Bell admits to having "an average year" in 2003. An injury plagued him throughout 2002. So after two very human seasons, he's hoping a re-commitment to training and an abstention from painkillers will bring him back to his previous level of performance.
"I figured out I really need to start taking care of my body," Bell said. "And that's eating right and not taking so many painkillers. It kind of makes you soft if you can't deal with the pain. Football is pain and if you continue to take medication like that, it becomes a way of getting by."
Bell is heeding the advice of a friend, who talked to him about the danger over-the-counter pain relievers can pose.
"If there's a situation where I need to be out there, I will," Bell said. "But I'm talking about the everyday things, like Advil and some of the extra extra stuff that wears on your kidneys.
"I'm not going to take painkillers. I'll just fight through it and use a lot of ice."
Bell is down to 240 pounds after playing at 254 last season. He reunited with his godfather, Jim Marsalis, who spent eight years in the NFL, mainly with the Kansas City Chiefs. The two ran 5.5 miles every other day in the Georgia heat this summer. They also ran field drills for time.
Marsalis had trained Bell during his time at the University of Georgia, and Bell was a superbly conditioned rookie with the Steelers. But he drifted away from Marsalis the past two years.
"Basically I felt I could take it from there after I left college," Bell said. "We had our differences. He wanted me to come down, but I told him - being young and dumb - I told him 'That's alright; I'm cool.' Then my godmother passed and I felt real stupid then. I went down to the funeral and we talked and kind of found how far away I was from my family, my people that were closest to me. It humbled me in a different way. I missed him a lot and I took the opportunity to spend some time with him and train with him."
Bell learned his lesson. At the time, though, he felt his increased weight might help him in the middle of the field, but it only slowed him down.
"When you get up here in professional football your time is scheduled," he said. "Everybody's pulling at you and I wasn't accustomed to that. I thought football was football. I thought all I had to do was train and play football, but it's not. A lot of things weigh on you and then you start to pick up bad habits and not get enough sleep, start staying up all night, not getting up and working out. You lose your edge and your urge to be better and you gain weight. When you gain weight, you become slower and then you get on the field and you get injured and you're out of your league."
As a rookie, Bell had nine sacks and forced two fumbles. In the last two years combined, he's had nine sacks, a forced fumble and an interception.
Will Bell get it back? Will he regain the explosiveness he displayed as a rookie?
"That's all I hear," Bell said. "They want to know if I'm going to break the sack record because that's how people remember me. I blitzed a lot and didn't drop back my first year. Now the defense isn't based on just blitzing, it's more of an all-around game for all the linebackers. Now that I'm starting to understand a lot more than I did, those are responsibilities I have to take also."
With those responsibilities, though, comes more playing time. Bell believes he knows the defense well enough to remain on the field on passing downs. That hadn't been the case for the most part. Brief trials as a third-down defensive end didn't pan out, although he's still part of the nickel package and is learning the dime responsibilities.
"I'm feeling good physically and I'm really grasping the defense a lot better now," he said. "I think I'll probably make more plays."
That'll have to wait until he returns to the field from his current injury.
"It's a problem I've had since high school," Bell said of his arm muscle. "It's not severe but it's something that has to be taken care of.
"That's what I'm saying. I have to take care of my body. I'll go practice and won't go to treatment, although I do sit in the ice tub a lot more. That'll have to be the way to go from now on."
Bell loses weight, drops drugs
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