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Barry Sanders weighs in on Lions' run game

It's fine with Barry Sanders if the Detroit Lions use two, three or four running backs to accomplish what he used to do on his own in his legendary 10-year career with the Lions.

In fact, make it five or six backs – as many as it takes.

Sanders sees more positives than negatives in how the Lions have put together the running back position for the 2017 season.

In addition to what they can do on their own, Sanders also thinks the presence of Matthew Stafford as what he rates as "an elite quarterback" and an offensive line strengthened through the draft and free-agent signings by general manager Bob Quinn lessens the need to rely on one back to carry the load.

There's more than one way to move the ball, but however they do it, the Lions have to improve on a running game that ranked 31st in the league last year.

"I think it depends on the team," Sanders said Wednesday night in an appearance at the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field. "Each team is different. There are a lot of teams that would love to have one back. There are teams that would love to have that guy.

"And it just depends on circumstances. You've got a guy like Matthew Stafford, with the weapons he has, then it may not be as necessary to have one back. Each situation is different.

"Again, they'd love to have that one guy. One of those guys may separate himself from the pack. I don't think it's necessarily what they're looking for. They seem to have done OK without it."

It's beyond reasonable to think that the Lions will have a back accomplish what Sanders did as the best pure runner in NFL history. He won four rushing titles, went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark all 10 years and had a career-high 2,053 rushing yards in 1997.

The Lions' running back position has been in focus this offseason because of expectations that there would be turnover. That has not happened.

The Lions did not draft a running back or sign any of the big-name backs in free agency.

Barring a change in plans, the Lions will use what has been called the "running back by committee" approach. That leaves Abdullah as the lead back, Theo Riddick primarily a receiving specialist and Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington providing depth as role players.

Sanders is impressed by what Abdullah has been able to do when healthy in his two seasons as a Lion.

Abdullah rushed for 597 yards, two touchdowns and a 4.2-yard average per carry as a rookie in 2015. He was off to a good start last year before going out with a foot injury in the first half of the second game. Abdullah had rushed for 101 yards, with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and had five receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown.

"He seems dangerous," Sanders said. "He has a lot of great tools. He's very shifty and has very good speed. He seems to have made a nice transition (from college) to this level.

"The little bit we've seen looks very good – very promising."

Sanders appreciates the value of operating behind a solid offensive line. For the bulk of his career he had two Pro Bowl linemen blocking for him – center Kevin Glover and left tackle Lomas Brown.

"They should have done that a long time ago," Sanders said of the personnel moves Quinn has made up front. "I love seeing that. It's a priority. You see what Dallas has done with its offensive line.

"It starts up front."

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