Thoughts About the Jag-Offs

Things came so easily, everything fell into place so well for Kendrell Bell in 2001 that Bell had to wonder what was the big deal about making the jump from college to the NFL

But things have been much more difficult this season for the 2001 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as he's seen his production drop because of a nagging ankle injury that cost him four full games and most of another. Bell admits he is just now beginning to recover from the high ankle sprain he suffered during the team's second preseason game.

"I won't be 100 percent until after the season. But I'm at the point where I can have somebody step on it and it will hurt, but I'm able to shake that off and keep on playing," said Bell, who set a Steelers rookie record with nine sacks last season.

"It's just something I've got to play through at this point."

After missing most of the preseason with the ankle injury, Bell rushed to come back in time for the team's season-opening loss at New England. He lasted less than a quarter, reinjuring the ankle and sitting out the next four games. Rookie Larry Foote took his place on the field, but didn't bring the same presence to the field Bell did.

In fact, there are few players in the league who have Bell's ability to change a game. That's one reason why Bell was bothered so much not to be playing with his teammates as they began the season 1-3, although the Steelers have rebounded from that start and now own a 7-4-1 record, the best in the AFC North.

"When I couldn't get on the field or when I was out there and worried about getting hurt, that was frustrating," said Bell. "You want to be out there helping the team, but you're not able to. That hurts."

But Bell has seen his game starting to round into shape the past couple of games. He had one of his trademark hits on Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, shooting a gap at breakneck speed and dropping Kitna for a six-yard loss. In Sunday's 25-23 victory at Jacksonville, Bell was a force to be reckoned with. While he recorded just four tackles, he picked up his first two sacks of the season and also forced quarterback Mark Brunell into a couple of bad throws by pressuring him up the middle.

"It's good to get it out of my system and join the sack club," said Bell. "I want to make big plays every time I'm out there."

Keeping Bell on the field has been a point of contention this season. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis' plan coming into this season called for Bell to play Joey Porter's rush end position in the dime defense with Porter moving to the middle linebacker position. But Bell's injury derailed that plan and Clark Haggans and Rodney Bailey have thrived splitting time there, combining for 9.5 sacks. Bell would like to see more action, but doesn't want it to come at the expense of what's in the best interests of the team.

"A lot depends on what the coaches want to do," Bell said. "This year we're getting a lot more pass plays, so I haven't really had a chance to get after it as much as I did last season."

Here are some more thoughts from a sports writer who had to laugh at all of the Floridians wearing winter jackets Sunday:

  • Sunday's game may have been Chris Hope's coming out party. The third-round pick has been something of a disappointment this season, seeing limited playing time on defense and contributing mostly on special teams.

    But against the Jaguars, Hope played one of the safety positions with Brent Alexander moving up front to injured Mike Logan's spot. Hope responded by recording six tackles, one more than his season total. It was a sign that maybe the rookie is finally getting the idea.

  • Dan Kreider has 11 catches. Eleven! All of a sudden, he's John L. Williams.

    That still doesn't tell me why Kordell Stewart is trying to throw to Kreider down the seam on second-and-goal from the seven in the first quarter.

  • I wrote about two months ago the Steelers would have four losses after 12 games. They have four losses.

    Of course I also thought they'd have eight wins to go along with that, showing you just never know exactly what's going to happen in the NFL, especially this season. Bill Cowher probably thought the same thing, that's why he wasn't panicking when the team got out of the gate 1-3.

  • The Steelers aren't the only ones who are glad they won't be making yearly trips to Flabama - Jacksonville isn't Florida, but it's not Georgia or Alabama, either - any more.

    Even with Sunday's win, the Steelers are just 2-6 in Jacksonville. But here's one sports writer who has to wonder why the NFL would even put a team in a city that has a downtown area the approximate size of Johnstown.

  • Come to think of it, I had more fun going to college at Johnstown.
  • Now we know why Cowher picked Jeff Reed. It's his tackling.

    At one point in the first half, I mentioned to another writer that the Steelers might as well have Reed line up facing the sidelines on his kickoffs and just kick it into the stands. I'm thinking I could get 20 yards on a return against these guys.

  • Do you think if Stacey Mack had spun free of James Farrior's tackle and run for a touchdown in the second quarter instead of fumbling the officials would have had the guts to call the play back?

    Me neither.

  • --Dale Lolley

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