UCLA's Bell is now combustible in a good way

August, 18, 2008
8/18/08
6:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 Kirby Lee/US Presswire
 UCLA running back Kahlil Bell is hoping to rebound from an injury that sidelined him last season.

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA running back Kahlil Bell is blowing up, but it's the good kind of blowing up. The kind that can cause collateral improvement.

The offense needed a dose of that during a scrimmage over the weekend, and Bell, the Bruins talented and fiery running back, colorfully obliged, earning a tip of the cap from his coaches afterwards.

Bell said Monday he feels good and is ready to lead a young team with lots of question marks.

"Feels good" ("Like a pair of fur slippers," he said) is important because Bell is coming back from a knee injury that ruined what had been a stellar season (795 yards rushing through eight games). And "ready to lead" is encouraging because the Bruins offense desperately needs leaders.

Not to mention it means that Bell has harnessed his big personality for good.

Bell was nearly kicked off the team in 2006 after a locker room confrontation escalated, but he served a two-game suspension and earned back his teammates' good graces with his play and his conduct.

"That's the great thing about college football and growing up and becoming more mature -- I've learned how to talk to my teammates instead of talking at them and to try to help bring them along," the 219-pound senior said.

Bell hasn't been seeing much action during the preseason, but coach Rick Neuheisel insisted that was precautionary. Bell said his knee "is really not even an issue. It feels like I never even hurt it."

Based on the early returns on his offensive line, he's going to need to preserve his health. The rebuilt line has struggled throughout the preseason and has been unable to handle its own defensive front.

Tennessee, which visits on Sept. 1, doesn't figure to be much easier.

But Bell isn't complaining. Sure, he chewed out the entire offense over the weekend, but that shouldn't be construed as a lack of faith.

"I have the utmost confidence in our offensive line," he said.

He also said he has confidence in new coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

"Our coaches are on us," Bell said. "They are constantly in our ear telling us what to do and how to do it. It's a little bit more in-your-face than it was in the past, which is what we need with a young team."

Bell is appreciative of a second chance -- "blessed" he says twice -- both in terms of health and the locker room. So he's sympathetic with Neuheisel's struggle to reclaim his reputation.

"A lot of things have been said about me and I've been judged in a certain light, so I've kind of learned not to judge people until I get a chance to talk to them," Bell said. "Since the day he got here, he's been nothing but positive with this program."

Perhaps both will cause some collateral improvement.

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