By Ashley Dunkak
For a player not even selected in the draft, Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell sure is making an impression.
Without the services of dual threat Reggie Bush, the Lions needed someone to take charge of the run game, and Bell obliged Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Detroit finished with 63 yards on the ground, the exact number for which Bell accounted. It took him 20 carries to get there, but he had several runs of nine yards to more to go along with an unsettling number of rushes that went two yards or fewer. Bell also gained 69 more yards on four catches.
“Joique Bell played an outstanding game,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He set the tempo on our first scoring drive, he caught the ball well out of the backfield. There was one where they blitzed and [quarterback] Matt [Stafford] had to get it over top … and [Stafford] led him a little bit too much,
“It was a difficult play,” Schwartz continued, “and I thought that particularly the way that he finished that, it was a 12-yard run for a touchdown, bouncing off tacklers, physical running, that made a statement at the end of that drive. There wasn’t easy run fronts the entire game. He had to plow ahead, and I thought he did a great job of it. HE was good in pass protection. I thought he picked it up and played really well, and Joique has whenever he’s been given the chance.”
Bell’s extensive travels since Wayne State University included short turns with the Buffalo Bills, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles again and the New Orleans Saints before Bell landed in Detroit.
Schwartz guessed that his undrafted status had something to do with the length of time it took for Bell to settle in with one team, but he said he did not know the specifics of why any of those other franchises did not keep Bell.
“All I know is what he’s done here,” Schwartz said. “He has steadily improved. He carved out a role on special teams; he’s played well there. He’s played well every time we’ve given him a chance. The biggest thing he’s also done is secured the football, and in the past that had been an issue with him, and in this game there was a lot of physical running inside and things like that, and he was very, very secure with the football, and I think that’s an important part of his improvement also.
“He’s also made a commitment in all parts of his game to improve.” Schwartz added. “Special teams, catching the ball, running, blocking. It’s been an impressive thing to watch.”
Running parallel to the ascent of Bell has been the descent of fellow Lions running back Mikel Leshoure. Schwartz said the team’s confidence in Leshoure – who rushed for 798 yards in 2012 – is still high but that he just has not fit in the game plans.
“In this game, Joique was handling that load and Theo [Riddick] was handling some of the pass stuff that we ran,” Schwartz said. “It just never came up for him to have an opportunity to get on the field. If Joique had come out for a portion of time, [Mikel] would have filled the same role that Joique had filled, but it just never came up in the game.”
As for Bush, the core of Detroit’s ground game, Schwartz is staying secretive. Bush had said earlier that he had been ready to go against Washington but that there was uncertainty about whether his knee could withstand hits.
Schwartz stood by his decision to keep Bush out of the game, saying that he picked the 46 players who he felt gave the Lions the best chance to win the game. He also said Bush’s pleading to be put in is a run-of-the-mill occurrence.
“Every player is gaming to play,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a player say, ‘Eh, Coach, I can’t go today.’ Everybody wants to play, but you have to use discretion to figure out what’s going to be best for the team. And that’s our guiding principle: what’s best for the team? And what’s best for an individual isn’t always best for a team. And what’s best for the team isn’t always best for an individual.”
Bush has said that he will definitely be ready for next week, but Schwartz was much less committal.
“We’ll see,” Schwartz said. “When it comes to Sunday, we’ll try to do just like we did with all our players, make the best decision for 46 guys that can execute the game plan and put us in the best position to win.”