Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell stopped by Elvery’s Sports Goods store in Dublin, Ireland, to promote the newly available NFL merchandise on sale there. After an autograph session with a group of diehard Irish NFL fans, Bell spoke to the assembled media. Below is the transcript of that interview.
(jokingly) And who do you play for again?
JB (laughing): Wayne State University. Floor’s open!
So, you went undrafted and were signed by the Bills in 2010 and you went through rookie minicamp and training camp with them. How did it feel to be an undrafted rookie at your first training camp? Were you nervous the whole time or just happy to be there?
JB: I was just happy to be there. Actually, I wouldn’t say happy to be there… that’s kind of out of context. I was more so happy to have the opportunity to play in the NFL. I wanted to make the most of it and size up my talent to other players. I really wanted to see where I fit in. Once I got there, I realized I could play in this league. Once I knew that, it gave me all the confidence I needed.
What is the greatest challenge facing the Lions this season to overcome the Green Bay Packers?
JB: It’s not what we have to do to beat the Packers. We don’t come into the season and train this whole offseason to say "we gotta beat the Packers!" One motto we live by is: every day you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, so we just want to be better than we were yesterday. We knew some of the mistakes we’ve made the past two years. If you look at the penalty count in 2013 and 2014, when coach Caldwell came in those numbers dropped dramatically. We just have to stay on that same path.
The Lions have something of a reputation of being bad boys, like the Raiders…
JB (smiling): We are bad boys.
Is that ill-discipline something that happened more under coach (Jim) Schwartz than coach Caldwell?
JB: I think people take that whole situation out of context. We’re going to be bad boys, but we’re not going to be bullies. That’s always been a Detroit mentality, but as far as my teammates coming from different areas, it’s just a tradition there. It’s just how we play, it’s who we are. We’re not going to be bullied around; you push us, we push back – but we do it within the whistles.
Do you think losing Ndamukong Suh this year is going to have an effect on that mentality?
JB (chuckling): Nah. That mentality is just our tradition, it’s how things are for us. Suh is a great player, probably one of the best, if not the best, at his position in the league. At the same time, this is a team sport. No one man can win a Super Bowl.
You spent some time in London recently. What are your thoughts on the potential of a franchise residing in London?
JB: I think the more the NFL brand grows, the reality of having a team in London is relatively close, probably before 2020. Especially when you consider the feedback they’re getting from the city, all the great things that are happening there, our fan base is growing in England.
What sort of training would you do at this time of year?
JB: This time of year I fly out to California and train at a facility there. I’ve been doing it for three years, it works for me. I take a week off in mid-June, then I hit a hardcore work regime of a month and a half. I come back to Detroit a week before camp and from that point on, the train is moving.
Was the snow game in Philadelphia in 2013 the toughest conditions you ever had to play in?
JB: Yeah, I never played in anything like that up to that point. With the NFL rules, if you’re playing on a grass field you can’t shovel the snow. The snow was almost a foot high. Before the game you could see the grass, there was no snow. Then we come in for the pre-game speech, we go back outside and the whole field is covered in snow. I even asked one of the coaches and he said he’d never coached in anything like before. But hey, that’s football – you have to play in the elements.
JB: I’m glad I’m not a coach, because we’ve got a lot of good players on our team. With players like Golden Tate, Calvin Johnson, and Matthew Stafford, the ball is going to be moved around a lot. We’ve got a backfield with Ameer, who is a great player learning the playbook quickly. He’s a talented kid who will only get better. Theo Riddick has improved every year and he’ll be called upon this year – and I know he’s ready. I know by the way he’s been practicing. As far as me and my carries, I never think about that too much. When it’s my time, it’s my time.
Do you see yourself as a leader in that group now?
JB (laughs): Definitely. I’m the old guy in the room now. Last year I was probably the fourth oldest cat there. We lost three other veterans, and now I’m that guy.
Where do you see your future after football?
JB: I’ve got options. I’m going back to school to get my masters and I’ve got a few ideas in mind for other things. I might just sit a couple of years and follow my son’s high school career. I might go back into coaching, which would mean a lot of man hours. When I’m done playing, I might even go work in the front office.
What position does your son play?
JB: He plays running back.
Who’s his favorite running back?
JB: He likes AP.
You mentioned you were a fan of Marshawn Lynch’s game, and he is one of the few workhorse running backs left. Do you think running back by committee will remain the rule rather than exception in the league?
JB: It depends on the team and the player. Some teams are doing that because they feel they can get more out of their running game by splitting the workload. It really depends on what the team needs, ultimately.
To follow up on that, do you reckon the kind of running backs coming out of college now are more predisposed to fitting in that committee system?
JB: Like I said, it depends on the player. With Lynch, the older he got, the better he got. He’s a force to be reckoned with and a guy you have to gameplan against. Sometimes you have to key on a runner or a receiver, but as far as running backs’ influence decreasing, I don’t think that’s going to change; they’ll always have their place.
Do you bring your offensive line out at all?
JB: Yeah, I take them out every home game. For instance, in London last year we took our whole offensive line out to a steakhouse. Reggie and I split the bill and that’s like half your salary, especially in London! Every Saturday, every home game I bring breakfast for the offensive line. Make sure you take care of the offensive line, and they’ll take care of you.
The Bears have had a notoriously bad defense the last couple of years. Do you ever get in a situation where you’re rubbing your hands together to face them?
JB: I treat every game the same way; I’m always rubbing my hands. The numbers didn’t show it, but Chicago still had a good defense. They’re a tough team to beat. I always enjoy playing our division games, because they’re more edgy. More intense.
What would a typical day of eating entail for an NFL running back?
JB: Everybody’s body is different. I take my diet seriously, because you only get out what you put in. For example, I have a lot of hair, so I go to this place that makes customized vitamin pills for you. So, I cut off one of my locks, they analyze it and tell me what my diet is missing and they’ll give me vitamin packages to take daily. Then I do my blood work for them, send it to them and they’ll do a study to tell me what foods to avoid. I take all that into consideration and I pass it on to my nutritionist and they make a meal plan for me.
Would you waver much in the offseason, like a few McDonald’s here and there?
JB: Nah, you stay strict as much as you can. When I break in mid-June and train in L.A., I get really strict with it. I might have one cheap day the whole month. You have your weak moments during the season sometimes. Like if it’s Thanksgiving, your whole family is here… you’re gonna eat good.
You mentioned the Packers and Bears, but the Vikings seem to be on the rise this season.
JB: Yeah, for sure. Their quarterback is really developing. When you have a good quarterback, it gives you a shot. We could see Teddy Bridgewater’s development from our first meeting with them last year to the second. I think the Vikings are looking for a lot of things from him, and I think he’ll be able to deliver.
Are you excited about returning to Wembley and were you surprised by the knowledge of the fans in Europe?
JB: I was surprised, not by the knowledge, but by the sheer size of the fan base. Coming over to Wembley, it was my first time in London so I was just happy to be there. It’s a beautiful city.
Is there anyone you really want to play against as far as a little trash talking?
JB: Playing against Miami, one of their players (Olivier Vernon) and I had a little go of it during a game. I kind of pushed him right before the whistle was blown, and he pushed me after the whistle. It wasn’t a hard push, but I flopped really hard and got us an extra 15 yards. I did some good acting on it, and for the rest of the game he was kind of headhunting me. (laughs) Nah, I don’t care, I’ll push anybody.
Do you think players will start to consider retiring earlier because of the recent retirements and the risk of concussions?
JB: It’s tough to say, because the awareness of concussions is a lot higher and there’s better science and study surrounding it these days. At the same time, it could still happen. It’s at each player’s discretion.