Bell, though, committed himself to rehabilitating in time for the first practice of fall training camp and was on the field Aug. 10, and each day throughout camp, though for precautionary reasons he was held out of the second practice on two-a-day practice days.
However, Bell clearly has not been the same player he was at the end of the 2004 season and opponents have taken advantage of the situation.
Monday, Bell, a senior captain, was listed as a second-team right cornerback on the Badgers' official depth chart, behind redshirt freshman Jack Ikegwuonu.
"Brett's such a competitor," junior strong safety Joe Stellmacher said. "He worked his tail off. I don't think I've ever seen a guy work as hard to get back from that knee injury as fast as he did. He's not 100 percent right now.
"It's killing him, I'm sure it is, just to not being able to do the things that he used to be able to do…
"He's there mentally too. His head's there, he knows what he's doing. He just maybe [is] one step slower just because of the knee. He's going to continue to battle. I have the utmost confidence in Brett too."
Bell started the Badgers' first seven games this season and all 12 games last year, when he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. He was benched early in UW's 38-34 win over Minnesota Saturday, then returned to the field several times in the first half. But he was on the sideline for nearly all of the second half after missing a tackle on Laurence Maroney's 93-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
During his Monday press conference, head coach Barry Alvarez said he does not look at the depth chart printed in the team's press release and emphasized that this week, against Purdue's spread offense, the team will need to use all four corners who have played regularly this season: Bell, Ikegwuonu, redshirt freshman starter Allen Langford and senior reserve Levonne Rowan.
After Saturday's game, Alvarez declined comment on Bell's playing time.
Regardless of whether Bell comes off the bench Saturday or starts, his teammates and coaches have been impressed with his willingness to compete for the team, despite the limitations he suffered because of the injury. Consider, for instance, that a torn ACL typically requires a 6-9 month rehabilitation. Bell returned to the practice field less than six months after surgery. Had he taken nine months, he would be returning to practice right about now, seven games into the season.
"His knee has been strong and he's had all the tests to indicate that it's where it should be mechanically," Alvarez said, "yet I don't know if everyone, unless you've gone through that type of surgery, knows how tough that is mentally to get over it.
"He has arthritis in his knee, which is very painful. I know that. So, those are hard issues, hard things to get over with, to deal with and get into full contact, especially when you're playing a team like (Minnesota) that's throwing at you and around your legs all the time (with chop blocks). But you appreciate the effort that he gives you trying to be there."
In an interview last week, Bell declined comment on his knee. During camp and early in the season, he said the knee was still swelling up, but that it was just what he expected with a torn ACL. Bell suffered the same injury in the same knee as a senior in high school.
"He'll tell you, his knee's hurting," Stellmacher said. "But we all know that. You can see it that it's not 100 percent. He's not going to give up. He's not a quitter. He's going to battle the rest of the season. I have the utmost confidence in Brett. I'm glad I'm his teammate."