The Lions haven’t had a 1,000-yard runner in the last seven seasons and have generally had a poor running game since Barry Sanders retired after the 1998 season, but they sound confident in Detroit that this is the year that changes.
Lions running back Jahvid Best has called himself a matchup nightmare, and the Lions’ coaches are talking up the possibility of using Best as a third-down back while making Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith a 1-2 punch as the featured backs in the offense.
“Leshoure definitely has that in him,” head coach Jim Schwartz said, via the Detroit Free Press. “No matter how we do it, running the football, throwing the football, short yardage, first-and-10, we need to have the ability to pick up tough yardage, and I think that’s something that Mikel can do for us.”
Smith was the Lions’ leading rusher in 2008 and 2009 but was totally overlooked last year: The Lions didn’t tender him as a restricted free agent and no other team invited him to training camp. But when the Lions signed him in November, he shocked everyone by gaining 201 yards from scrimmage and scoring three touchdowns in a Week 11 win over the Panthers. Unfortunately, Smith suffered an ankle injury the following week and was hobbled the rest of the year, but the Lions say they now realize what he can do.
“Kevin Smith did an outstanding job for us last year,” Schwartz said. “So however that dynamic works it’s an important thing for us and hopefully those guys can give it to us.”
As long as they have Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Lions will have a pass-first offense. But the Lions sound confident that for the first time in a long time, when they need to run they’ll be able to run.