UCLA senior tailback Kahlil Bell certainly does not have a problem with confidence.
"I was told a long time ago that if you don't believe in yourself, who is going to do it for you?" said Bell, who has rushed for 1,380 yards, averaging 5.3 yards a carry in his UCLA career. "I truly believe that when I put on the pads, that I can play with anybody and until otherwise proven, that's how I'm always going to think about myself."
For the Bruins, Bell's self-assured nature is probably a good thing because they will be counting on him to be an offensive force against Tennessee in the season opener for both teams Monday at the Rose Bowl.
It's a challenge Bell has looked forward to since his season ended prematurely last year when he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee against Washington State in UCLA's eighth game.
"I may have more of a chip on my shoulder because I'm coming off an injury. . . . It's my job to show everyone that I'm back in full form," said Bell, one of only two running backs in the Pacific 10 Conference selected to the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is awarded to the nation's top running back.
Before getting hurt, Bell was one of the leading rushers in the conference with a career-high 795 yards and five touchdowns. According to Bell, the injury has only made him more determined.
"When things like this happen, you can do one of two things," Bell said after practice Friday. " . . . You can cry about it, give up and say, 'Why me?' or, take the bull by the horns and embrace it."
Despite Bell's aggressive approach, UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel has limited his work throughout fall camp and will keep a close eye on him against the Volunteers.
"I'm going to watch his conditioning," Neuheisel said about Bell, who also missed several games as a sophomore because of an ankle injury in 2006. "Given his situation coming off the knee, it was difficult to put him through the paces [that would have been] if he was 100%.
"I don't anticipate him to play the whole game, we'll spell him, but I know he's eager. I'm excited to watch him play."
With an inexperienced offensive line and a first-year starter at quarterback, Bell has stepped up as a team leader and it's a role in which he takes pride.
"To me, you have to have the mentality that no one can stop you and that you're the best player on the field," said Bell, who at 6 feet, 222 pounds has added 20 pounds since his freshman season. "I'm trying to get our whole offense involved with that mentality and swagger. That's why the coaches asked me to be more assertive as a leader."
And Bell's message for opponents this season?
"All I know is that when I have the ball in my hands, I'm going to play as hard as I can and if you don't match it, it's going to be a long day for you," he said. "And if you match it, you better bring it for four quarters."
After weeks of watching Tennessee's defense on film, Neuheisel said he was impressed with the Volunteers' "speed and the ability to change direction.
"They just have great athletes on their defense. This is certainly no knock on anybody on their staff, but I think it's great that they try to keep it simple. They let their athletes play. What looks like a big-time opening, all the sudden isn't any longer because they react so quickly. They are well schooled and they have enough changeups to keep you off balance."
Although Neuheisel did not name UCLA's starting offensive line, tackle Micah Kia, who broke his left hand earlier in camp, seems on track to start. "It will be a good hedge to say that Micah will be in the lineup," Neuheisel said. . . . Freshman quarterback Nick Crissman is expected to have a second MRI exam on his injured right shoulder and surgery may still be needed. . . . Linebacker Josh Edwards probably will not play against Tennessee because of a foot injury.