'I think I can be a good receiver in the league': David Bell's rookie season full of lessons, growth

Browns rookie receiver David Bell caught 24 passes for 241 yards last season. Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns ' top offensive addition from the 2022 draft turned out to be its third-round pick, David Bell. The wide receiver out of Purdue overcame a foot injury during training camp to work his way into the receiver rotation, playing in 16 games with three starts. He led rookie receivers with 24 catches for 241 yards while operating out of the slot.

As he signed his Panini rookie trading card late last month, Bell spoke with ESPN about his first Browns season, adjusting to Cleveland’s offense and how he can improve in 2023.

How did you think your rookie season went?

Bell: I think it went pretty good. I think I had a pretty solid season. With what was thrown at me, I think I managed it well as far as special teams, offense to playbook and I did what the coaches asked of me and I think I had a pretty good year.

What did you learn from the veteran receivers (like Amari Cooper)?

Bell: Yeah, he was a big role model and a big importance into the success that I had this rookie year. Not even just really talking to him about things, just to see the way that he worked, his work ethic, just being able to see those type of guys and when you're in the facility with them, you can see why they're the top tier of the top tier of guys in the league, like a Nick Chubb. Just see how much they work, how much they take care of their body and how much the respect they get throughout the team just because of the small details that they do throughout practice and throughout the game also.

What was the biggest adjustment going from college to the NFL for you?

Bell: The biggest adjustment was definitely the playbook. Different terminologies. We ran similar plays in college, but the terminology was different and everything was precise as far as how coach (Kevin) Stefanski wanted it and things of that nature and stuff like that. I had to adjust to that.

When you say precise, you mean the terminology or the route running or both?

Bell: The route running terminology for sure. We're real big on alignments within our offense. If (Stefanski) wants you here, then you have to be here. You can't be an inch off or an inch closer or anything like that. You just have to be exactly where he wants you because if you're not, then it'll mess up the whole dynamic of the offense.

I’m sure it was a weird year going from one quarterback in Jacoby (Brissett) to Deshaun (Watson) later on. What was the adjustment like as a receiver going from one to the next so late in the year?

Bell: I mean, it was a tough adjustment. You get comfortable with one quarterback and then the other one comes in, so it was an adjustment for everybody. But I think towards the end of the year when we started to click with Deshaun, he became more comfortable with us. I think with a full offseason and training camp, I think our offense could be pretty good.

Editor's note: Watson was suspended 11 games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy for committing sexual assault, as defined by the league, on massage therapists.

It seemed like one of the biggest adjustments was, with his ability to slip outside the pocket, working the scramble drill. Is that going to be an emphasis for everybody, and how do you feel like you can help in terms of getting open when the play breaks down and he's trying to freelance and make a play down field?

Bell: That was one of the biggest things that changed between Jacoby and Deshaun, (Watson’s) ability to get outside of the pocket. Jacoby got outside the pocket too, but as you've seen, as you watch the games, (Watson) extended plays a lot longer and I think we just got to get a feel for it. We (weren’t) really accustomed to that. Some of us just would just stand there. You’ve got to move with him because he's always going to keep the play alive. I'm like, ‘how (did) you get out of that tackle?’ But he got out of it, kept the play alive and made something happen. I think, like I said, with the offseason, us getting more comfortable with him and understanding how he wants certain things, I think we'll have that figured out.

Do you feel like your blocking is something that's underrated in your game?

Bell: I mean, I don't really think so. The coaches, they understand that I'm a good blocker and stuff like that. I don't really think it's underrated. I feel like they put me in those positions to block because they know I can do it. … it probably looked underrated from the outside. But I'm a pretty good blocker. I take pride in it. Anytime you have the opportunity to block, you got to take pride in it because it's just really about effort.

How can you take the next step in year two?

Bell: I think it's just about breaking down the film and understanding the deficiencies that I have within my game and just try to improve on those things. … I'd probably just say being able to accel off the ball faster, being able to get out of a break quicker. … Being able to maneuver DBs to get them out of alignment so I can get to the spots on the field I need to get to. Those are the things I need to work on. I think once I do work on them, I think I can be a good receiver in the league.