If the New Orleans Saints had won their wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks in January, coach Sean Payton could have faced quite a dilemma the following week.
Because of injuries to Reggie Bush and Julius Jones during the loss to the Seahawks, Payton likely would’ve been down to two healthy running backs - including one whose name he couldn’t pronounce.
Rookie Joique Bell, who had never carried the ball in an NFL regular-season game, was signed by the Saints three days before the Seahawks game after Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory were put on injured reserve.
While he was inactive against the Seahawks, it’s possible Bell (whose name is pronounced Joyk) would have been front and center with DeShawn Wynn if there had been another game.
“I was going to be playing in the next game, but we weren’t quite able to make it,” Bell said of his new team’s shocking 41-36 loss to the Seahawks. “But that just made me more hungry for this season.”
When Bell joined the Saints, it ended a season-long odyssey in which he played with Buffalo, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. And while the Saints didn’t get to see him in January, they are now.
They’re impressed with what they’ve seen in training camp and in the one exhibition game he played in before suffering a sprained left knee.
“He’s stood out ? he’s elusive, he has speed and can run with power,” Payton said of the 5-foot-11, 226-pound Bell. “He’s picked things up, and he’s a confident player.”
The opportunity to participate in practices in May and June that quarterback Drew Brees organized during the lockout helped Bell finally get acquainted with his teammates - even if they didn’t know his first name.
“It was good to come down here and work with the team and meet the guys I met in January,” Bell said. “It was good to spend time with them and it was good for team chemistry. On and off the field, we were able to build on the family-oriented team the Saints have here.
“When a team is really close, you can play for each other and you know what the next man is going to do,” he said.
The Saints restocked their backfield during the offseason, bringing in Mark Ingram with the second of their two first-round draft picks and signing unrestricted free agent Darren Sproles. Thomas is also back healthy.
But their presence hasn’t fazed Bell, who was awarded the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2009 as the Division II Player of the Year at Wayne State in Michigan after he rushed for 2,084 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Bell turned down scholarship offers from Michigan and Michigan State because they wanted him to play defensive back, and while his days as a featured back are probably over, he said he’d be happy to fill in on a moment’s notice if needed.
“I’m always up for the challenge,” said Bell, who likely made third-year pro Lynell Hamilton expendable early in camp. “The NFL is a ?right now’ league. It’s kind of, ?What can you do for me right now?’ I feel I can get out there and contribute to this team winning a Super Bowl this year.
“The coaches have a hard job as it is trying to find out who’s going to fit in,” he added. “So it’s my job to come in and do what I have to do in order to make the roster. I just have to be patient.”
Bell is hoping to make their decision for the four running back spots harder with his play on special teams. He was working with the various kick coverage and kick receiving teams until suffering a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in a 24-3 exhibition win over the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 12.
But after missing just four practices, Bell was back at work last week and is hoping to continue his bid for a roster spot in Sunday night’s exhibition game at Oakland.
Payton wants to get another good look at him after Bell led the Saints in rushing with 52 yards on nine carries against the 49ers.
“I thought he played well the other night,” Payton said when Bell returned to the practice field. “I thought he stood out, and he has in practices.”