Vonn Bell has registered more tackles in an NFL season than the 87 he posted last season, rung up more sacks than the one for which he was credited in 2018, broken up more passes than the three he batted down and forced more fumbles than the one he caused during the New Orleans Saints' 13-win campaign.
But secondary coach Aaron Glenn believes that, by far, last year was the best of Bell's three seasons as a pro. And the safety doesn't disagree.
"Things slowed down," Bell said. "Just awareness, football I.Q. went up. Breaking down the game, that's what really helped. Being with A.G. (Glenn), just watching film, being with Dub (safety Marcus Williams), and everybody out there is the same group so just make the game slow down for each other.
"Once you grow in this game every year, each season is better. You look for a growth and a jump from you. The game slows down after you see over and over the formations, and the situations and awareness grows."
Bell's noticeable jump came during the season when he started his fewest games (eight) as a Saint. The former second-round pick (in 2016) began last year with veteran Kurt Coleman starting but as the year progressed, Bell took hold of the spot and produced his best play. That included seven solo tackles against Atlanta in Week 12; seven tackles, a sack and a pass defensed against Carolina in Week 15; and a season-high 10 tackles (seven solo) against Pittsburgh in Week 16.
He believes that better play is on the horizon.
"The sky is the limit, I feel," Bell said. "With me and Dub back there, or whoever is back there, how we play off each other. You never know how we're going to rotate down. Just knowing the situation, that's the biggest thing in this game. And let everything else – the God-given ability – takes care of itself. But the main thing is knowing the situation and having fun with your guys and just playing football."
This season, Bell will play with added punch. He said he's 10 pounds heavier than his listed weight of 205, a decision he made that he believes will help upgrade his play.
"That was a conscious effort for me, to just get bigger and stronger and faster," he said. "Just to be in the box, or be in the back, or playing the middle of the field, going against tight ends, hitting linemen. It was just to prepare myself."
It adds a different element to his ability to rush the passer, too. Bell had a career-high 4.5 sacks in 2017.
"Me adding weight to it, it's like, I can beat them with power rush, I can always have them on their toes," he said.
Too, it helps to have coaches – specifically, Glenn and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen – who extend the trust to their players.
"They want to hear the feedback from the players about how comfortable you are in the system and what makes it easier for you," Bell said.