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Interview: Browns safety D’Anthony Bell

Undrafted free agent should make waves at the safety position

Safety D’Anthony Bell did not hear his name called on any of the draft days. But that doesn’t mean he cannot play in the NFL. His journey begins with being signed as a free agent by the Browns.

Bell (6’-2”, 215 pounds) is a big safety and brings versatility to the position which coaches love. He can play box, strong or free safety, nickel, dime or even linebacker if that is what is asked.

Which is what DC Joe Woods requires with his defensive backs especially the safety position. His defensive scheme regularly plays a 4-2-5 formation and also zone.

The idea behind the zone defense is to take away the center areas of the field which in turn would make opposing offenses make more completions towards the outer portions of the field. However, it didn’t always work out that way for this Browns team in 2021.

The 4-2-5 places another safety on the field or even as one of the linebackers. The 4-2-5 or even the 4-1-6 as a base formation was the dominant deployment. This requires that the defense keep some added depth at the safety position.

This plays right into Bell’s wheelhouse as he is known for some powerful hits launched at his opponents. That is how he got the nickname “Hit man.” He also runs a 4.45 in the 40.

Bell played at 205 pounds but has since put on 10 more which makes him a big safety with good strength and the physicality to allow him to match up with tight ends and not get overpowered. He was named First Team All-Gulf South Conference and also selected to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl All-Star game this past off-season.

His senior year he had two interceptions and four pass break-ups to go along with 54 tackles and two forced fumbles.

He came from the University of West Florida (UWF) where prior to 2016 there wasn’t a football program at this D-2 school. Pete Shinnick was known as a program builder and was hired as head coach. As just a five-year program (with 2020 a COVID washout), UWF consequently played for the National Championship twice, winning it all in 2019. Bell was an integral part of that championship squad.

Scouting report on Sports Illustrated:

“Safety with good size, physicality and average speed. Bell delivers hard hits and uses his frame to take on bigger receivers and blockers. His short-area agility is below average and he has limited field vision. Bell projects as a strong safety who can contribute on special teams out of the gate if he can tackle reliably. His athletic limitations likely prevent him from being more than a special teamer.”

Scouting report on Pro Football Network:

“Smooth, fluid safety with excellent size. Moves well laterally, easily changes direction, and shows excellent awareness. Plays heads-up football, keeps the defender in front of him, and possesses a burst to the action. Breaks down well, uses his hands to protect himself, and stays with assignments. Efficient, takes proper angles, and flows to the action. Does not have mental lapses on the field. Often lines up over receivers and quickly flips his hips in transition. Negatives are he gets tall in his backpedal and isn’t fluid moving in reverse. Bell possesses the size, speed, and wherewithal to be used as a free safety or in a zone system. He comes with an upside but must polish his techniques.”

Bell’s twitter handle is @DBSZN_ if you wish to follow him.

This player is a hard hitter. Just watch the sticks he makes at the :28 and 1:35 marks of the below highlight video to prove this point. caught up with D’A between workouts at his home in Covington, Georgia as he prepares for the upcoming Browns rookie mini-camp.

DBN: After high school you attended Albany State and Iowa Central Community College where you were also a kickoff and punt return man. Is this an added bonus for yourself coming to the Browns being able to play on special teams?

Bell: I would say it was a big benefit and I can help the team in that aspect. Special Teams right off is a good way for me to get on the field anyway. The return aspect is something I enjoy, but I am willing to help out on other Special Teams units.

DBN: You then attended Butler Community College. You played with your cousin Jordan Smith and boyhood friend Tay Gowan. Both are now NFL players. Was this a turning point in your football career?

Bell: That was a turning point and a big accomplishment. We talked about all the time about going to the NFL and being in the league together especially us being from where we came from. At first I didn’t realize the type of money players could make playing pro ball until Jordan and Tay got there. And then they were giving me insights on things they were doing and I got the jest of it and went ‘Oh, dang, that’s a good bit of money.’ I just always played the game because I loved it and still do.

Editor’s note: Jordan Smith is a defensive end with the Jacksonville Jaguars while Tay Gowan is a cornerback with the Philadelphia Eagles

DBN: Next, you transferred to the University of West Florida in Pensacola, a D-2 school. You started your first 15 games at safety and were known for fierce hits. Did you ever get much notoriety for your tackling style?

Bell: I kinda got the nickname “Hit man” from a teammate while at Butler. I had gotten a good tackle one game and the next week he started calling me that and it kinda stuck from there. Then when I went to UWF he stayed with me and everyone just called me that. So I just thought that is just going to be my nickname.

