Why Michigan football will keep Ronnie Bell around the team, even if he can't play

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A feeling of dark inevitability lingered over Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh’s weekly press conference on Monday.

And sure enough, in response to the very first question he faced, Harbaugh dropped the news everyone was expecting about No. 1 wide receiver Ronnie Bell.

“Unfortunately, Ronnie will be out for the season,” Harbaugh said. “He has a knee injury.”

A senior team captain on offense, Bell had writhed in pain on the Michigan Stadium turf Saturday following a 31-yard punt return in the second quarter. He remained down on the field for several minutes as the medical staff attended to his right leg before carrying him to the sideline.

Bell was eventually carted to the locker room while holding a towel over his face in despair.

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“Ronnie won our player of the game,” Harbaugh said Monday. “He had a phenomenal game, really, along with Blake (Corum) making the big plays, carrying our offense early in the game. Got the big play on the long pass. Great contested catch and then finished with a run.

“And then one of the best catches I’ve ever seen in my life, the one-handed catch and he was able to stay in bounds. Very clean. Tremendous catch. The punt return on which he got injured, unfortunately. But he was just having a great game.”

Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Ronnie Bell (8) returned this punt 31 yards vs. the Western Michigan Broncos before doing down with an injury immediately after the play Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Ronnie Bell (8) returned this punt 31 yards vs. the Western Michigan Broncos before doing down with an injury immediately after the play Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 at Michigan Stadium.

The plan, according to Harbaugh, is for Bell to remain involved with the team throughout the remainder of the season. Bell will be on the sidelines during games and aiding his teammates in their preparation each week. A date for surgery has not been scheduled, and the specifics of his injury were not disclosed.

“It will be a tough, grueling rehab as all injuries are,” Harbaugh said. “But if anybody can do it, Ronnie will. And from my own personal experience having a season-ending injury, the best way not be left out is to help out. And being a leader from the sideline, being a captain, also what he can contribute intellectually because he’s a smart guy.”

Washington’s loss to Montana is ‘irrelevant’

What appeared to be a potential marquee matchup between Michigan and Washington in Week 2 of the season lost a bit of its shine when the Huskies were felled by Football Championship Subdivision school Montana in their opener Saturday night. The Huskies, entering the year ranked 20th, managed only a single touchdown against the Grizzlies in a 13-7 loss that reverberated around college football.

Except, apparently, in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t think it’s relevant,” Harbaugh said. “You always think that the first game is the second-hardest to prepare for. The second game is even harder because both teams will go back and work on the things that they need to improve, and they will (improve). It’s a race to make those improvements in one week.

“Got a good idea that Washington has been preparing for us for a long time. It’s an important game for both teams. So I think that makes the first game irrelevant, as it most always is, but especially in this second-game scenario.”

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The players who spoke to the media after Harbaugh’s press conference — safety Brad Hawkins, inside linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green and wide receiver A.J. Henning — said Washington’s shocking loss did nothing to influence their preparation for this weekend.

Leading the way

Harbaugh was so pleased with certain aspects of his team’s performance during a 47-14 romp of Western Michigan that he said the Wolverines can use them as teaching tape for how various positions should be played.

Edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, nickel corner Daxton Hill and inside linebacker Josh Ross caught Harbaugh’s attention on defense. Bell, Corum, quarterback Cade McNamara and offensive linemen Andrew Vastardis and Andrew Steuber jumped off the film on offense. And on special teams, where the Wolverines excelled, Harbaugh said Caden Kolesar and Mike Sainristil were excellent.

“There was some real examples of really good play all across the board on our team,” Harbaugh said. “There were some examples of guys playing just how you want the game played.

“Guys just setting the example of how to play in the game, especially for a lot of the players that were just playing their first time, playing in their first game. It’s tremendous to have on tape. Teaching tool.”

Contact Michael Cohen at mcohen@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Cohen13.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Michigan players may see tape of WMU win for years to come