No matter what Blake Bell does during the rest of training camp for the San Francisco 49ers, he’s already pulled off the highly improbable.
If not impossible.
He’s fully transformed from a high school (Bishop Carroll) and college (Oklahoma) quarterback to an NFL tight end.
He’s done what so many think Tim Tebow should do.
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Bell is a new man. Or at least a new player.
At 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, with agility and quickness, Bell certainly has the size to play tight end. And he’s one of seven left in the 49ers camp as they prepare for their second preseason game Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Right now you just put your head down and go to work every day,” Bell said in a phone interview. “Stay in the grind.”
Bell, a fourth-round pick, caught two passes for 15 yards in San Francisco’s 23-10 loss to Houston in the first preseason game. He’s in the competition of his life.
Veteran Vernon Davis, starting his 10th season, is the only lock to be on the roster. Right now, Derek Carrier, who caught nine passes for the 49ers last season, is No. 2 on the tight end depth chart.
“Even the coaches tell you that in order for you to make the team, you have to take somebody’s job,” Bell said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really felt secure about making the team. I’m just another guy who has to go out there every practice and prove that I belong.”
And continue to learn a new position while doing so. It’s amazing that Bell has put himself into this spot with so little tight end experience.
He passed for nearly 6,000 yards during his career at Carroll, then backed up Landry Jones during his first two years at OU. He started eight games at quarterback in 2013 before turning over the position to Trevor Knight.
Bell was devastated. His dream was to lead Oklahoma to a national championship as the Sooners’ quarterback.
But instead of moping, Bell agreed to move to tight end in 2014. He made eight starts with 16 catches good for 214 yards.
With his size and athleticism, many expect the 49ers to keep Bell on their 53-man roster and use him in goal-line packages as a blocker while he continues to refine himself as a tight end.
It’s likely Bell has loftier aspirations.
“I think my experience as a quarterback might make me more valuable,” Bell said. “Just from seeing different things, different coverages.”
Bell said the 49ers haven’t added any offensive wrinkles specifically for him, the way OU did in making him a goal-line “Bell-dozer” who had 11 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
Blocking is his No. 1 responsibility.
“It’s been a pretty crazy past year or so,” Bell said. “If you had asked me two years ago whether I’d ever be playing tight end in the NFL, I probably would have laughed in your face and said I was a quarterback. But once I started playing this position, I realized it was the position I should be playing.”
That doesn’t stop some people from asking Bell about whether he’ll ever make the switch back to QB. He politely reminds those folks that his quarterbacking days are finished.
That doesn’t mean, however, that he’ll never throw another pass.
I could eventually see Bell adding a lot of variety to the 49ers’ offense as a potential thrower, runner and pass catcher. It’s his athletic ability, versatility and size that make him such an intriguing NFL prospect.
The blood lines don’t hurt, either. Bell’s father, Mark, and uncle, Mike, are former NFL players. Mark was a tight end for the Seattle Seahawks and Mike was a defensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Bell said despite the competition to make the final roster, there is a camaraderie and willingness to share information among the tight end group.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been just one person who’s kind of taken me under their wing,” Bell said. “We have seven guys in that room and it’s been great being able to talk to all of them. We have young guys, old guys – Vernon is rolling into double-digit years in this league. But they’ve all done a fantastic job of teaching me things about routes or blocking techniques that I may not have known.”
Bell never played on special teams in high school, of course, and thinks maybe he was in on a field-goal kicking team once or twice at Oklahoma.
Special teams are a much bigger part of his life with the 49ers; he’s been mixed in with all of them at one time or another.
“A lot of this is really new to me,” Bell said. “I’ve had to learn a lot of new, different things.”
The potential reward is enormous. And it’s within reach. It’s fourth-and-1 and the Bell-dozer is in the backfield.