DBN: What did you have to do to win a starting position with UWF and become a leader?

Bell: Just kept putting in the hard work and pushing every day trying to earn those guy’s respect. There were a lot of guys already there from where they had gone to the National Championship game the year before and knew they had put in a lot of work just to get there. I had to earn the captain spot as well even though it was my first year being there on such a good team.

DBN: The following year UWF won the National Championship. Didn’t your team play all of its playoff games on the road and knock off all of the higher seeds?

Bell: We called it the “Trap Tour” during that time because we played every game as an away game at their stadium and took pride in being able to beat those teams that had better seeds than us and yet we still won. A lot of those teams thought they were a lot better than us and showed up and we showed them what we could do and play whoever - wherever.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 29 Collegiate Bowl
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DBN: As a senior this past year, you were selected to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. How did you find out you were chosen and who was the first person you told?

Bell: Coach Shinnick brought out this letter after practice one day and read it to my teammates. I didn’t know anything about it and wasn’t suspecting it. I was surprised. The first person I told was my girlfriend Lauren Robbins and then my mom, Cheryl. From there it was just me trying to keep pushing and telling myself that I was being recognized. It was a great personal accomplishment for me. I was first player at UWF to be selected to play in an All-Star bowl game.

DBN: You came from a D-2 program and now were competing against guys who were from Power 5 schools. Was that intimidating?

Bell: I think it gives me confidence. I played for several schools who had a lot of Power-5 players who transferred from those schools and now I am competing every day with them. They end up in community college before they try to go somewhere else. So I played with guys who were real good and have been heavily-recruited coming out of high school. And for me I feel I have the same athleticism and same abilities and just as good as them. I just didn’t come from those same schools. I think it turned out well with that combination for me.

DBN: The draft came and went. Who called you from the Browns and what was that conversation like?

Bell: I had already been talking to several people with the Browns at the NFLPA game and especially (defensive backs) Coach (Jeff) Howard and built a good relationship with him during this whole process. I got the call after the draft from Coach Howard and he told me they would love to have me there in Cleveland and that there was a great fit for me.

2019 NCAA Division II Football Championship Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

DBN: The Browns have some seasoned veterans and some young guys just like yourself. What are your goals going into training camp?

Bell: My goals are to go in there and be trusted by the team. Just go in and prove myself on Special Teams and that I have the ability to play at the next level. So, I just want to prove myself trustworthy on the field and eventually earn a place on the starting roster.

DBN: What kind of role do you see yourself in with the Browns?

Bell: So when I first get there I see myself getting a chance to be on Special Teams and see myself at first in that aspect. I know the Browns place a huge amount of time to this. Hopefully that will give me the opportunity to play more on defense as the season goes along.

DBN: You have the size to fit the NFL and you certainly can hit. Would you say run support is one of your strengths?

Bell: Definitely. I have always been able to get in the box and make a lot of tackles, get banged up a lot. I get after it and don’t shy away from helping out in the run game.

DBN: Describe your coverage skills.

Bell: My coverage skills are pretty good. I proved that going to the NFLPA bowl game. There I saw a lot of top tight ends and top receivers and not many of them could catch a lot of balls on me because of my size and physicality. Always room for improvement, but how much coaching I get shouldn’t be much. I enjoy covering bigger guys, too.

DBN: How much is versatility an advantage for your hopes of making the final roster?

Bell: It is a lot for me to be versatile. With me being the size that I am that enables me to play outside linebacker. I can play the nickel, I can play corner, or at safety. Special Teams. Return kicks. So having the versatility to move around and plug into any position will help me to make this roster. Any deep part of the defense is going to need guys who are bigger and faster, so that will help me a lot.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 29 Collegiate Bowl Photo by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DBN: There will be a lot of highs and lows in training camp not only as a rookie but an undrafted rookie. What will you use to push yourself forward on those darkest days?

Bell: Just thinking where I came from and the journey that I have endured. Having all the things I went through before. Just keep pushing forward and get the job done.

DBN: You are a southern kid born and raised in the sunshine. Cleveland can be a very brutal winter environment especially when those winds come off of Lake Erie. How are you going to fit into the wintertime conditions?

Bell: I also went to Iowa Central one year and was very cold. I had to adapt to the weather and yes it gets cold and is something you are not used to at first. But you do get used to it. And I can do it again.

DBN: What can Cleveland Browns fans expect from you?

Bell: Just a player who will come in and give them what they want – which is trying to get to a Super Bowl. Also being a great teammate and be consistent.