As Final Cuts Approach, Detroit Has Backs with Different Skills, Statures and Speed to Choose From

Posted Aug 31, 2010

A source of excitement for Lions’ fans this preseason has been watching rookie Jahvid Best bring his game to the NFL level.
Over three games, Best has 15 carries for 129 yards for an average of 8.6 yards-per-carry.
In Detroit’s preseason home opener, Best was only in for one drive, which consisted of three plays and 68 yards. Best was in on two of those plays, rushing for 51 yards from scrimmage and turning a short reception into a 10-yard gain.
“Jahvid’s a treat,” said running backs coach Sam Gash. “He comes with a great attitude in practice, does whatever you ask him to do and that’s something that, as a coach, I look for.
“He’s not standoffish about doing anything. He takes instruction well and he’s going to be a good player.”
One of the criticisms on Best that began prior to the draft was his durability. At 5-10 and 199 pounds, many have questioned whether Best’s body can hold up through a full NFL season.
Gash, however, says that Best is physically tougher than what he has been given credit for.
“I don’t question his toughness, not even a little bit,” he said. “If he’s taking 20 carries or two carries, I think he can do it. He’s very effective and efficient with the ball.”
Regardless, Best won’t be carrying the ball on his own.
Currently, five other running backs are on the Detroit Lions’ roster: Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown and DeDe Dorsey. Jerome Felton has taken reps at both fullback and tailback throughout training camp and the preseason.
Smith is coming back from a season-ending knee injury and has seen playing time both at Denver and against Cleveland.
“He’s coming back,” said Gash. “Obviously, he’s not as sharp as he’d like to be, but who expects that. My deal is just to get him more reps, get him to where – and I think this is the head coach’s thought – he starts feeling comfortable. That’s when he’ll be fine.
“These injuries are tough, especially on skill positions.”
Gash, who also suffered an ACL injury early in his career, knows the first year back is typically tough, but says that two years after “your knee feels like it has dynamite in it.”
As a former player who has gone through the same rehab process, Gash has offered plenty of advice to Smith when it comes to the mental aspect of the game.
“I tell him there will be days where you don’t feel as good or you question whether you will be able to play again,” said Gash. “My job is to get him through those days because he definitely works hard physically – maybe even harder than anybody on the team.
“He’s a guy who’s always been an underdog, always, ‘You don’t believe I can do it, but I’ll do it.’ He’ll be a good player. No doubt.”
Approaching the final preseason game of the year, the big question is who else will have a hand in carrying the ball for the Lions.
One thing about this group of runners is that there are no two alike; each player has his own body type, skill set and running style.
“Aaron has speed, great hands; DeDe has great vision and great hands; Jerome has power and good hands; Kevin is more of a slasher with good hands and all of them are very good pass protectors,” said Gash.
“Maurice is a good all-around pro – he does everything well – and Jahvid, he’s learning as a young guy and there are a lot of things he’s still going to learn.”
Gash doesn’t talk to his players about whether he thinks they will make the team.
“My job isn’t about who makes the team and who doesn’t, it’s about trying to make them better pros,” he said.
Regardless, this game will be the final showcase for some of these backs who are trying to claim a coveted roster spot.
One player who stood out last week against Cleveland is Brown, who finished the game with 50 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 6.8 yards-per-carry and also took kickoff return duties, finishing with four returns for 95 yards.
Gash says Brown, a second-year player, has made a big difference on the field due to off-the-field maturity.
“It’s been a 180 – he’s completely matured,” he said. “He listens more now and he’s gotten stronger in the weight room – he matured physically. More so mentally, though. He’s matured mentally and, I think, spiritually because he definitely has a different calmness about him now.”
Gash teaches his running backs to control what they can control: their attitude and their effort. After that, things will fall into place one way or another.
Brown is hoping things fall in the place of him making the final 53-man roster.
“He has a great set of physical skills,” said Gash. “For him, it’s just believing that he can run through the tackles and believing that he can make a big run; believing that he can stand in front of a guy and protect him and having that confidence. My job is to make sure they all have that confidence.”