I can see Greg Bell on a GQ magazine cover. I can see him on a Geraldo Rivera show with Eric Dickerson (Dickerson: “You ain’t nothin’ but a little dwarf.” Bell: “Shut up, four eyes.”). I can see him on the league’s list of leading rushers. Atop the list of touchdown leaders. I can even see him on injured reserve.
What I can’t see is Greg Bell on the bench.
But that’s where he is these days, grabbing some aluminum, biting his tongue, watching Charles White return to the No. 1 tailback position. The whole thing makes about as much sense as a Dan Quayle speech, Lasorda pitching to Clark, the Angels hiring Doug Rader.
All Bell has done this season is score 13 touchdowns, which is 3 better than the second-place Dickerson of Indianapolis and Robb Riddick of Buffalo. He has rushed for 765 yards, which places him fourth in the league. He has 15 receptions. He blocks. He fills reporters’ notebooks. He (gasp!) plays hurt. What more can you ask of a guy who was an afterthought in the Dickerson trade, who wasn’t supposed to make the team, who was known among league types as a malcontent, a hypochondriac and a first-round reach if there ever was one?
Meanwhile, the Rams thank him by showing him a seat on the sidelines.
“But stay ready,” they tell him.
What they should have done was tell White to stay put. Let Bell run.
But no one ever said football was democracy at its best, which is why Coach John Robinson, Ram dictator that he is, has relegated Bell to the bench. Against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, Bell didn’t enter the game until the third quarter. Go figure.
“The run is just not going well,” Robinson said. “I think (Bell) had a couple of weeks where the shoulder was bothering him. But I think he’s ready to play. Given the opportunity, I think he’ll play well.”
Of course, given the correct ticket, I’ll win the Lotto, too.
It’s hard to argue with many of Robinson’s decisions this year. From draft day, to the dog days of training camp, to right now, where the Rams sit nicely in playoff contention, Robinson has done the franchise proud. He unleashed Jim Everett. The Eagle defense. The rookies. As the focus of his team has changed, Robinson has had the good sense to change with it.
But when it comes to White, Robinson has a soft spot as big as a trampoline. He adores White’s toughness. And he remembers the tribulations of 1987, when White rewarded Robinson with a National Football League rushing title. Say this for Robinson: He’s loyal. In this case, to a fault.
As best as I can tell, the worst thing Bell has done this season is not be Charles White. Otherwise, the starting tailback position would still be Bell’s to own . . . and lose fair and square.
You can argue that it was White’s job in the first place, that had he not been suspended because of testing positive for alcohol use this season, Bell would have spent most games on the sidelines, anyway. That’s fine, except that by replacing Bell, you penalize someone for being prepared and, to use one of Robinson’s favorite words, efficient.
Bell deserves better. If nothing else, he has earned better.
Robinson owes no one an explanation, except maybe Bell. He can do what he pleases. After all, it’s his team.
According to Robinson himself, he uses certain numbers to determine just how well a running back is doing. Forget total yards, Robinson says, how often does the guy gain 10 yards or more? What’s his rushing average? Robinson also examines his offensive line. Is it using the proper technique? Is it bullying defenders off the line? Is it wearing down opposing lines?
Fair enough. Disregard those 765 yards Bell and the Ram offensive line have produced. Instead, remember that nearly one-third of that yardage--243 yards--was gained on runs of 10 yards or more by Bell. Not bad.
And about that rushing average. Robinson generally uses the 4.0-yard standard. Bell’s average is 4.2.
As for his knack of getting the ball into the end zone, that can’t be ignored. Count ‘em: 11 by land, 2 by air.
And where does it get him? The bench.
Bell, who can drain a minicam’s battery pack faster than anyone in the business, has been strangely diplomatic during his demotion. Rather than demand a recount, Bell has let some air out of his ego. Maybe it’s the new surroundings, a new coach, the willingness to appease.
He will say, however, that a backup role is difficult.
“I mean, this is your job,” he said. “I don’t think you can be as prepared at a drop of a dime. Charlie could go out on the first set of plays and tear a knee up or something. You got to be ready then.
“You know what?” he said. “I try not to analyze the situation. If you get yourself in that situation, you probably do yourself more harm because you’re frustrated when you’re not getting in, or you’re not doing the things that you want to do. I’ll just leave (the controversy) alone and do what I do best, and that’s to be prepared to play.”
Prepare away, but the Rams have made their choice. The lettering is as big as a Dick and Jane text. It reads: See Charlie run. See Greg watch.