MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA: Barry Sanders weighs in on 2017 Lions

Posted Oct 5, 2017

Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders is a supporter of persistence and consistency for the Detroit Lions.

Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders is a supporter of persistence and consistency for the Detroit Lions.

Persistence relates to sticking with the plan to develop a running game to broaden what for years has been a pass-heavy offense.

Consistency was demonstrated by the franchise earlier this year by signing head coach Jim Caldwell to a multi-year contract extension. The 2017 season was the last on the original four-year deal Caldwell signed when he was hired in 2014.

Sanders had a first-hand look at the 2017 Lions in Sunday’s 14-7 road win over the Minnesota Vikings. Sanders was at the game in his new role as a franchise ambassador.

He summed up his feelings about the run game in an interview before the game.

“I think it’s worth it to give it a shot,” Sanders said. “You have to keep teams honest in this business, even if you haven’t necessarily had success yet. You have to tweak it.

“You don’t want to be too predictable  ... especially against very good defenses.”

It’s no surprise that Sanders would favor building a running game. He was the best pure runner in NFL history and won four league rushing titles in his 10 seasons with the Lions. In 1997 he rushed for a career high 2,053 yards and set a record with 14 straight games of at least 100 yards rushing.

Against the Vikings Sunday, the Lions were credited with a season-high 31 official runs. However, three of those runs were kneel downs at the end of the game by quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Ameer Abdullah led the Lions with 94 yards on 20 carries. He had a long run of 29 yards and scored the Lions’ only touchdown on a three-yard run in the third quarter.

Sanders doesn’t think running at all costs is the right strategy, though.

“It depends on how well the whole picture comes together,” he said. “Do you have the scheme? Do you have all the players? You have a quarterback (Stafford) who is in the prime of his life. He’s been able to use his running back and hit his receivers.

“Without sort of being hands on, I’d say play it by ear.”

Sanders is strongly in support of the decision to extend Caldwell. The Lions have a 30-22 won-loss regular-season record under Caldwell and have made the playoffs two out of three seasons as a wild card.

“Absolutely,” Sanders said. “He’s a guy who really commands respect from the players. Think of some of the great players Coach Caldwell has been around.

“We’re seeing that come to fruition here, with a couple of playoff appearances. And he’s really getting the most out of a lot of his players.”

Sanders was in a good mood as he spoke about the team and some of its issues.

He joked when asked about the possibility of coming out of retirement to play a bit role for the Lions at the age of 49, and 19 years after his last season in 1998.

“It’s fun to think about,” he said, laughing. “I wonder what I can do with that?”