Photo by Eric Francis

Greg Bell Showing Steady Improvement in Crowded Nebraska Running Backs Room

August 16, 2018
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There was a lot of talk about junior college transfer Greg Bell before he arrived at Nebraska, and there was good reason for it. The running back rushed for 2,404 yards and 18 touchdowns in his two seasons at Arizona Western Community College. He also averaged 114.5 yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry, making him of the top-rated JUCO running backs in the last recruiting cycle.

Once at Nebraska, Bell continued to show why he was so highly rated. In the spring game along, Bell rushed eight times for 54 yards, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. He was one of the players who delivered big performances for Nebraska in the spring.

Since then, Bell has found himself in a crowded running backs room. That includes competition from junior Tre Bryant, who is returning from a season-ending knee injury in 2017, and newcomer Maurice Washington.

In Bryant's case, it was unknown how available he'd be in 2018 after the injury. Previous staff’s general statements may have cast his longterm future into doubt. The junior never saw it as a matter of "if" he'd return, though. It was a matter of "when." Having him return healthy for fall camp was a big win for Nebraska and the running backs room.

As for Washington, he has earned consistent rave reviews since arriving in Lincoln. Even after missing summer conditioning and having to play catch up with the playbook, Washington has shown flashes of the ability that made him such a sought-after recruit. 

While there will be plenty of competition, it's important to remember why Bell was such an important player in Nebraska's 2018 recruiting class. 

“He’s a guy that has the acceleration piece, he can [also] run good routes," Held said. "He has really good feet. His nickname is 'The Eel' because he can really plant and get skinny into the little cracks. He has the ability with his feet to press, plant and burst very quickly. In our offense, he can play with those linebackers and get some bigger plays than maybe some other guys can because they don’t have the feet that he does.”

While Held is impressed by Bell's athleticism, he believes the running back's knowledge of the offense still needs improvement. He'd like Bell to be able to see the signal and apply it, which is something that just took some time in the spring. While Bell has gotten better at it, learning the concepts in the playbook will help the offense be more multiple in formations than they are right now.

Offensive coordinator Troy Walters agrees.

“In the spring, he was just kind of going on athletic ability," Walters said Wednesday. "Now he truly understands the offense. He’s not making as many mental errors as he did in the spring. He’s a guy, you’ve just got to get the ball in his hands. And if you get the ball in his hands, he’s able to make things happen.”

Bell feels everything has improved for him over the spring and summer. He credited head strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval and the entire strength staff for their work over the summer, which helped his running and cutting improve.

By the time fall camp rolled around, his progress was noticed by his coaches. There's still some areas for improvement, though.

“I think he’s progressed very nicely to this point," Held said. "I think he’s a guy that will definitely help us. He’s in the mix for the first nod of the year but nothing has been decided. We still have 18 more days. He’s getting better and had a good day today.

"The biggest deal with our guys is that we have to take care of the ball as a group. We didn’t fumble in the scrimmage and we didn’t fumble today. At UCF, we fumbled three times the whole year. We have to be able to take care of the ball with all the moving parts. If we can do that, if gives us a chance to do some special things.”

While the progress has been good, don’t expect Held to ease up on his running backs any time soon. He wants constant pressure applied to get the most out of his players.

“I’m melting like a snow cone in Phoenix right now,” Held said. “It’s a lot of energy out there. We are positive with these guys because we want them to keep progressing but they have to be hungry and understand what our standard is.” 

For someone like Greg "The Eel" Bell, that pressure may be exactly what he needs.

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