Veteran Bell grateful for another chance with Bengals

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCNINATI — Vonn Bell doesn’t regret his decision to sign with the Carolina Panthers last year, even though it ended up being perceived as a bit of a setback to his career.

When it didn’t work out with the Panthers, the door opened for Bell to make his return to the Cincinnati Bengals, and now he brings a bit of a different perspective. He’s making the most of his time on the field this offseason with a defense that is still familiar but has undergone much change since 2022.

Bell quickly resumed his role as a mentor to a young group of defensive backs but doesn’t plan on that being all he does. He is ready to prove he can still make an impact on the field this season.

“It was a hard one for me (last year in Carolina), but I guess God put me in a season to prepare myself for a moment like this,” Bell said. “I’m glad to be here and glad for the opportunity.”

The veteran safety joins a young secondary that is going through another reboot after the Bengals found replacing Bell and Jessie Bates to be more daunting of a task than imagined last year. Cincinnati counted on first- and second-year draft picks stepping into those roles, and there wasn’t enough progress to give the project another season.

Geno Stone signed as the team’s new free safety, putting Dax Hill’s future into question, and Bell will be competing with Jordan Battle to regain his strong safety job after the Nick Scott experiment failed. Bell never had competition in his three previous seasons with the Bengals but comes back with something to prove after a down year in Carolina in which he started 13 games and forced just one turnover (he caused six in 2022).

“I don’t set goals for myself personally because I think I’m selfless,” Bell said, when asked what his expectations are for himself. “I just want to be the best version of myself. I just want to keep growing and keep being ripe in this game and keep studying and just being hungry. That’s my expectation, just to take care of the little things.”

Although Bell turns 30 years old in December, he hopes to show he’s still the same player the Bengals knew previously. The only role that is certain for him right now is that of a mentor fighting for a job, but Bell said he’s “invested in the locker room” and plans to give his input and knowledge, just like he always did.

Stepping into a defensive backs room that is filled by second- and third-year players, aside from slot corner Mike Hilton, Bell sees that his role as a leader is an even more important one now. He said he’s already seeing a lot of growth since players first showed up for offseason workouts in mid-April.

The offseason workout program is a chance to “get out the kinks” and iron out everything that proved to be issues last year, Bell said. That applies to his own individual performance but also the defensive backs have dissected what needed improved and discussed as a group how to do that effectively. Having some more experience in the room with Bell, as well as Stone, should help.

“The communication has very much improved,” Bell said. “It’s noisy, guys talking before motions, pre-motion, post-motion, pre-snap and post-snap, so it’s great, but we’ve still got strides, and we’re still trying to make positive strides every day and keep on striving the right direction. I’ve told them physically and mentally and collectively as a unit we’ve got to keep making the right strides, so it’s day by day and we’re heading in the right direction.”

Bell said “putting that B back on” his chest has been a great feeling, but it has been a bit of an adjustment with some of the tweaks defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has made and with a lot of new faces.

Being back in Anarumo’s system without Bates beside him feels a little odd, too, but Bell doesn’t feel a need to recreate what he had with Bates because now there’s something new to build.

“That’s my guy for life, and what we did together was special, but just keep on going,” Bell said. “We’ve got a great group. I love the guys in the room and guys are hungry, ready to make plays. There’s been a little adjustments. Lou’s added a few nuances, but pretty much he is still him. We always thinking like-minded so we’re on the right track for sure.”

“Everybody has a lot of confidence, everyone has swagger and that’s what you want in a DB room,” he added. “Like I said, I’m going to approach each day and be grateful for the opportunity, come in each day and approach it one day at a time.”

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