BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Joique Bell stands in the back during practice, behind the huddle and behind the play.
The veteran is the most experienced running back on the Detroit Lions' roster after the release of Reggie Bush this offseason. Bell also is coming off multiple injuries that required surgery in the offseason -- something he still won’t discuss -- so he is one of a handful of Lions players who is not practicing in full or at all with the team yet.
For Bell, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Bell didn’t practice fully last offseason, either. He then proceeded to have the best season of his career behind an injury-rotated offensive line, gaining 860 yards with seven touchdowns on the ground. The 28-year-old benefited from ankle injuries to Bush, but he also thinks being able to watch during OTAs last year actually helped him during the season.
“I think I had my best season last season. I still put in my work,” Bell said at his football camp Saturday. “There are a lot of things you can do besides practicing to help you get that work in. Every day taking mental reps is just as important as being out there.
“You might learn more standing back there and seeing everything happen in front of you than in the action because you’re worried about your assignments. So I’m learning a lot.”
This occurred last season as well, allowing Bell to take a macro view of the offense when his typical view in the backfield is very much a micro look at where he is supposed to run or whom he is supposed to block. This allowed for a better understanding of the entire offense and reading defenses.
Bell said he isn’t sure when he’ll be returning to practice with the team, deflecting those questions to Lions coach Jim Caldwell. At worst, Bell should be ready by the time training camp begins in August. Until he does get on the field again, he’s able to watch and absorb along with a lifting and running regimen.
And when he does watch, he’s seeing a full offensive picture.
“For instance, if it’s an outside zone, I look to see if the outside coverage is there,” Bell said. “I look at the reads, and it kind of gives me a pre-snap of where I’m going to take this ball to. You’re looking at safety rotation, looking at linebackers.
“I’m looking at everything. Even from the running back position, I’m looking at the young guys and seeing if they are taking the right steps. I’m coaching them and learning this entire time.”
Bell has liked what rookie Ameer Abdullah showed him in limited work so far, since Abdullah attended the Rookie Premiere in California last weekend and was absent for part of the OTAs. Bell turned into the old man in the room, full of wisdom and trying to help others.
Caldwell is fine with that.
“He’s not able to do a whole lot out here now,” Caldwell said. “But he’s out there. He’s trying to coach the young guys. He’s doing all the things that he possibly can do to stay involved in it.”
The break also gives Bell rest -- critical for a running back slowly moving toward the age 30 demarcation line where production typically falls off dramatically. This unintended offseason rest along with having only 483 NFL carries entering this season could end up elongating Bell’s career.
He even joked if his 2015 is better than his 2014 -- something the Lions sorely need to happen -- this might become a yearly sit-and-watch ritual.
“If I have a better season this year, I might never work out in the offseason. Don’t jinx it,” Bell said, laughing. “I’m just playing. But we’ll see. I don’t think it’s going to hurt me in any way.
“I know my work ethic and I know the work that I do put in and the work I will put in. I think that’s why they trust me.”