Le'Veon Bell was admittingly not himself in 2019. After sitting out the entire 2018 season, he rushed for a career low 789 yards during his first season with the Jets. But Bell, a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro during his five seasons with the Steelers, is motivated to show that he is still one of the NFL's elite running backs.
Bell, 28, says he is in the best shape of his career heading into the 2020 season. He is currently at 210 pounds, about 12 pounds below his usual playing weight. Bell's hard work was recognized by Jets coach Adam Gase on Thursday. Gase, who is entering his second season in New York, said that Bell is in "phenomenal shape."
"He's probably in the best shape of anyone on our team," Gase said, via ESPN's Rich Cimini.
Bell attributes his time in the boxing ring to his vastly improved conditioning.
"Boxing is a mentality thing," Bell said, via the team's Twitter account earlier this week. "When you're boxing, you don't know how far you have to go … Even when you're tired, your body is still performing. So when people are slowing down, you're still at the same speed. That's what boxing helps provide."
Bell said that his weight, speed and strength are where they are supposed to be entering his second season with the Jets. That is a far cry from where Bell said his fitness was this time a year ago.
"I had the itch to get back to playing football last year, (but) I didn't have my body ready how I needed to have my body ready to be special," said Bell, who added that his weight, speed and strength is where it is supposed to be. "This is going to be the first opportunity (with the Jets) where I get show that I can be special."
This is the third time Bell has shed significant amount of weight since coming into the NFL in 2013. Following his rookie season with the Steelers, the 6-foot-1 running back lost around 20 pounds in order to be more of a threat on the outside and in the passing game. The result was a breakout season for Bell, who amassed 2,215 all-purpose yards while earning All-Pro honors for the first time. Two years later, following a serious knee injury that prematurely ended his 2015 season, an even leaner Bell averaged a career-high 106 rushing yards per game that included a Steelers franchise record 236 yards against the Bills. He then rushed for a franchise playoff record 167 yards and two scores against Gase's Dolphins in Pittsburgh's wild card playoff win over Miami.
Despite his exceptional physical condition, the Jets are currently sharing the workload between Bell and Frank Gore, as the team is mindful to not overwork the starter. The hope is that Bell is able to reclaim his place as one of the NFL's best running backs while helping the Jets post their first winning record in five years.
"I love how nobody is really giving me a chance," Bell said. "You have to use that for fuel. This is the best I've ever felt, so I'm eager to see what I'm able to do this year."