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Improving the run game a big, big, big emphasis for Cooter

Jim Bob Cooter has made fixing Detroit's run game personal.

When Detroit's offensive coordinator looked at what went wrong with that portion of his offense last season, he pointed the finger right back at himself, despite the fact that his top running back missed 14 games and he was forced to continually shuffle offensive linemen due to injury or poor performance.

"It's been a big, big, big point of emphasis for me, myself," Cooter said this week. "So, just dealing with my own background, what I've gone through, all that stuff. It's been a really, important point of emphasis for me this offseason.

"I think I have personally improved in the run game, how I see things, how I call things, some of those things."

Detroit averaged just 81.9 yards on the ground last season, which ranked 30th in the league.

Cooter, a former backup quarterback at Tennessee and quarterbacks coach in the NFL, has received a lot of credit for the job he's done with QB Matthew Stafford the last season and a half, and also pushing Detroit's passing attack forward without All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson.

But when it comes to the run game, Cooter doesn't think he's done a good enough job. He's made it his mission to fix it heading into his second full season running Detroit's offense.

"I think we're going to run the ball better," he said. "I know we're going to run the ball more efficiently, very confident of that. At the end of the day, I feel confident that I have improved and that I am improving and I do think that's a part of the thing.

"But I also feel good about our players and how much their working at kind of getting the nuts and bolts, getting the fundamentals down."

Veteran running back Zach Zenner has certainly noticed a different focus and attention to detail when it comes to the run game this offseason.

"There's been a lot more emphasis this camp," Zenner said. "It's certainly been a focus, for sure, to give more reps at runs."

Zenner said the running backs are doing some things different in their room in terms of how they're looking at certain runs, what some of their keys are pre-snap and some other things in an attempt to get this rushing attack to a point where it's a respectable weapon.

It should certainly help that Ameer Abdullah is healthy and returning as the starter. The Lions also upgraded two spots along their offensive line with the signings of guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner. They also signed one of the best blocking tight ends in the league in Darren Fells this offseason.

But Cooter still believes the improvements Detroit hopes to see in the run game starts with him.

"When I was a young coach, I'm sitting in the back of quarterback meetings," he said.  I'm sitting in the back of offensive meetings. I'm in a lot of pass-game-oriented meetings. I'm watching third down passes. I'm watching red zone. I'm trying to learn those types of things as I develop, as I move along.

"Now, I'm spending more time with some different things and really choosing where to put my focus based on where I would like to improve, personally." 

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said improving the run game doesn't fall on one person's shoulders.  

"It's something that we all are concerned about, and I think that's how you get it done, you emphasize it," Caldwell said. "There's an old saying that you achieve what you emphasize. And I think the emphasis on it will make the biggest difference overall."

Cooter has certainly done that. Will it lead to better results?

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