Offseason mini-camp and OTAs are more about getting into shape and installation of scheme than anything else. In other words, you can’t look too much into what you’re seeing on the field in the offseason.
“I think the most encouraging thing about it is when the ball went into his hand he didn’t think about it,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said after that practice. “We ran him left, we ran him right, he was making cuts of defenders, he was making cuts as they appeared and he was a running back.”
Leshoure, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, was a running back again.
“You could tell when he ran that he didn’t think about his ankle or his Achilles or anything else,” Schwartz said. “He was thinking about finding the hole and getting up field.”
It’s been a long journey back to the backfield for Leshoure, who tweeted Monday that his surgically repaired Achilles tendon “feels better than ever” and he’ll be 100-percent for the start of training camp, tentatively scheduled for July 26.
“The Achilles feels real good,” Leshoure said after that mini-camp practice in June. “It felt real good. It feels good now. I felt like I made some cuts and I wasn’t thinking about anything out there just going out there and reacting.”
The Lions are hoping a healthy Leshoure, teamed with a healthy
“We have a great opportunity,” said the versatile
“Coming in and out and having different packages and different things for each other takes wear and tear off your body.”
Staying healthy is the key for Leshoure, Best and Smith, who’ve missed a combined 41 games due to injury.
With expectations for them to be healthy through camp, the real question for the Lions then is who steps up to take that fourth running back spot?
There’s a lot that needs to shake out over the course of training camp.
By the numbers:
356: Rushing attempts for the Lions offense last year, ranking 31st out of 32 teams for lowest in league (Buccaneers 346).
6.0: Average yards per rushing attempt for Leshoure during his final season at Illinois in 2010 (1,697 yards on 281 carries).
53.3: Conversion percentage (8-of-15) for the Lions on 3rd down and 3 yards or fewer last season when they ran the ball in those situations.
The pecking order at the top is well established with Leshoure, Best and then Smith.
A healthy Leshoure probably gets the largest percentage of the carries, especially if he comes back and looks as good as he did the first two weeks of training camp last year.
Best will get plenty of touches as both a runner and receiver, much like the Lions have used him the last two years and much like the Saints use Darren Sproles.
Smith said this offseason he thinks around 10 or more carries per game would be ideal for him as a third runner.
The Lions then have to determine if Logan, Bell, Williams or Green fits best into that fourth spot. That’s predicting the Lions keep four running backs.
Williams rushed for two touchdowns last season and showed good hands out of the backfield (eight catches for 62 yards). He’s not a big-play threat, but he can contribute in a lot of different ways and has experience as a third-year player.
Bell has bounced around the league from practice squad to practice squad before signing on the active roster of the Saints early last year. The Saints subsequently released him and re-signed him to their practice squad in September and the Lions claimed him off of the Saints’ practice squad in December.
Bell is a between-the-tackles runner and can also return kicks. He could provide the Lions some tough inside running from the fourth spot, as well as contributing on special teams.
Green is a burner and would provide another speed back to compliment Best. He can also return kicks and play special teams, which he’ll have to do very well to make the team.
Bryant is a true full back in that he doesn’t want to carry the ball or catch it.
“Our running backs can run,” Bryant said this offseason. “We have guys who can see the hole and hit it. Now you have a guy who is in front of (them) who can create a bigger hole than what they’ve been hitting the last couple years.
“That’s all I want to do. I just want to come in here and block. Don’t throw me the ball. I don’t want to run the ball. I want to create holes.”
The only problem Bryant faces is that the Lions are going to have some tough decisions to make at some other spots and they might not be afforded a roster spot to a true fullback who isn’t versatile. The Lions have used their third tight end (
Player to watch:
Jahvid Best changes the way defenses have to play the Lions when he’s in the game. Best is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield and is a mismatch for any linebacker or safety in the passing game.
“He's a homerun hitter; he's an explosive player, and that means a lot to our offense,” Schwartz said of Best.
But how will missing 10 games because of two separate concussions last year affect Best heading into 2012? If the spring is any indication, it won’t affect him too much. Best looked terrific during the offseason training program and was singled out by Lions general manager Martin Mayhew when asked for a few players who caught his eye this offseason.
Best said he’s not worried at all about his concussion history and should be ready to go when training camp starts. Best is more important to the Lions offense than people think.