One year ago Demetrius Bell awaited microfracture surgery on his right knee, following a season-ending injury sustained Nov. 19 at Tennessee, not knowing whether or not he had a future in Buffalo.
Now with two games remaining in the 2010 campaign, he's being by praised by Bills teammates and coaches for cementing his role as the team's starting left tackle.
A 2008 seventh-round draft choice out of Northwestern State, Bell has started each of the last 22 games he has been healthy for, including all 14 this season.
Although he started eight games last year prior to his injury, after not playing at all as a rookie, Bell headed in to surgery and rehab concerned about his playing future. Any doubts have since been erased.
"I felt like it would be a 50-50 chance I'd be back or a 50-50 chance I was done, so I was kind of worried," Bell said. "Coming off surgery, I think this year's been better than I expected. (With) the progress I've made, it doesn't seem like (it's been) a year."
Due to his rehab, Bell was unable to work out during the offseason. He was back in time for training camp, easing in to drills and preseason games, and ready for opening day, but coaches gave him selected series off earlier in the season.
"They were just … giving my knee a little more time to heal, stay off it, let it rest, let those (surgical) implants heal properly," Bell said. "I didn't have an offseason last year. In the spring, when everybody else was working out, I was rehabbing."
Bell said he has been 100-percent healthy the last two weeks, and is catching up on working out and becoming increasingly comfortable at this position every week.
"I'm not limited in what I can do, I can do everything," he said. "It's coming to me slowly but surely. The more I'm (playing), the better my leg feels."
Teammates said if Bell wasn't playing at 100 percent prior to two weeks ago, it was hard to tell.
"I feel like he's been playing great all season," left guard Andy Levitre said. "I don't know if (the injury has) affected him in any way. His pass protection has been phenomenal this year; he's locked down some of the best players in the league, so it's a credit to him. Honestly, I don't know if I've even had to give him much help this year because he's been doing a great job on his own."
"He's been really effective this year – definitely improved over last year, which is all you can ask out of a player," center Eric Wood, who also sustained a season-ending leg injury last year, said. "His pass (protection) has been excellent this year. A lot of those one-on-one battles that last year he did well a lot of the time, this year he's borderline dominant. While we've all had up-and-down games this year, he's been pretty consistent."
Not bad for a player in only his sixth year of organized football.
Coach Chan Gailey said as Bell's health has improved, so have his confidence and technical skills.
"He's getting better at understanding rushers and what he has to do against rushers," Gailey said. "There are times he gets beat, but a lot of them do get beat (and) he's been going against some very good guys in the last few games."
Gailey added he sees great potential in Bell if he remains healthy.
"If he can play a whole year and go through a whole offseason of lifting and getting stronger and learning, he has a chance to be a very good player before it's over with," Gailey said.
Wood and Levitre agreed with Gailey, citing the unique athleticism Bell possesses compared to most offensive linemen.
"He's a converted basketball guy, and he's still real raw as far as football goes," Wood said. "It's kind of scary the potential he could still have in him."
"I think he's one of the best tackles in the league," Levitre said. "He's probably one of the most athletic I've seen. I'm sure he'll play in this league a while if he continues to have the success like he's had."
Bell agreed he has made great strides in his third year, attributing them to the strong work ethic that helped him persevere through a trying offseason.
"If you go and watch the tapes from last year and watch the tape from this year, I think I've made a tremendous jump," Bell said. "(It's) just hard work. I had the possibility of coming back, and I just put my mind to it and worked (through) rehab and got ready for the season."
Bell said with a full offseason of working out on horizon, one can only imagine how much he will continue to develop as a player.
"It should be a difference between night and day from what you see now," Bell said. "I should be like a totally different player."* *