Four years ago, Demetress Bell was a little-known draft prospect out of Northwestern State in Louisiana. On Thursday, the Eagles unveiled their prized free agent acquisition, who had spent most of the past month enjoying what it was like to be the apple of many teams' eye.
"This is my draft day for me and my mom (Gloria)," Bell said. "I just think me being comfortable playing for a coach, that means a lot to a player. If I believe in my coach, then I'll do anything he asks me. When I met with the coaches, I was happy. I was at peace when I met with (offensive line coach) Coach (Howard) Mudd and Coach (Andy) Reid."
Bell had only played three years of organized football prior to entering the NFL Draft. He went to Northwestern State on a basketball scholarship, but when he redshirted he was coaxed into playing defensive end for the football team. In his first and only game at that position, Bell said that he had 11 tackles and a sack. When the starting left tackle was injured the following year, Bell moved to the offensive side of the ball and never looked back.
In just two years as a left tackle, Bell compiled a string of 22 consecutive starts while earning first-team Associated Press FCS All-America and first-team All-Southland Conference honors. He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft. One of his new teammates in Buffalo was Jason Peters. Bell was now an NFL player, but he was known more for being the son of former NBA star Karl Malone, who has refused to be a part of Bell's life.
When the Eagles acquired Peters in a trade prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, the 6-5, 311-pound Bell was inserted into the starting lineup as the left tackle despite not playing in any games as a rookie. Bell made 30 starts over the past three seasons all at left tackle. He started all 16 games in 2010 despite a knee injury towards the end of that 2009 campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, Bell surrendered only four sacks in 2010. A shoulder injury limited him to just seven games (six starts) last season, but the Bills were 4-2 in the games he did start.
Bell became a free agent and reportedly received overtures from Arizona, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Washington. The Bills were also interested in retaining their homegrown player. However, Peters suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon just over a week ago and the Eagles entered the mix. Bell arrived in Philadelphia last Saturday for a visit and dined with Mudd on Sunday at Del Frisco's steakhouse.
The two talked for hours, but not about football. In fact, it was Mudd who pushed Bell to correct the spelling and pronunciation of his first name. Bell had spelled it Demetrius his whole life, but recently discovered on his birth certificate that it's in fact Demetress. The rapport Bell developed with Mudd made signing with the Eagles the obvious choice, but Peters' vote of confidence sealed the deal.
"When I talked to Jason after the visit, I said, 'Jason, what do you think of Coach Mudd?' He said he's the real deal," Bell said. "I said, 'Well, that's all I need to hear.' He said if you want to be a Pro Bowler, come here and you got Coach Mudd and me behind you, you don't have a choice. … Come here and let's go get a ring."
Just like he did in Buffalo, Bell will step in for Peters, who underwent surgery on Tuesday. The team has no timetable for a return.
"They are some big shoes to fill, and I'm not afraid of competition at all," Bell said of stepping in for Peters. "I do think I can get the job done. That's what they're going to bring me in to do and I'm sure that I can handle that."
Bell knows the wonders that Mudd did for Peters, who earned his fourth All-Pro nomination in 2011 and was arguably the NFL's most dominant offensive lineman. The 27-year-old Bell thinks his best football remains ahead of him.
"I don't see myself peaking for a couple more years," Bell said. "I'm kind of on the verge of playing good football and I'm not where I want to be yet."
The Eagles' swift, aggressive action in filling Peters' role solidifies one of the true strengths of this football team in the offensive line and allows for added flexibility when it comes to the NFL Draft later this month.
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