LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Joique Bell could be headed for one big weekend.

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Bell picks up his master’s degree in sports administration at Wayne State University on Saturday. The next day, he could make his season debut with the Detroit Lions in his return after they cut him in February.

“It’s funny that my first week back here is the same week that I graduate,” he said Wednesday.

Desperate for depth in its banged-up backfield, Detroit brought Bell back by signing him Tuesday.

The NFC North-leading Lions (8-4) might need Bell to play against the last-place Chicago Bears (3-9) on Sunday at Ford Field, less than a mile from where he expects 30 to 40 family members and friends to attend his commencement.

Detroit’s starting running back, Theo Riddick, didn’t practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury and his backup, Dwayne Washington, was limited because of an ankle issue. Ameer Abdullah began the season as the team’s No. 1 running back, but he has been out with a foot injury since Week 2. That leaves Bell and Zach Zenner as the Lions’ only healthy running backs on the roster.

Even though Bell is joining the team so late in the year, he did play for offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter last season in a similar offense.

“It’s coming back to me and the more I look at stuff and I’m like, ‘Oh, OK. I remember that,'” Bell said. “When I go out there, I’ll be able to play comfortably and I won’t have to think as much.”

Bell insisted he wasn’t surprised when the Lions’ new general manager, Bob Quinn, released him less than a year after he signed a two-year deal with former GM Martin Mayhew. In fact, Bell said he kept in touch with Quinn before and after Chicago signed him earlier this season. He had three carries for 6 yards on Oct. 2, when the Bears beat the Lions, and didn’t run the ball once over the next three games before being cut.

“When I left the Bears, I texted (Quinn) back and said, ‘Bring me home,'” Bell recalled. “He sent me a text the other day and said, ‘Do you want to come home?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ My heart has never left here. My family is here. I played most of his career and built my foundation here.”

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Bell, who is from Benton Harbor, Michigan, won the Harlon Hill Trophy as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year in 2009 at Wayne State, but that wasn’t enough to get him drafted.

After playing sparingly for Indianapolis and Philadelphia, he did enough well as a runner and receiver with the Lions to sign a $9.3 million, three-year contract in 2014.

“We certainly know what his traits are,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s always been a very, very positive guy. A very, very good locker-room guy. Lot of energy. Loves to play the game. And he’s a good, tough runner as well. He’s alright with the ball in his hands throwing it to him, also. There a number of different things that he can do.”

And soon, Bell will add another accomplishment to his resume when he walks across a stage in front of a crowd he is proud to say will include his 11-year-old son, Jordan.

“I always preach to the kids that I’m trying to mentor, or kids that come to my camp, how important education is,” he said. “I don’t want to tell them to do something that I haven’t done. So for me to come back to my alma mater and to finish my master’s degree there and to be able to have my son there, that’s probably one of the greatest experiences I’ll ever have as a father.”


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