MSU’s Bell focuses on punting

BY LOGAN LOWERY
DAILY JOURNAL
STARKVILLE – Devon Bell was recruited to handle punting and kickoff duties for Mississippi State.
But Bell’s focus the last two seasons has been kicking field goals. Now he’s back to handling his primary responsibilities as the Bulldogs punter.
“It’s a lot less stressful for me,” Bell said. “I’m really enjoying it because it was really what I was brought in to do. It’s a big burden lifted off my shoulders and I think I’ll be pretty good this year.”
The former Warren Central standout fared well as a freshman scoring the most points by a kicker in a single-season in school history with 85. He converted 14 of 21 field goals in 2012 but made just 6 of 14 as a sophomore and lost the job to walk-on Evan Sobiesk.
But just as his placekicking job was slipping away, Bell began to split the punting duties with Baker Swedenburg. Bell punted 24 times for 990 yards (41.2 average) with a long of 62-yards and pinning 14 inside the red zone.
“Whenever I went out there to punt, I wasn’t thinking about a field goal that I missed,” Bell said. “I just went out there focused on the job that I had to get done. It was big because this is my specialty. I feel good about that this year and want to go out there and do whatever I can to help the team out.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder ended 2013 ranked second in the nation by pinning 58.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line. He also ranked fifth in sticking 25 percent of his punts inside the 10.
Although Swedenburg has graduated, Bell is still battling for the punting job this fall. Freshman Logan Cooke was signed in February as a three-star prospect and was ranked as the nation’s No. 3 punter by Chris Sailer Kicking.
Cooke, a 6-foot-5, 200-pounder, averaged 44.2 yards per punt at Columbia Academy as a senior.
“I’m still fighting for my position because Logan could easily beat me out,” Bell said. “He’s that good. He’s helping me out because each day he’s getting better and so am I. Whoever wins (the job) is probably going to be the best in the SEC this year.”
Bell and Cooke are competing for the kickoff job, too Bell averaged 61.6 yards in high school last season with 25 touchbacks on 66 kickoffs while Cooke placed 19 of his 22 kickoffs in the end zone averaging 68 yards.
Sunday off
After a closed-door scrimmage inside Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday evening, Mississippi State took Sunday off to rest.
The Bulldogs are back to work this morning followed by two practices Tuesday. MSU will conduct a morning practice on Wednesday before another two-a-day session on Thursday.
Dan Mullen will conduct his second scrimmage of the fall on Friday before ending the week’s work with a Saturday practice. All practices are closed to the media and public.
The Bulldogs are 19 days away from their season opener against Southern Miss in Starkville on Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. on the SEC Network.
logan.lowery@journalinc.com