For as excited as the Detroit Lions were to get a career-high 1,512 yards from scrimmage out of Reggie Bush last season, the emergence of his backup, Joique Bell, might have been just as promising a development.
Bell fell just shy of 1,200 total yards himself -- 650 rushing and 547 receiving -- plus scored eight touchdowns, all the while pushing Bush for playing time in the backfield. On numerous occasions, former Detroit coach Jim Schwartz benched Bush, who struggled with fumbles in 2013, in favor of Bell.
The 27-year-old Bell, a Michigan native, could be in line for an even larger role in 2014 thanks to Jim Caldwell's arrival as head coach. The Lions locked up the restricted free agent Tuesday with a three-year deal worth a reported $9.3 million. (Bell earlier had received a second-round tender from the Lions, which would have paid him approximately $2.1 million for 2014 had he signed it.)
"You can see what value he has," Caldwell said at the NFL combine. "He's a guy that runs the ball, runs it well. He's good, he's tough, he's smart."
The Lions offense remains built around Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the passing attack. The hiring of new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, formerly a member of New Orleans' staff, emphasized that fact. But Caldwell has floated the idea of adding a fullback to the depth chart to better take advantage of a ground game buoyed by a young line which features Riley Reiff and 2013 standout rookie Larry Warford.
Bell, at 220 pounds, is more of a between-the-tackles runner than Bush, though he finished with just one less catch (53) than Detroit's starting back. Bush and Bell's reception totals were second and third on the team, respectively, behind only Johnson.
The Lions have Bush signed through 2016, too. Interestingly enough, Bell received $4.3 million in guaranteed money -- $300K more than what Bush landed on the four-year deal he signed last offseason. That's proof alone of how highly the Lions value Bell, and the emerging back certainly earned that cash.
Grade: A-minus. Detroit now has about $20 million set aside over the next three seasons for its two running backs, should both make it to the end of their contracts. Bell may not have found such a friendly deal outside Detroit. That said, the Lions could ill-afford to lose him after how he played in 2013. It's not out of the question that Bell and Bush take on more of an even split this coming season, with Bell threatening the 1,000-yard mark on the ground.