occur during practice.
"There were some days where I know I needed to take off," Bell said. "We were on the same page."
"My knee was fine, it was swelling up a little bit, and then it would go back down," he added. "It was just (part of) coming back from an ACL."
Bell said his knee stills swells up a little bit when he practices.
"I'm going to be able to feel it during the week, but come game time adrenaline will take that feeling away so I'm not worried about it," he said.
The Badgers will need Bell to play well Saturday, when they open their season with visiting Bowling Green at Camp Randall Stadium. The Falcons had one of the nation's most prolific passing games last season, led by quarterback Omar Jacobs, who threw for 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
But whoever UW was playing first, Bell would be eager to get on the field and compete.
"The butterflies are coming a little bit, just can't wait, can't wait to play some games," Bell said. "As players we've got another week to prepare and get everything locked down but for the most part we're ready to go."