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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Ronnie Bell is playing his way onto the 49ers’ opening day roster

Aug 20, 2023 at 10:02 AM--

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Once a long shot to make the opening day roster, WR Ronnie Bell, a 2023 seventh-round pick, is not only playing his way onto the team but perhaps into a prominent role within the offense as well.

On Saturday evening, the 49ers hosted the Denver Broncos for their second preseason game of the year. San Francisco beat the Broncos 21-20, and just like the first preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders, rookie Ronnie Bell continued to flash. The 49ers started their first-team offense against the Broncos, and as you'd expect, Kyle Shanahan's offense looked in mid-season form. Quarterback Brock Purdy hit star receiver Deebo Samuel with one of those high-percentage short passes designed to get the football into the playmakers' hands following a play fake to open the contest. Like he so often does, Samuel took the short completion upfield for 25 yards, finishing off the play by dragging multiple defenders for an extra few yards. The 49ers eventually settled for a field goal attempt on the drive as rookie kicker Jake Moody banged home a short 20-yarder to put the 49ers up 3-0. Purdy finished his day by completing four of his five passing attempts for 65 yards.

Following the opening drive, the 49ers turned the keys to the offense over to Sam Darnold. Like last week, the starter-less 49ers offense struggled, totaling a mere 44 yards on 15 plays in the first half following their opening drive. The 49ers allowed a pair of sacks with Darnold under center and committed three penalties. Darnold finished the contest going 11 for 14 with 109 passing yards. He tossed one touchdown and was intercepted once. Darnold gave way to Trey Lance late in the third quarter. Lance finished the game going 12 of 18 for 173 yards. He also threw one touchdown and an interception.

Ronnie Bell is forcing his way onto the 49ers' roster.

The former Michigan Wolverine is having himself quite a camp/preseason. Bell totaled 58 yards on three receptions against the Raiders and followed that up with an impressive seven-catch, 117-yard performance against the Broncos, which included a stellar 43-yard reception from QB Trey Lance during the 49ers' two-minute drill late in the 4th quarter that set up Jake Moody's eventual game-winning field goal.

There has, however, been one blemish to Bell's game over the first two preseason games. For the second straight week, Bell saw a pass right on the money slip through his hands, which resulted in an interception.

Bell is quickly proving that he can become a valuable depth piece for the offense. In addition to his impressive receiving stats, Bell had a nice 28-yard punt return in addition to a 25-yard kick return. With Ray-Ray McLoud sidelined with a broken wrist, the door is wide open for someone like Bell to make the opening-day roster. Bell began camp competing with veterans Chris Conley and Willie Snead, along with second-year speedster Danny Gray for a depth role behind the expected top three (Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings).

The former Wolverine recently mentioned that he wasn't thrilled with how productive he was after the catch last season with the Wolverines, but he had been coming back from a torn ACL the year prior. Bell says he's trying to emulate Samuel the best he can. He also mentioned that Samuel has taken him under his wing in recent weeks.

"It's just a big-brother relationship," Bell said in the locker room. "I appreciate that more than anything. Throughout this whole process, he's taken me under his wing. He's really been with me in any situation, when I'm struggling thinking about this, thinking about that, at the beginning of camp, not really getting any reps. He always has been in my hip, letting me know to keep going. So I definitely appreciate him for that."

Bell added, "Last year, I wasn't very pleased with the way that I ran with the ball in my hand. So that was something that was a big point of emphasis on myself to improve in my game. That's something I want to continue to improve on. Especially around these guys, the way that they're toting the ball, I want to do the same thing."

Gray had been the first player to return a kick in Saturday's contest, but it was the last time he appeared in the game. Gray suffered what Kyle Shanahan said was a shoulder injury that could be a "possible collarbone that we couldn't tell from our x-rays."

Following Saturday's game, Shanahan spoke about the 49ers' injury situation to their wide receivers and how Bell has been able to step up despite his two drops that have turned into interceptions in back-to-back weeks.

"It starts by being able to make plays," the coach said. "And lots of guys you expect guys to catch it, when they're in a good spot. And he's missed two of those which were very similar, both of them that've led to picks. But, I think all you guys saw the plays he has made. Just with the ball in his hand breaking tackles, I think that's a lot for a guy to do that in his first two games as a punt returner and as a receiver. Shows that he can hang with our group, and hopefully, he can clean this stuff up because we did give him a lot of opportunities.

"So, by no means was he perfect, he's still got a long way to go, and he has got to get better. But having Danny down today, [WR] Ray-Ray [McCloud III] down, we need some guys to step it up, and he's giving himself a chance."

Bell has been very impressive both as a receiver and returner and looks to have a leg up on others he's been competing with for a final roster spot.

Not bad for a player selected with pick number 253 in the 2023 NFL Draft.

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