Vonn Bell used to arrive at the New Orleans Saints’ facility before the crack of dawn, expecting to be the first to arrive to quietly get in some extra film study before the others arrived. He admittedly was a little irked that quarterback Drew Brees beat him there every time, but in watching how Brees worked, he learned from one of the best players in the game.
The new Cincinnati Bengals safety always has wanted to stand out for his work ethic, and he carried that with him to his new team, where he looks to make an impact on a defense considered the league’s worst in 2019.
Bell, a former Ohio State University safety who came to the Bengals through free agency, goes to bed each night around 8 or 9 p.m. and is up early every day, doing a home workout at 4 a.m. before heading off to work. He was doing 4 a.m. workouts even during the offseason.
“It started at an early age with my parents, just having a blue-collar working mindset and just going to work and getting it every day,” Bell said his first video conference with local media since signing a three-year deal with the Bengals in March. “Nothing is given. We just had to go out and get it every day and find a way. … I just always wanted to do extra. I wanted to get ahead of everyone, get ahead of the curve. That’s what really drove me from high school to college and from college to the professional (level). That’s what really makes you stick out in the league — having that extra edge and just getting up before everybody else.”
Bell said he puts in the extra work to improve himself, but he considers himself a servant to his teammates.
His “No Bull” hat fits him well. Bell said he’s all business, and that’s one of the things the Bengals liked about him. He’s a physical strong safety known for his tackling, among other things, as he made 83 tackles or more each of his four seasons with the Saints.
“He’s a football player in all areas,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Wednesday. “The guy is a workhorse from a meeting standpoint, great communication, great leader and he’s a physical guy. We got younger back there a little bit with him. He’s a good blitzer. I’m just excited to get him and see him move in a live situation. He really brings a bunch of energy and juice to the group. We are excited about him.”
The 5-foot-11 defensive back had plenty of options to go elsewhere when his rookie contract expired, but he liked the culture Zac Taylor is trying to build in Cincinnati and felt it was the best fit, along with the $18 million offer bringing him back to the Buckeye State for the next three years.
Bell knew a few of the players on defense, such as former Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, and leaned on past relationships to get a better read on the organization. He did as much research on the team as he could, while his agent was making calls around the league. In the end,
“I believe in the pieces that they brought into free agency and the guys in the locker room, so I just felt like it was going to be a great mold, and I’m glad to be here,” Bell said. “I think it will be a good mold, what we’re gonna do on the back end and that side of the ball, the 11 that’s gonna be out there, so I’m ecstatic to be out there and I’m just ready to get to work every day.”
Asked specifically what he liked about the culture of the team, Bell said Taylor “wants a ferocious team,” and that fit his mentality well.
“He wants guys who are hungry and guys that come to work every day and challenge and compete,” Bell said. “That’s the main things in this game. That’s what you have to do every day in practice, and it carries on off the field, too, because you’re competing with yourself, taking care of your body and the playbook and guys showing leadership in the locker room.”
Bell wants to be known as a leader, but he also brings a high football IQ and versatility. He said he fits into Anarumo’s scheme as someone who can swarm to the ball and stop the run, but he also is a capable defender outside the box and can contribute to all three levels of the defense.
Bell said he’s not worried about how a rebuilt defense will jell together in Cincinnati. The Bengals have 17 new players on defense, from free agent signings to draft picks and undrafted college free agents.
“We’ve just got to be on the same page with the same terminology, do a lot of walkthroughs and really stay active,” Bell said. “The after-hours, that’s really gonna be key, ... (so we can) go out there and play fast and have fun with one another.”