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David Bell readying for possible role at slot WR

Bell’s skills are ripe for the slot position, where the Browns are looking for a new every-down player


David Bell is ready to play anywhere in the Browns' offense, but several signs from Berea so far point to one spot in particular where he could make an early impact: the slot.

At 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds, Bell, the Browns' third-round rookie receiver from Purdue, has the frame and route-running skills to thrive in the role. The Browns have a vacancy at the slot position following the departure of Jarvis Landry, and Bell could be the Browns' top candidate to succeed him after three accolade-filled years in West Lafayette.

"(I'll play) wherever they need me," Bell said Friday before the Browns' first practice of rookie minicamp. "Whether it's outside, inside, in the backfield if they want to hand me the ball a little bit — I doubt it — but where coach decides to put me, that's where I see it."

Bell has the tools to fit nicely regardless of where he's used. The Browns believed he had some of the best hands and route-running skills of the draft class because he produced in both inside and outside roles with the Boilermakers, where he topped 1,000 yards in two of his three seasons and tallied only 11 drops among his 232 career receptions. He was a First Team All-American and First Team All Big-Ten WR of the Year in 2021.

Bell said the Browns have already told him he'll take snaps in the slot as a rookie, but it's still way too early to know how many he'll handle on a weekly basis. The biggest emphasis for him now, as with all rookies, is to study the playbook and progress through OTAs so that he can be fully prepared to audition for the slot position in training camp.

"They just said, 'You're going to be in the slot a little bit this year, so get adjusted to the playbook and make sure you know what to do and when to do it,'" Bell said. "I'm really just looking forward to the opportunity."

Check out photos of players and coaches during the third day of Rookie Minicamp.

Bell could have an immediate opportunity to see high snap volumes if he can carve out a slot role. His competition will consist of two other young receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz, although both players mostly played on the outside in 2021. 

To put it simply: The role is there for Bell to take, and the Browns have made it clear that they believe he has the tools to grab it as a rookie and be a sizable contributor in their offense from the jump.

"I think he has versatility outside and inside," coach Kevin Stefanski said Friday. "I do think he has a natural competitiveness both in route-running and in route-catching, and the ability in the route-running game to set people up and drop your weight. Those type of things."

That goes hand-in-hand with what Bell believes is the top advantage of playing in the slot. 

Typically, the slot cornerback lines up a few yards behind the scrimmage rather than beginning the play right in the receiver's face. The extra room allows for a slot receiver a bit more time to possibly fool the defender and create separation.

"I think it gives you a little bit more freedom," Bell said. "He's about 5 to 6 yards off, so you can get up on his toes and have a lot of space to create even more space."

That task, however, will be much harder to do at the NFL level, and Bell knows it. That's why he's prioritizing learning the playbook first so he's ready to handle all plays necessary to train for the role in training camp.

And if Bell succeeds, get ready to see him a lot in the offense early in 2022.

"At first, it's going to be a little challenging," Bell said, "but once I get the repetition and be on the field and do it on the field with players around me, I think I'll be good."

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