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The General Gets A New Command As Vonn Bell Returns To Bengals: 'I'm Home'

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Of course, Vonn Bell began the day he returned to the Bengals working out at 5 a.m. Friday before he caught the flight out of Miami to Cincinnati to sign the deal.

It's as if the man Bengals safety Michael Thomas calls "a five-star general," never left his command post and last year's transfer to Fort Carolina never happened.

"It's going to be scheduled," said Bell of the players-only weekly secondary meetings he chaired during his three seasons here. "And I have to get the phone numbers."

The meetings still went on last year under the guidance of a pair of cornerbacks, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie.

But here was Bell, the field general, looking for the new numbers Friday because he has to make a new text chain and add safeties Geno Stone and Jordan Battle, who were the starters until Bell re-upped for a year but weren't here when Bell and Jessie Bates III were the software of a Bengals defense that went to two straight AFC title games.

"That's when you have to be around the guys outside of football," said Bell of developing a new chemistry. "Getting to know them. Getting to know how they move, how they operate. Getting to know their families. And that's when you create a deep connection with guys. Because it's more than just ball. It's a brotherhood."

This is not your father's secondary. In fact, it's not even your big brother's.

Bates is in Atlanta. Awuzie is with Brian Callahan in Tennessee. Michigan cornerback DJ Turner II, another guy Bell didn't play with here, is emerging as a star. No one quite knows who is going to be playing when and where, especially last year's starting safety Dax Hill. Who is definitely going to be somewhere.

"I'm not worried about roles right now," Bell said. "I just want to show up every day, come to work, be myself add everything will play out."

On Friday it didn't matter because what we did know is "The General," is back.

That means he's ready for Hill, a guy he has already had under his wing when Hill was a rookie two years ago.

"Just have to sit down and talk to him and see where his mental is at. I can always give my successes and failures," Bell said. "He's just got to keep on pushing, keep on being himself, and keep on diving deep into that playbook. He's just got to see how he can develop, keep going with his maturation process, and just really study himself of his successes and failures."

This is when you know you're a mentor. He's already got a phone number on Stone even though they've never played together. They met at Ohio State camp years ago when Smith was still in high school. Bell was not only watching the Bengals last year, he thrilled as Stone shot to the AFC interceptions title with seven.

"My guy was going crazy," Bell said. "Great ball skills. Going crazy."

On Friday, head coach Zac Taylor called Bell. "The ultimate standard setter."

"His process is always positive in the locker room; tremendous presence," Taylor said. " He's been a part of some of the biggest plays in Bengals history and we're happy to get him back here. We've got to create many more of the greatest plays in Bengals history. Very happy that Vonn's back here."

Bell didn't hesitate. The play he always remembers is The Play. The shoestring interception in overtime of the AFC title game two years ago in Kansas City that set up the winning drive.

"There are a lot of them. I don't dwell on those. But the interception going to the Super Bowl," Bell said. "That's the one for me. Because that's the final destination. That's where you want to be."

We don't know lineups or combos, but something else we know is that Bell is the only guy who could get away with wearing sweats to a black-tie event. He's still stylish and on Thursday wore a baseball hat from the chic Eric Emanuel clothing line.

We also know he's loved here when you see senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner make a rare press conference room appearance "to show my support and the appreciation for what he's done with us," and the three strength coaches (Joey Boese, Todd Hunt, Garrett Swanson) scrambling to find his Ohio State coffee mug and get ready for those early morning bull sessions after those famous dawn workouts.

"Best part about being back?" Bell repeats. "The locker room. That's No. 1. Just seeing those guys' faces. Joey, Todd, G. Man, I'm home."

Carolina was not home. Bell, who is 7-5 in playoff games, suffered on a 2-15 team. If that wasn't bad enough, the final insult came with his release earlier this week.


The cutting of one of the most sought-after five-star recruits ever? The kid who made Ohio and Alabama swing states before the Buckeyes won the epic recruiting battle to get him? The guy who has won everywhere he's been and whose NFL teams are still 15 games over .500 despite the Panthers debacle?


"It was weird. It definitely added fuel to the fire," Bell said. "It was a lot of anxiety for sure. First time going through that. It's over now. It's in the past. I'm in the now."

It stunned him. But at 29, he insists he's the same solid player.

"It was stressful at first, but I let God handle that, and God handled that he made a way. He opened up doors for me. I'm glad to be back and ready to get to work," Bell said. "I still feel young. I'm ready to run around and make plays and continue any way I can. I'm just happy for the opportunity.

"(Last year was) very hard. It was heavy on my heart. But I let that go. And I'm in the now."

Now he knows the Panthers are on the schedule.

"Bulletin-board material," he said.

It's a crowded room in Cincinnati, but the Bengals have told him, "Just be you."

And there are three reasons why that's more than enough:

_Just his presence emanating through the locker room.

_His ability to help Stone learn the defense, Battle to perfect it, and Hill to capitalize on it after a season coaches and players pointed to a lack of communication back there as the big reason for the big plays last year. That's something Bell won't tolerate.

And, believe it, he watched last year. He says that's where the chemistry comes in.

"My eyes were still on it. I was watching every game. Watching every game, for sure. That's what I was telling them. 'That's my people right there.' Always kept in and locked in, kept tabs and saw how guys were doing. Checking in on them, for sure," Bell said. "Guys have to be on the same page. We have to see things the same. That's huge, because if you get past us, strike up the band. Explosives can lose a game and you never want to do that when you've got a great offense."

_He'll be a comfort for new safeties coach Jordan Kovacs. In his first year coaching a position, Kovacs knows in Bell he's got a vet who has seen it all and is not only expected to mentor, but loves it. And won't be selfish no matter how it plays out.

"He knows the defensive scheme. He's got a lot of energy," said Bell, who knows Kovacs from his days assisting the linebackers. "He's hungry to make an impact on people's lives."

And he'll obviously be a help to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, the guy Bell famously nicknamed "The Mad Scientist."

"Thay's my guy, man. We have a connection and a bond that will last forever," Bell said. "Just hearing his voice made me calm down."

Bell yanked on his ballcap and walked out the Paycor Stadium door to catch the flight back to Miami and another dawn workout. He'll be back in a month, when the offseason workouts start.

"I'm at peace. Glad to be back. I feel warm," Bell had said and later laughed when asked how he could possibly play for an old Michigan safety in Kovacs.

"We're all good. "We're all Big Ten. We're Big Ten," on a day the Bengals were in league again with "The General."

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