Rex Ryan struggles every summer with the list of rookies and undrafted free agents who come to training camp. Now in his third year with the Jets, Ryan inevitably begins referring to players as “that kid from Northwest Missouri State” or “that big defensive tackle kid.”
But mention “that kid from Central Michigan” and Ryan knows instantly who the player is.
That’s because Nick Bellore is making a name for himself — a name Ryan knows and remembers.
Ryan called Bellore “a player we felt really strong about” and in self-deprecating fashion poked fun at his frequent inability to remember the names of new players.
“For me to know his name from Central Michigan, that tells you something,” Ryan said. “I don’t know if surprise is [it], we expected this young man [to contribute]. We were thinking about taking him in the draft.”
Bellore, an undrafted free agent who made the two-deep at linebacker, has had a surprisingly strong training camp and looks set to make an impression tonight in the Jets’ preseason opener in Houston. The former Chippewa standout, however, isn’t among those surprised by his performance.
“I came in expecting to play but I’m confident in my abilities and I know what I can do,” Bellore told Metro. “So it really just came down to me, coming in and playing like I know I can. If I do that, then I knew I’d be someone that could stick around.”
Ryan said last week that Bellore was the top target on the Jets’ board among all the undrafted free agents available. A team source told Metro that “between 15 to 20 other teams” had made Bellore a contract offer after the lockout ended, but Bellore turned down more financially lucrative offers to join the Jets. It was a move that was predicated on his desire to make an impact, not just accept the best deal put on the table.
He likens the decision to being recruited out of high school in that he got to make the best choice for his playing career and not just go to the team where he was selected.
“Of course you want to be drafted, but at the end of the day it wasn’t the most important thing and the money, the money isn’t as significant for me in the grand scheme of things. For me, I wanted to come into a good place and a place where I can play and make an impact,” Bellore said. “I think you just look at the guys they have and the defense they run and it was right for me. The Jets just seemed liked that right fit for me. The opportunity was here for me to play alongside David Harris and Bart Scott and learn. I couldn’t pass that up.”
There was disappointment, of course, after the third day of the draft when his name wasn’t called from the podium. Tabbed as a player who could go as high as the sixth or seventh round, Bellore was a standout at Central Michigan. As a freshman he registered an impressive 102 tackles and three times was named a first-team All-MAC selection. There is a chip on his shoulder which manifests itself in practice.
“The goal is to come in and just work every day, work every day like it could be my last,” Bellore said. “Treat every practice like it is a game and the games like there is something for me to lose. That was the attitude I wanted to come in with and it is the attitude I want to keep.”
In mid-March, the Jets went to Bellore’s workout at Central Michigan and walked away impressed. He was aware that linebackers coach Bob Sutton had expressed interest in him and he immediately returned the Jets’ intrigue. With the start of preseason tonight, Bellore will likely get his chance to try to make an impact when he enters somewhere in the second quarter at Reliant Stadium.
“I’m starting to see what I have to do to make it here, to make an impression and play in the NFL,” Bellore said. “It’s something I’ve wanted for a while and on Monday night, it’s my chance to make it real.”
Follow Kristian Dyer @KristianRDyer for live news and updates from Jets training camp.