What’s this? Back to back linebackers? Next in our series is Brandon Bell, another of the three returning starters on a linebacking corps that, in this humble blogger’s opinion, isn’t just among the best of the conference—but potentially the best starting group in the nation.
How He Got Here
Someone's got to step up in the wake of Hull's departure, and though most of us foresee it will be linebacker by committee with the increased depth and talent of Nyeem Wartman-White and all the talk of Jason Cabinda's success in summer camp, Bell's presence can't be understated. He switched numbers in the offseason, to the storied #11, and though Bell himself attempted to downplay the number it has some significance.
This year's defense will find it difficult to match last year's unexpectedly awesome performance, but if Bell even partially lives up to expectations they'll be well on their way.
Now, as well all know, the defense didn’t really slow down in 2015—with the increased awesomeness that was the Penn State defensive line, their production up front actually improved. With Wartman-White out all but the first game, though, it was almost exactly the “linebacker by committee” I envisioned—but the now-departed Troy Reeder helped as well in that regard, as well as Bell and Cabinda, who slid over to take over for Wartman-White in the middle.
Like previous years, Bell suffered from some injuries throughout 2015, and missed time—but even though he only played in 11 games, he still finished the season fifth on the squad in tackles with 65 (36 solo) and was the best blitzing linebacker, with 5.5 sacks on the year (33 yards). He also saved his best performances for key games—like the big home contest against Michigan, where he came up big despite the loss.
What to Expect in 2016
The energy when Bell was on the field was palpable. The defense was simply different when #11 was on the field, which is why many of us called him the team’s best linebacker of last year.
With the return of Wartman-White and Cabinda still in the middle, that designation is one to be tested, for sure, but Bell’s more than up to the task. And though he’s had an inability to stay healthy (in addition to last season, he missed two games each his sophomore and freshmen years as well), his final season of eligibility will be his truest test.
Bell has a nose for the ball, and an uncanny ability to seek it out. Though critics might say he’s the most undisciplined of the linebackers, he’s also arguably the most athletic and natural at the position—and thus the most exciting to watch. He’s a true playmaker, with the ability to turn the tide of any game every time he steps on to the field.