Offensive lineman Demetrius Bell finds it amusing when thinking back to last year when he was known around the Buffalo Bills locker room as the lowest-ranked player in a popular NFL video game.
Don't adjust your PlayStation, because Bell's stock has risen dramatically.
The second-year player, who did not play at all last season, is preparing to be Buffalo's starting left tackle on Monday, when the Bills open the regular season at New England. Following a solid performance in training camp, Bell was awarded the job after the Bills made the surprise decision to release veteran Langston Walker on Tuesday.
How's that for someone who registered a player score of 54 out of 100 in last year's version of NFL Madden. Bell's not sure what his score is this year, but it doesn't really matter, considering he's now got a job to keep.
"That monkey's off my back," Bell said of all the ribbing he took last year. "I came a long way. But I still have a long way to go."
His first test won't be an easy one, coming against a Patriots defense that, even without recently traded defensive lineman Richard Seymour, is considered to have a solid front line.
Bell will also be part of a young offensive line that will have two rookies filling both guard spots, first-round draft pick Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.
Coach Dick Jauron has been impressed by Bell's development through training camp, though cautioned that Bell's going to have his hands full.
"He's got the ability," Jauron said. "Clearly he doesn't have the experience, and he's going to quickly get some."
Listed at 6 feet 5 and 303 pounds, Bell has the prototypical size to play tackle, and he's also agile.
"He has the ability to recover when he is out of position," offensive line coach Sean Kugler said. "He knows it's going to be intense and he knows it's going to be difficult. But I think he's prepared for the challenge."
Selected 219th overall out of Louisiana's Northwestern State, Bell was regarded by the Bills as a raw project because he had not played football at any competitive level until his sophomore season at college, when he switched from basketball.
He proved to be a quick learner. Thrust into the starting lineup at left tackle two weeks before the start of the 2006 season, he finished with 22 straight starts and was selected to the All-Southland Conference team as a senior.
Bell might also have the advantage of having athletic genes in the family. He's the son of former NBA star Karl Malone, though the two have been estranged for most of Bell's life.
Another strong quality is the perseverance Bell showed after spending all of last year working in practice and watching games from the press box.
"This time last year I was believing in myself that I could play at this level," Bell said. "There was always speculation, 'Oh, he's the lowest rated player, he'll never live up to what's expected of him.' But in all actuality, in my mind I had, 'I want to be a starter.'"
Now that he's achieved that objective, Bell is focusing on being ready to play.
"I really don't think it should be anything different," he said of preparing for Monday's game. "They put us in this situation for a reason, and we just have to take advantage."
NOTES: The Bills' only two experienced starting offensive linemen, tackle Brad Butler and center Geoff Hangartner, have combined for 56 starts and appeared in 85 NFL games. ... Terrell Owens' reality show, "The T.O. Show," has been picked up by VH-1 for a second season. The cable television network said this year's season, part of which was filmed in Buffalo, drew an average of 1.5 million viewers per episode. "Yeah, Season 2 is coming, but right now I'm focused on the T.O. show on the field," Owens said. ... The Bills are two wins from becoming the seventh former AFL franchise to hit the 350 plateau.