Tatum Bell ran for 87 yards in the first game last season, but he lost his starting job to Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett.
Paul Sancya / AP Enlarge
ALLEN PARK, Mich. - Tatum Bell walked off the practice field, wearing a Honolulu blue jersey and holding a silver helmet.
The running back would've wagered his house, car, and clothes there was no chance of that happening this season.
"I would've bet everything I had that I wouldn't be a
Detroit Lion this year," Bell said yesterday after the opening day of training camp. "I know for a fact if Mike Martz was here, I wouldn't be here."
The Lions and Martz parted ways during the offseason, and the pass-happy offensive coordinator was hired by the San Francisco 49ers.
After running for nearly 2,000 yards and scoring 10 times over two seasons in Denver, Bell had a solid Detroit debut under Martz with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown in a win over the Oakland Raiders.
He started the next four games before being benched for the rest of the season, losing his job and carries to Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett, both of whom are ex-Lions. Jones was cut and signed by the Chicago Bears, and Duckett wasn't re-signed and landed with the Seattle Seahawks.
"Martz was the only person that had a problem with me. He never told me why I wasn't playing, and that's the only thing that bothers me to this day," Bell said. "In training camp before KJ got back, I was his guy. When KJ got back, I went from starter to scout team."
As bitter as Bell was and still is, he kept relatively quiet last season, and that ended up helping him sign a one-year deal with the Lions in March.
"I really respected how he handled last year and what he went through," Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said. "He was a pro all the way.
"This system that we're in right now is what he was used to in Denver. I think he's got a great opportunity."
Bell said persistent calls from offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, assistant head coach Kippy Brown, and running backs coach Sam Gash persuaded him to return.
"They kept calling me saying 'We want you back. Martz is gone. We're going to run the zone scheme you ran in Denver,'•" Bell recalled. "At first, it was going in one ear and out the other. But then I started listening, and I got excited."
Bell will likely be the No. 1 running back when the season begins Sept. 7 in Atlanta, but he might have to hold off rookie Kevin Smith to keep it the rest of the season.
The third-round pick ran for 2,567 yards last year - just 62 short of breaking Barry Sanders' NCAA record - and scored 30 times.
"It's a good feeling being a part of a team that wants to run the zone and run it to death like I did at UCF," Smith said.
Lions quarterback Jon Kitna knows he will be handing the ball off much more than he did in the previous two seasons under Martz, but he's looking forward to directing a run-first offense.
"It's a great philosophy to have," he said. "I think Coach Martz kind of gets a bum rap that way, but we're going to have more emphasis on it, and we're going to be more committed to it."
BODDEN SIGNS: The Lions and cornerback Leigh Bodden have agreed on a $27 million, four-year contract extension, a person with knowledge of the deal told the Associated Press.
The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were confidential, said Bodden's deal included a $2 million signing bonus.
CHERILUS SIGNS: Gosder Cherilus joined the Lions in time to be on the field for their first practice of the year.
The offensive tackle's agent said his client signed a five-year contract worth almost $15 million with nearly $8.9 million guaranteed. Cherilus of Boston College was the 17th pick in April's draft. He is expected to start at right tackle.