Linebacker Brandon Bell Embraces Veteran Role
Junior outside linebacker Brandon Bell understood the legacy behind No. 11 at Penn State long before he elected to adopt the iconic jersey prior to the 2015 season. Bell, who hails from Mays Landing, N.J., has done more than enough to back that decision up on the field this fall.
Without even taking his 34 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles through eight games into consideration, Bell simply looks the part of a Linebacker U standout. He oozes confidence, and loves to energize the crowd in between plays. Like LaVar Arrington and NaVorro Bowman before him, Bell has that “it” factor, and he’s translated that quality into jaw-dropping plays left and right.
The 6-foot-1, 231-pounder is the most experienced of Brent Pry’s starting linebackers. He played beyond his years as a true freshman in 2013, notching 24 tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception on his way to Big Ten Network All-Freshman Team honors. Bell steadily improved his consistency last season, his first in a leading role on Bob Shoop‘s defense, tallying 47 tackles while continuing to learn under the tutelage of Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman-White.
This season, Bell is on pace to shatter his career high in tackles, but this time around he’s the one helping his younger teammates, Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder, take the next step. The duo actually sits ahead of Bell on the stat sheet, but healthy competition is part of head coach James Franklin’s “Four Core Values,” and the team’s 6-2 mark is the only statistic that matters at this point. Cabinda’s 61 tackles lead the team, while the redshirt freshman Reeder has far exceeded expectations with 46.
Bell’s veteran presence has been integral in expediting the development of his fellow linebackers, particularly true freshmen Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper, and they know he’ll step up when the team needs him most. Bell’s enormous forced fumble of Maryland quarterback Perry Hills a few minutes into the fourth quarter of last weekend’s 31-30 road victory serves as a prime example of this notion, depicting a player with a knack for producing under pressure.
The Terps stripped Nick Scott on the kickoff return one play earlier, and seemed to be within striking distance nestled deep in Penn State territory. But Bell stalked his prey like a true lion, exploding into the backfield before knocking jarring the ball loose from Hills’ grasp. Defensive end Garrett Sickels scooped the fumble off the turf and rumbled down the sideline for nearly 40 yards.
Bell will play a big role in the Nittany Lions’ plans to shut down Illinois on Halloween in Beaver Stadium. The Illini run a more traditional offense that should provide a nice change of pace from the gouging running styles of Hills and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett the past two weeks.
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt’s forte as a drop-back passer is more comparable to the looks Penn State was adept at shutting down in its wins over Buffalo and Rutgers. Expect Bell and the rest of Shoop’s front seven to be rested and ready to go for the noon kickoff this Saturday. And of course, be sure to wear purple or gray to the game in celebration of the life of alumna Kayla Nakonechni.