From cornerback to receiver, why UNC’s staff is confident Corey Bell can make the switch

North Carolina coach Mack Brown: ‘I want our fans to get excited about coming back out for football’

Coach Mack Brown talks about the importance of the Spring game, and how the program is progressing under his leadership.
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Coach Mack Brown talks about the importance of the Spring game, and how the program is progressing under his leadership.

North Carolina senior Corey Bell Jr. was running agility drills with the cornerbacks this spring when new wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway saw something he liked.

He saw the way Bell made his cuts in drills and thought Bell, the son of former NFL safety and Super Bowl winner Myron Bell, had the potential to play wide receiver. Galloway called Bell in his office early this spring and told him to think about making the switch from cornerback to wide receiver.

The only problem was Bell, at 5-9, 180 pounds, hadn’t played wide receiver since he was in middle school in Charlotte.

Bell was reluctant. He worried he would have a difficult time adjusting to a position he hasn’t played in almost eight years.

But Galloway and head coach Mack Brown were confident.

“Think about it,” Galloway told Bell.

The players went home for Spring Break and Bell received a call from cornerbacks coach Dre Bly. Bly believed in his ability to make the conversion. He told Bell not to be afraid to try.

So when Bell returned from the break, he decided to make the switch.

Since then, he’s practiced with the offense. The move gives Bell an opportunity to play more in his final season at North Carolina. Last season, Bell played in six games for the Tar Heels and started in two. He had four tackles, three pass breakups and an interception, which came in the final regular season game against N.C. State.

North Carolina wide receiver Dyami Brown likes Bell’s speed.

“We have lot of fast guys,” Brown said. “All together we’re just working.”

The younger cornerbacks used to call Bell, who has played at UNC since 2015, “grandpa,” “uncle,” or “old head.” But Bell, who will be a fifth-year senior next season, said he feels like a “young guy,” again.

He said the benefit, though, of having played defense through high school and four years in college helps him recognize defenses. And North Carolina coach Mack Brown jokes that he’s calling out plays in practice.

“He hears a defensive call, he goes, ‘Hey here’s what they’re doing,’” Brown said with a laugh.

Bell’s addition to the wide receivers adds depth to a position group that lost its best player, Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Ratliff-Williams declared for the NFL draft after the 2018 season.

But it leaves the North Carolina with less experience at cornerback. On March 22, shortly after Bell made the conversion to wide receiver, junior cornerback K.J. Sails announced he was seeking other opportunities. On March 26, North Carolina announced that C.J. Cotman, a sophomore last year, was medically retiring due to recurring migraine headaches.

Bell said he was unsure of whether the coaches would move him back to cornerback, but they kept him at wide receiver.

“Now that I see it, it’s like sheesh, they’ve gotten thin,” Bell said of the cornerbacks as he looked out onto the field. “But times like this are good because guys like (freshman) Storm Duck and (sophomore) DeAndre Hollins, they get more reps and they get thrown in the fire.”

“They’ll be fine,” Bell added.

Bell will have his first chance to showcase his talents in North Carolina’s Spring game on April 13. He has a 41-inch vertical, but Bell believes there is a lot of room for improvement.

“That’s why I’m excited for this summer,” Bell said. “I can’t wait to see my numbers come camp.”