Bell a near lock to start

Mike Bell has gone from curiosity to a near lock to start opening day for the Denver Broncos, barring a major change of heart by Mike Shanahan or a horrible finish to the preseason.

Bell was brilliant in a 35-10 preseason win against Tennessee. He gained 73 yards on 10 carries and had two 1-yard touchdowns. Bell, an undrafted rookie, was named the starter before Denver's first preseason game. At the time it appeared to be, at least partially, a way to motivate veterans Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne.

But Tatum Bell hasn't had a strong preseason and Dayne missed Denver's second preseason game, and all the practices leading up to it, with turf toe. Mike Bell started slowly, losing a fumble against Detroit. But that didn't bother the coaches much.

"The reason we put him in was that I knew that was going to happen," Shanahan said. "It always happens in preseason, especially with a running back, that is just the nature of the position. Hopefully he can get better and better."

Mike Bell did improve in Denver's second preseason game. He ran with a purpose, gaining extra yards by fighting through defenders. He found the holes well and showed the ability to break a big play, on a 34-yard run. His second 1-yard touchdown came on fourth and goal, and he ran through linebacker David Thornton.

"It was way better than the first game," Mike Bell said. "I felt more comfortable."

Tatum Bell had seven carries for 24 yards but was stopped on second down and one and third down and one on consecutive plays. The coaches have been stressing getting yardage after first contact to Tatum Bell. Ron Dayne, who began camp as the starter, has fallen way behind the top two after missing time with a toe injury. He didn't play against Tennessee.

Mike Bell's only misstep was going out of bounds at the end of the 34-yard run. The Broncos don't like their players turning towards the sideline instead of getting extra yards at the end of a play.

"You're like 'Don't ever run out of bounds again,'" receiver Rod Smith said. "He was looking at me like 'What?' That sideline is for the quarterback, it's not for us."

Mike Bell admitted that the coaches' handling of his fumble in the preseason opener helped him. The Broncos didn't bench him during or after the game, and he said the fumble wasn't brought up in practice all week after the game.

"If they would have came down on me hard, I probably would have taken it hard," Mike Bell said. "They had tough love type thing, letting me know I couldn't do it, it wasn't acceptable, but they kept encouraging me and kept my confidence up."

Assistant head coach Mike Heimerdinger said he didn't think there was a reason to get on Bell because of the fumble, because he hadn't fumbled during training camp practices.

"You're not going to hound Mike about that every day," Heimerdinger said. "He knows. It's like dropping a pass. The guy knows he dropped a pass and he knows he was supposed to catch it."

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