MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Joique Bell already has a line on the Lions' new boss

Posted Jan 20, 2014

In this week’s Monday Countdown, Mike O'Hara looks at connections, and what they might mean in the Lions’ coaching change

Joique Bell was travelling when word got out last week that the Lions had hired Jim Caldwell as head coach. Bell tried unsuccessfully to make connections to get to Detroit to attend Caldwell’s press conference at Ford Field Wednesday.

"I missed my flight, " Bell said later in the week.

Bell already has a line on the Lions’ new boss. As a rookie in 2010, Bell was active for five games with the Indianapolis Colts, where Caldwell was in his second season as head coach.

Although he didn’t have a carry or catch a pass and played primarily on special teams for the Colts, It was an eye-opening experience for Bell, who that year already had been in training camp with Buffalo and on Philadelphia’s practice squad.

Connections can mean a lot when there is a change in leadership at any position – from ownership, to front office, head coach, coordinator or position coach. Bell should have a strong connection in Detroit because of his production the last two years under former head coach Jim Schwartz as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

This week’s Monday Countdown looks at connections, and what they might mean in the Lions’ coaching change. There also is a look back at a few contract negotiations that lie ahead for the Lions, some failed predictions, and my take on how legacies stand now for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady after Sunday’s AFC Championship.

We start with Joique Bell:

Joique BellRB Joique Bell (Photo: Gavin Smith)

1. Style change: "I’m excited to see what this year brings, " Bell said. "So, we lost one Jim and got another?"

Comparisons?

"Two different coaching styles, " Bell said. "Coach Caldwell  is more . . .  I wouldn’t say mellow. Coach Schwartz is more aggressive. Coach Caldwell is a very direct guy. You know what? I’ve never heard coach Caldwell use a bad word. He comes from a real spiritual family. It’s similar to my family.

"I’ve never heard him use profanity. I’ve never heard him really yell."

2. Peyton’s place: Bell was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2010 when the Colts signed him to their active roster. He went from one high-profile quarterback to another – Michael Vick in Philly, Peyton Manning in Indy – whose styles could not be more dissimilar.

"Peyton’s just a freak genius, " Bell said. "Mike is a freak athlete. "

Manning’s preparation is legendary. It’s unlike that of any other quarterback in the NFL. If anything, it’s understated as opposed to being over-blown. Bell’s time with the Colts was a five-week tutorial on being a pro.

"Playing with those guys, it taught me a lot, " Bell said. "I know Peyton taught me a lot, just being back there with him.

"He had his own meetings every week with all the skilled players after practice, either Wednesday or Thursday. He’d have his own meetings the Saturday before the games.

"His preparation – his mental preparation, it’s astounding. "

3. Colts/Caldwell 2010: I don’t quite but the argument that Caldwell inherited a pat hand in 2009 when he was elevated to head coach from assistant head coach with the retirement of Tony Dungy.

The Colts of 2008 were 12-4, finished a game behind the Titans in the AFC South, and lost on the road to San Diego in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Caldwell took a good hand and made it better, with a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl appearance – a loss to the Saints.

That so-called pat hand was a bunch of broken or dislocated parts in 2010. The Colts finished the season with 18 players on injured reserve.

The Colts won their last four games to go from 6-6 to 10-6 and win the division by two games. Three of the wins were over division rivals – Jacksonville and the Titans twice. They lost to the Jets in the wild-card round.

4. Bell’s free-agent bell: Teams can begin contacting free agents on other teams on March 8 and start signing them on March 11. Bell isn’t looking forward to either date.

Bell’s heart is in Detroit, and he is steadfast in his desire to remain a Lion. He could attract suitors, even given his status as a restricted free agent with three seasons of accredited service. Teams have the right to match any offer given to a restricted free agent as long as they have tendered an offer, or accept compensation in the form of draft picks.

The Lions are likely to tender Bell at a level that would give them a second-round pick should they not match another team’s offer.

Bell’s story and connections to the Lions are well known. He went to high school in Benton Harbor and played in college at Wayne State in midtown Detroit. He once worked as a security guard during Lions training camp.

"I was at an appearance (Thursday night), and they asked me the same question – why I want to stay in Detroit, " Bell said. "I’ve been in Michigan my entire life. I was born and raised here. I played my whole career here.

"When you grow up in a certain area, you have a certain kind of pride and a certain respect for where you come from. I’m not just playing for me. I’m playing for the fans who were here when there was an 0-16 season and they're still here.

"I wasn’t a fan who said, ‘They need to do better.' " I was a fan who said, ‘One day, I’m going to go help that team to better.’ I was blessed enough to do so. "

5. Negotiating game: The Lions have some hard bargaining ahead.

At the top of the list is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He is a dynamic force and in his prime after four seasons, with one year left on the rookie contract signed in 2010. His salary-cap number for 2014 will be a little more than $22 million, without a contract extension.

The word from those who know Suh is that he likes playing for the Lions, likes having his base in Detroit, and wants to be part of the nucleus that turns the Lions into a consistent winner. The obvious question that comes with that is, are the Lions set up to win? I’d think so, but that’s something Suh has to decide.

My bet is that there will be an extension for Suh, likely before March 11.

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and center Dominic Raiola are starters who are up for free-agency. Both played well last year in what could be considered recovery seasons for both. Willie Young, a starting defensive end, is another whose value has to be weighed.

Brandon PettigrewTE Brandon Pettigrew (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Wide receiver Nate Burleson is due a base salary of $5.5 million on the last year of his contract. He took a hefty cut in his base last year to $2 million and no doubt will be asked to take another reduction this year – assuming he’s in the new staff’s plans for what surely will be a retooling of the receivers.

Safety Louis Delmas, who played all 16 games for the first time in his five-year career, also has a base of $5.5 million coming.

6. Paris in New York: Paris Lenon has been a solid, reliable linebacker who spent three seasons (2006-08) with the Lions in a 12-year career that is culminating in a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII with the AFC Champion Denver Broncos.

Lenon’s been a starter most of his career, and it’s hard to imagine that any player endured more losing than Lenon did in a three-year span with the Lions and Rams.

From midseason of 2007 through the end of 2009, Lenon played on teams with a combined won-lost record of 2-38.

The Lions went 1-7 in the last eight games of 2007 and 0-16 in ’08. In 2009, Lenon signed with the Rams, who went 1-15.

The two victories weren’t exactly glorious conquests. In the second half of ’07,  the Lions’ only victory was over the Chiefs, who lost their last eight games.

The 2009 Rams beat one team – the Lions, who were 2-14.

7. Picked clean: My preseason pick was for the Lions to go 9-7, and for the Packers to win the NFC North. I was half right – but the Lions still should have been 9-7, at least, instead of 7-9.

I had the Seahawks and Bengals in the Super Bowl.

There’s always next year.

8. Manning-Brady: Brady won three Super Bowls with the Patriots from the 2001 season through 2004, but in the last nine years he’s lost twice in the Super Bowl and two more times in the AFC Championship – including Sunday’s beat-down by Manning’s Broncos.

Since the 2005 season, Manning is 1-1 in Super Bowls – a winner with the ’05 Colts and a loser with ’09 Colts.

If Manning wins another Super Bowl, the question is whether a 2-1 record for Manning and a 0-2 mark for Brady since Brady last won a championship elevates Manning past Brady.

It’s not automatic that Brady stays on top. Feel free to disagree.