Kevin Smith has built up strength in the hopes to stay injury-free

Posted Jun 1, 2012

It took only a few minutes into the first open OTA practice a couple weeks ago to notice there was something different about running back Kevin Smith. He had his sleeves rolled up and looked visibly stronger. In fact, Smith says he's never been stronger than he is right now.

“I’m healthy, so I’ve been able to attack my lifting,” he said. “My history of injuries here has either been legs or arms or shoulders, so I’ve never been able to really peak in the weight room as far as upper body strength and lower body strength.

“I’ve never squatted or lifted this much (as I am now). I’m really at the best I’ve been at all categories.”

Smith is currently squatting 400 pounds at sets of eight, which he says he’s never done before. He’s added muscle mass while trimming down from 217 pounds to 209.

Smith is entering his fifth NFL season, all with the Lions, though the first four have been filled with tribulation.

After rushing for 976 yards in 16 games as a rookie after the Lions selected him in the third round of the draft in 2008, Smith missed 13 games over the next two seasons with injuries and the Lions declined to offer Smith a restricted free agent contract last offseason.

Smith was out of the NFL entirely until the Lions came calling in November after it became clear that Jahvid Best wasn’t returning anytime soon from his second concussion.

Smith rushed for a career-high 140 yards against the Panthers in Week 11, but suffered a high ankle sprain the following week against the Packers that hampered him the remainder of the season.

Injuries limited Smith for a third-straight season, but the Lions thought enough of his performance late last year to offer him a one-year deal this season.

“He’s a versatile back,” Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Smith after he was signed during the NFL league meetings in March. “He can do a lot of things. He’s really good on third down, a good pass protector and a very intelligent football player.”

Smith still has to prove he can stay healthy, but he thinks the added strength and power will help.

“It makes you want to keep doing it and keep building when you see it translating to spring ball,” Smith said of his added strength. “I definitely see it in my film. I’m as quick as I’ve ever been. I think last year when I came in I was fresh and healthy and I showed some good quickness there, but I’m even quicker than that now. We’re only in shorts, but it’s definitely translating to the field.”

It’s been easy to spot with Smith this spring. He looks stronger and more explosive and hopefully he can stay healthy and compliment Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best in the Lions’ backfield.

All three players have to prove they can stay healthy, really. If they can, the Lions could have a nice trio of backs that bring different skill sets to the offense.

“We have a great opportunity,” Smith said of pairing with Leshoure and Best. “You hear all the time about how we need help and our backfield isn’t healthy, but I think as a group we can keep each other healthy. Coming in and out and having different packages and different things for each other takes wear and tear off your body.

"If I could have 10 carries or more, that would be ideal. You don’t have to have 20 carries if you’re an explosive team. It keeps guys fresh. You can come in and do what you do and then the next guy comes in with his package. There’s really no telling where this offense can go.”

The potential is certainly there for the Lions run game this season, but that conversation always reverts back to the health of Leshoure, Best and Smith.

Can they stay healthy?