By most accounts, former Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell does not have much of a chance to be much more than a practice squad body for the Cincinnati Bengals. Heading into training camp, Bell finds himself buried on the depth chart at weakside linebacker behind Vontaze Burfict and Paul Dawson.
But this is just the kind of situation Bell is suited for, and he has made it a habit of rising to the challenge when it matters most.
Last year, against No. 2-ranked Ohio State, Bell recorded 18 tackles and one sack, and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, College Sports Madness National Defensive Player of the Week and the Bednarik Award Player of the Week for his efforts.
Just more than a month later, Bell was selected as the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for another 18-tackle effort, which also included a sack against Michigan State. In the process, Bell became just the eighth Nittany Lion to earn the honor since 2004 and the first since Michael Mauti in 2012.
“Brandon Bell is one of the most instinctive players that I have coached,” said Penn State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry. “He is not going to wow you on the record board, but when it comes to game film, I am not sure that I have coached a better player that recognizes and plays anticipative defense the way that Brandon does. He is a true gamer.”
Bell’s numbers at Penn State were not anything to sneeze out. During his four-year career at Linebacker U, Bell finished with 226 total tackles, including 27 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He also recorded four interceptions and forced seven fumbles.
As a senior, Bell racked up a career-high 89 tackles (41 solo and 48 assisted) in just 10 games (he missed four games due to injury). He also notched four sacks, intercepted a pair of passes and forced three fumbles. For his efforts, Bell was named to the Athlon Sports All-Big Ten third team and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten from the conference coaches and media panel.
Brandon Bell College Stats
“Brandon is a Penn Stater through and through,” said Penn State Head Coach James Franklin. “We are so excited for him to become the next member of Linebacker U to play in the NFL. He will be a great addition to the Bengals’ roster with his leadership, work ethic and football IQ. He has great instincts and feel for the game that made him an indispensable part of our defense.”
Bell, who stands 6’1” and weighs 229 pounds, turned in a respectable time of 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day (he was not invited to the NFL Combine). He also recorded a vertical jump of 32” and completed 15 repetitions at 225 pounds on the bench press. For comparison, Zach Cunningham, who was selected by the Houston Texans with the 57th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, ran a 4.67 40, had a vertical jump of 35” and also completed 15 reps.
While his speed helped him match up well with running backs and tight ends in coverage, it was his field awareness that made Bell an intriguing prospect for the Bengals. He is technically sound and a good tackler, something that has been lacking at times in the Bengals’ linebacking corps.
Injury concerns (he missed six games in his last two seasons at Penn State) contributed to keeping Bell from being drafted, but as a former high school running back, Bell is ideally suited to perform on special teams and his sure tackling puts him in the running as at least a threat to push other linebackers for a spot on the 53-man roster.