Running back Kevin Smith settling into starting role

Posted Aug 3, 2012

While the Lions continue to wait for running back Jahvid Best to get clearance to return to the practice field and patiently watch the progress of running back Mikel Leshoure's hamstring injury, running back Kevin Smith is quietly and unassumingly fitting in nicely to the team’s No. 1 running back role.

“He’s a blue collar, go to work every day (player),” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Smith. “You can count on Kevin being out there through thick and thin and I really respect that. We relied on him as a starter. We’ve relied on him as a backup. Kevin will do whatever it takes to help this team win and he’s a very valuable commodity.”

Smith’s availability is his biggest commodity right now and it could just earn him a spot in the starting lineup Week 1 of the regular season.

Even when Leshoure returns to practice, he will begin the regular season serving a two-game suspension for his two marijuana citations this spring. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Thursday that a determination on Best's return should be categorized in weeks and not days.

With that kind of uncertainly surrounding Best and the certainty that the team will not have Leshoure to begin the season, Smith's role in the offense is as important as ever.

“This isn’t my first time in the rodeo, I’ve been a starter all my life,” Smith said. “I came into the league and I earned a starting position and I didn’t not start until I tore my ACL. It’s not that big of a deal. First team or second team, as long as it’s a play, I can run it.”

But it is a big deal when you stop and think where Smith was exactly a year ago from today. He wasn’t in any NFL team’s camp and was working out on his own trying to just get back into the league.

The Lions came calling in early November after it became apparent Best wasn’t going to return after suffering his second concussion of the season in Week 6 and Smith was signed for the final eight games of the regular season. In his first start against the Panthers, he rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Despite playing through a high ankle sprain, Smith amassed 535 total yards and seven touchdowns.

“He gave us a big boost last year, scored a lot of touchdowns for us,” Schwartz said. “Unfortunately he also got hurt and wasn’t able to finish the same way he started for us. But Kevin is a very, very savvy football player that gets the whole big picture. Not just his assignments down, but he also understands the way everybody fits around him.”

Now starting his fifth season, Smith is healthy and looks stronger than he ever has.

“Right now Kevin runs with the first team and he knows what he’s doing and he’s a very, very intelligent running back,” running backs coach Sam Gash said.

Smith said last year that he was grateful to have a second chance with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. Considering the current state of the their running back situation, the Lions should feel just as grateful to have him this year.