Lost in the shuffle has been Josh Bell.
Bell's claim to fame last season was more like a claim to infamy. Signed on Nov. 24 after Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Lee had been lost to season-ending knee injuries, Bell was victimized by Ben Roethlisberger's last-play touchdown at Pittsburgh less than a month later. Bell's coverage was good; Roethlisberger's pass to Mike Wallace was perfect.
Bell arrived in Green Bay with supreme confidence, and that one bad play certainly hasn't changed that. With all eyes on Lee and Underwood this spring, it's been Bell making the most plays during the three organized team activities that have been opened to reporters.
"He came in late last year, and I think he's starting to get comfortable out there with the secondary and the secondary calls," coach Mike McCarthy said last week. "He had a nice play (on Wednesday) on Greg Jennings. He's done a nice job."
That comfort level in the defense has been evident during the offseason practices, when several plays have ended with No. 26 extending his index finger toward the sky. The 5-foot-11 Bell, who's entering his third season in the NFL, spent last offseason with Denver but sustained a knee injury in the preseason finale. The injury wasn't serious enough to put him on injured reserve but the Broncos didn't feel like they could hold a roster spot for him for six weeks. So, they turned him loose, and the Packers added him to their M*A*S*H unit of a secondary.
He played defense in three games and special teams in two others. He recorded four tackles on special teams, including a stop of Arizona's Steve Breaston at the 2-yard line on a punt in the regular-season finale.
"It's a whole lot better," Bell said of his grasp of the defense. "I can just go out there and play football and have a little bit of fun. If you play within the defense, you're going to be there for the plays if you're in the right spot.
"I believe I've earned the respect of my teammates and they respect my playing ability and I'm in the right spot and I know what I'm supposed to be doing," he added. "Now, it's not even a thought when the play's called. It's become an instinct."
With Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and possibly Harris back to reclaim the top three spots, with Lee possibly healthy to finally contribute and with Underwood being singled out by McCarthy as a rising player, Bell has his work cut out for him in a deep but question-filled position.
"There's a lot of guys, but I'm a very competitive person," Bell said. "I'm shooting for the stars. I'm shooting to push Wood and Al, in my mind, when I get out there to work. I'm working now so that when we get into training camp, I can play at a certain level. Just in case they've got to come out for one play, I can go in and still maintain the same level that we expect in the secondary."
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