Spartans' Bell to broaden role this season

Le'Veon Bell's surroundings have changed at Michigan State.

The quarterback who handed him the ball the past two seasons, Kirk Cousins, is gone. The wide receivers who sparked the passing attack -- B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol -- also have departed, along with top tight end Brian Linthicum. Bell's top backfield competitor, Edwin Baker, made an early jump to the NFL draft.

When it comes to Michigan State offensive skill players who made contributions last season and remain on the roster, Bell's name is at the top of a very short list. The junior was the Spartans' top rusher in 2011 with 182 carries (no returning player has more than 30). He was the Spartans' third-leading receiver in 2011 with 35 receptions (no returning player has more than 12).

With so many unknowns elsewhere, Bell will be the focal point of an offense based more around one of the team's mottos: pound green pound.

"I definitely feel like we'll be more of a running team this year," Bell told ESPN.com. "We've got me and Larry [Caper] in the back, an experienced offensive line, not proven receivers yet, so we've got to get those guys more comfortable. We have a lot of things on our shoulders."

Bell and Caper, the team's leading rusher in 2009, will receive the bulk of the carries this fall. Michigan State used both backs on the field more toward the end of last season. Given Bell's versatility and significant question marks at receiver, the pattern should continue this fall.

"We need to get our best guys on the field," Bell said, "having two running backs out there, splitting me out because I can come out of the backfield and catch the ball, too, or line me up in the slot. I feel real comfortable with it. I get the chance to really showcase what I can do."

Bell has recovered from an offseason hamstring injury that caused his listed weight (244 pounds) to be a bit higher than his actual playing weight (236). His sturdy frame seems to lend itself to being a bell-cow back, but Bell hasn't logged more than 20 carries in a game and expects 15-20 carries per game this season.

While that number might sound low to some Spartans fans, when factored in with Bell's increased role as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, it should be sufficient. Unlike Baker in 2011, Bell isn't setting any specific statistical goals, but he'll have a chance to record some big numbers.

"I'll get a lot of touches," Bell said.

Although Bell is entering only his third year in the program, he recognizes the added responsibility on his shoulders. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio appeared to call out Bell early this spring for a complacent approach. Bell quickly rectified his situation, and Dantonio shouldn't have to worry this fall.

"I'm helping out younger guys at the position and make sure everyone knows the plays," he said. "I have to learn every position this year, so when I'm out at receiver or wherever I may be, I know what I'm doing.

"I've got to be a leader."