JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Brandon Bell's junior season at Penn State has not gone as smoothly as he would have liked with nagging injuries that kept him out of two games and left him at less than 100 percent for a few others.
But like the rest of his teammates, the linebacker and graduate of Oakcrest High School in South Jersey has had a chance to rest and recuperate since the Nittany Lions' final regular-season game on Nov. 28, and he's ready to end his season Saturday in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia on a successful note.
"It's a long season," Bell said. "Everyone on the team has been nicked up at some point. But I feel a lot better right now. It's kind of a grind every week just making sure I'd be able to get out there, but the last few weeks I've felt really good."
The nature of Bell's injuries during the season was not disclosed by head coach James Franklin, who declines to discuss such topics as a matter of team policy.
Despite the bumps and bruises, Bell put together a good season at the strong side linebacker position. He is currently sixth on the team in tackles with 54, and third in tackles for loss with 11.5. He also is tied for second with 5.5 sacks and trailed only all-American defensive end Carl Nassib in forced fumbles; Bell has three.
One of his better games of the season came against Michigan, where Bell came in from one side to force a fumble by quarterback Jake Rudock, then swooped in from the other side to fall on the football. He also recorded his only interception of the season against the Wolverines.
Certainly, having him out there meant a lot to Penn State's young starting linebackers - sophomore middle backer Jason Cabinda and redshirt freshman Troy Reeder.
"Brandon's a very confident guy," Cabinda said. "He's calm, he's confident. He has tons of experience. He's a playmaker, a guy that makes huge plays. It seems like every single time Brandon's making a play, it's a huge play in the game. That's how he's always been."
Cabinda said Bell also is a funny guy who keeps things loose among the defense, calling him "a great personality to have in the room."
Bell doesn't disagree.
"I think I have a good sense of humor," he said. "Whenever things are getting hectic or everybody's having one of those days, I think I can change the mood. . . . I'm not serious all the time. I don't take myself seriously. You can't, otherwise you won't have fun in life."
A fully healthy Bell would be a huge plus for the Nittany Lions against a Georgia team that boasts a strong running attack. Even though the Bulldogs lost potential all-American tailback Nick Chubb to a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 10, sophomore Sony Michel has stepped in and rushed for 1,076 yards.
"They're a ground-and-pound kind of team, a mostly balanced offense," he said. "They're going to line up in the I-formation with a fullback and kind of try and run it down your throats. This is definitely a great opportunity."
Nittany notes. Players and coaches from Penn State and Georgia visited the Mayport Naval Station on Wednesday where they toured ships and helicopters as well as visiting with sailors at the base. . . . The Nittany Lions will hold practice late Thursday morning at nearby Fernandina Beach High School before going to visit patients at Wolfson Children's Hospital.