ALLEN PARK >> Someday Nick Bellore will look back on his NFL career and the wonder of it all, but not today.
The Detroit Lions linebacker-turned-fullback is too busy learning the offense and a new role as a full-time fullback.
Bellore, who played at Central Michigan, signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York. Jets in 2011 and now enters his eighth NFL season, his second in Detroit. Most of it has been spent as a part-time linebacker and solid special teams contributor.
While listed as a Lions’ linebacker in 2017, he did see some time on offense.
In fact in a Dec. 3 loss to the Ravens, Bellore caught a one-yard touchdown pass. The first touchdown of his career. It was on second-and-goal from the one-yard line in the fourth quarter. Matthew Stafford found Bellore all alone in the right corner of the end zone.
“You don’t have much time to think. I knew right after we ran the ball it was probably my time to catch it, so I had to get out on the route, turn your head and Stafford always puts it right on you. I had no time to think,’’ Bellore said.
So when the coaches talked to him about leaving his linebacker duties behind, he was all in.
“I was super excited because I was a backup linebacker my whole life and it was nice to get an opportunity to get out on the field. They felt I could help the team and I thought it was something I could excel at, I was super excited when they asked me to do it and I’m glad it has blossomed into something this year,’’ Bellore said on Thursday.
It’s a new coaching staff under Matt Patricia, but offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter remains from last season.
“We had kind of talked about it, but it was one of those things, once I got here I think they felt it was something they could place me there to help the team — we have a lot of great linebackers — so it’s something where I was happy to do it,’’ Bellore said.
Patricia seems quite impressed a week into camp. He knows Bellore from game-planning against him when Patricia was with the Patriots and Bellore played for the Jets and 49ers.
“He’s just been a really good football player. Every time, whatever his role has been out on the football field, he’s executed at a high level. Even going through the tape from last year and some of the things that they asked him to do — both sides of the ball,’’ Patricia said. “Just goes out, has a good feel for the game. It’s not too big for him, he can really transition from the different sides of the ball. He’s a smart guy and finds it, and sees it, and has good vision. So, he’s just a good, solid football player. You always like guys like that. Tough guy, smart guy — you try to find some place on the field for him.”
It was clear that Patricia and Cooter wanted to use a fullback this season when they drafted Nick Bawden in the seventh round. Bawden tore his ACL in June and will miss the entire season. That leaves Bellore as the only fullback on the roster.
“He’s an awesome young guy and it’s a shame that happened to him. He actually just talked to me yesterday and he said whatever help I need because obviously he knows it, he’s been doing it for a long time,’’ Bellore said. “I really appreciate that. He’s someone I’ll keep in contact with. He’s around the facility helping us out so any question I have he can clear it up for me.’’
Moving from defense to offense has its challenges.
“I think the terminology and learning the whole play call. Sometimes on defense you can hear it and know exactly what it is from the first couple words but when the quarterbacks are in there giving you the play you don’t know how long it could be set for, you have to pay attention until the last word because it could completely change your job,’’ Bellore said. “Really just dialing into the terminology on offense and what they call things. Football is football but defensively we call things different than they call things on offense, so that took some getting used to.’’
Last year in his limited role on the Lions’ offense they dumbed it down for him.
Often learning new football terminology is compared to learning a foreign language.
“I probably got a C-minus in French in high school. I was never a foreign language guy. They had a small playbook for me and kept it easy for me which helped but now since I’ve had more time under my belt they can give me more stuff,’’ Bellore said.
The run game is a huge emphasis for the Lions since it was the worst in the NFL in 2017. Adding a fullback is just one new wrinkle.
“Definitely from a fullback standpoint, or even just trying to put a second back in the back field, it’s something that always gives teams a lot of difficulty,’’ Patricia said. “When you can line up with a guy in the backfield and then insert him into the defense from that standpoint, create an extra gap or extra space, it always adds another level of complexity to it to try to defend.’’The Lions also signed veteran LeGarrette Blount as a free agent and drafted Kerryon Johnson in the second round.
“I thought they’ve looked awesome. Obviously LG is a load and Kerryon can do it all. They’re both in the infancy of learning the offense like we all are,’’ Bellore said. “I think once we get it all hammered down it should be great, they’re working hard and doing a good job.’’