Originally created 08/13/02

Second season crucial for Bell



LATROBE, Pa. - With Hall of Famers Mean Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount as alumni, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a rich defensive tradition, and Kendrell Bell already fits in.

While the Steelers believed the second-round draft pick eventually would be a superstar in the NFL, Bell needed just a week to prove it last season.

During the club's initial goal-line drills at training camp, Bell filled a hole and drilled Jerome Bettis for a loss in the backfield. Fans in attendance cheered wildly, Bell's No. 97 jersey sold like wildfire, and another legend was born.

"I don't know about that," a modest Bell said during his second training camp this past week at Saint Vincent College. "I'm just trying to get better all the time to help this defense be the best that it can be this season."

Bell's explosion onto the NFL scene and into opponent's backfields helped the Steelers secure a No. 1 rating for their defense last season. After earning defensive rookie of the year honors last season, the Laney High School grad has continued to make an impact on the club's defense this season.

The 6-foot-1, 254-pound Bell is a ferocious, explosive hitter, and Steelers linebackers coach Mike Archer put him in a down, rushing end position in the passing defense and moved Joey Porter to middle linebacker.

"When we have both Kendrell and Joey on the field, it makes us more athletic and a lot faster on defense," Archer said. "Joey has made a lot of progress, and we believe he's going to be a bigger force in the middle.

"One of the reasons that we improved so much last year was our increase in speed on defense, and we believe that has improved even more this year. So, I'm looking forward to seeing us progress throughout the season."

Steelers coach Bill Cowher also did not expect immediate success since Bell primarily played just two downs last season, while Porter played rush end.

"It's going to be an ongoing and growing process for Joey all season, and the same thing with Kendrell," Cowher said. "It's a new role for each of them, and there are new responsibilities. So, I think there's going to be some growing pains with that, and I think that's understandable. It's not something that they're just going to get overnight. So, we just have to be patient.

"For Kendrell, he just needs to understand the games (stunts), the blitzes and all those things that another down brings responsibility-wise. But I think we're just putting two very good football players on the field. They might make some big plays and then they might screw up, too, but in the long run we definitely believe that we're going to benefit from this."

With Bell's athleticism and tenacity, he apparently is tailor-made for his new position in the specialty defense and should be even better from his inside linebacker spot in the base defense.

Bell cautioned that it won't be like he'll be able to just tee off on the quarterback, but he's excited to get a chance.

"The only things I really need to work on are the pass-rushing techniques and all the plays," Bell said. "Sure, I rush the passer, but I have a lot of the same pass coverages that I need to know like when I was inside. I have to worry about containing guys like Steve McNair so they don't get around me.

"There's a lot of different things that I have to know to be down on the end in the dime. Personally, I just try to grasp the whole concept of the defense as much as I can in case I need to help someone else. Last year, Earl (Holmes) helped me out, and he was very vocal. But we have to move on."

Bell is the Steelers' future, as well as their present, and anyone who has watched him play would know that his potential is unlimited.

"I've always had a lot of people believe in me that I was going to amount to something, but nothing's guaranteed in our lives," Bell said. "My immediate family, the four of us, they're behind me all the way.

"Actually, my immediate family is pretty much satisfied just that I made it into the NFL, and a lot of my close friends are the same way. But I get praised whenever I get back home no matter how well I play.

"It's not common, where I'm from, for players to go to the NFL or be in some profession where you're well-known," Bell added. "So, I guess it's a big thing that I'm in the NFL, but I'm really not that well-known yet."

If Bell maintains his current progression, that's only a matter of time.