FAYETTEVILLE — Gifted fourth-year junior defensive end Jamario Bell, 6-5, 247, has to rank among the most talented Razorbacks to have ever marked three UA seasons without a letter.
“It is very frustrating,” Bell, of Junction City, said of his past. “There have been times that may not be my time but this has got to be my time.”
It sure needs to be Bell’s time, new coach Chad Morris says winding his watch.
“Jamario Bell, a young man that you saw flashes, saw some good things out of him in spring ball,” Morris said. “But he and La’Michael Pettway (a junior talent so far largely unfulfilled) are a lot on the same category. Consistency is the key. Where are you? It’s time. You’ve been here long enough, now let’s go.”
So far so good with Bell, apparently.
“I challenged him, ‘Man, I need you to be consistent in the summer,'” Morris said before preseason drills began. “And he’s done that.”
Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell, new to these current Razorbacks but old to the state of Arkansas, concurs.
After earning his national reputation coaching defensive ends for current new Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis when Chavis’ Tennessee defense ranked among the nation’s best including the 1998 national championship, Caldwell coached Arkansas defensive ends for the 10-3 and 11-2 Arkansas team of Bobby Petrino in 2010 and 2011 and resurfaced at Arkansas State, his alma mater, after the 2012 4-8 Arkansas flop under John L. Smith caused resumes churning out of Fayetteville.
Boise State was Caldwell’s dress when Morris and Chavis summoned him back to Arkansas where he remembered the junior high kid he coaches now.
“I think Jamario has grown up a lot from what I’ve known about him.” Caldwell said. “And I knew about him when he was in the eighth grade when I was here the last time.”
Bell lived up to his billing last March and April.
“I think he improved a little bit through the spring,” Caldwell said.
A statistical understatement, that.
Bell totaled three quarterback sacks for the first two spring scrimmages then closed spring drills firmly second-team behind starting defensive ends McTelvin “Sosa” Agim and Randy Ramsey by making five tackles, two for losses, and forcing a fumble.
“If he can carry that into the fall,” Caldwell said before the August preseason drills began, “by the time we get to the first game and getting him on the field in situations where he gets his confidence that’s going to help him. Because he has the athletic ability to play.”
In fairness to Bell, injuries and the staff of former coach Bret Bielema kept Bell’s time from coming before it should.
The staff moved him like a Bekins truck.
“I played defensive end coming in,” Bell recalled of redshirting in 2015. “They switched me to Sam linebacker midway through fall camp. My sophomore year I went to tight end midway through spring. Then they took me back to defense at outside linebacker my third year. A lot of changes. I’m fine with whatever they want me to do. I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities and just try to make it a positive outcome.”
Bell actually attained first-team on Bielema’s defense last August then promptly broke his foot during a preseason practice.
“The doctors said it was an old injury from high school,” Bell said “That I had broken my foot but it was healing itself but that I had just put too much pressure on it and it broke.”
Bell didn’t play enough to letter but did return to play on special teams in the 2017 season’s final two games against SEC opponents Mississippi State and Missouri.
“The foot started feeling better with four or five games left but the coaches were being patient and didn’t want to push me back too fast,” Bell said. “They just decided the last two weeks they were going to let me come out and get my feet wet.”
The spring proved to Bell he’s in the right health at the right position and playing for the right coach.
“I’m glad just to be a defensive end working with coach Caldwell, Bell said. “Coach Caldwell — man — you can tell by his track record. He’s put guys in the NFL. (former Petrino era Razorbacks defensive ends Deatrich Wise, Trey Flowers, Mitch Loewen and Chris Smith among them. Coach Caldwell’s record speaks for itself. He’s going to demand a lot out of you.”
If they get what’s there, this Bell will toll often.