Barry Sanders excited to see what Best and Leshoure can do

Posted Feb 29, 2012

Count Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders among those Lions fans eager to see running backs Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best on the field together next season.

"I think it could be a very successful tandem," Sanders told Tuesday.

"I think with Best, you can see what he can do when he gets on the field. He can make big plays and he can take it the distance and that's unique in today's game. We're just hoping he can get on the field.

"I think Leshoure is a nice compliment to that. If those guys can step in there, and do what we hope they can do, that can be huge for the offense."

The Lions are hoping the return of Leshoure and Best to the roster next fall will help take some of the pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford and give the offense more balance.

Leshoure is coming off a torn Achilles tendon suffered in training camp and Best missed 10 games due to concussions.

Sanders said the running back position has changed since he was terrorizing NFL defenses in the 1990s, though. He said more teams are relying on multiple backs nowadays to carry the load.

"It's definitely changed," he said of the position. "I think a lot of it is how defenses are designed and I think there are fewer guys probably that can handle (the load).

Sanders played in at least 15 games in nine of his 10 NFL seasons with the Lions.  He missed five games in 1993 because of a knee injury. During those nine seasons in which he played in at least 15 games, no other Lions ball carrier got 50 carries in a season.

"There are fewer teams that want to put that kind of pressure on the running game," he said. "Obviously, you still see some guys who do it. There are still the Adrian Peterson's and the Ray Rice's and Maurice Jones Drew, who get the bulk of the runs, but a lot of what's happened in the passing game just makes passing a priority."

This year's Lions team is a perfect example to Sanders' point.

Stafford threw for 5,038 yards this season and the Lions won 10 games and made the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

Best led the team in rushing with 390 yards, the lowest amount to lead the team since 1987.

Sanders said watching the Lions' explosive offense this past season reminded him of the 1995 team he was a part of that finished second behind the 49ers in total offense -- minus the 1,500-yard rusher, of course. He thinks this offense has a bright future with the pieces currently in place in the passing game and what Leshoure and Best will add on the ground.

"I think they really gel well," he said. "Stafford and (Calvin) Johnson and (Brandon) Pettigrew. I think they're impressive. They're all relatively young and that should bode very well for the next few years."