LaDainian Tomlinson knows what it means to be a bell cow for a running game. In his first seven seasons in San Diego, starting in 2001, Tomlinson carried the football at least 313 times for no less than 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.
He finished his career with 3,174 carries (fifth all-time) for more than 13,000 yards and 145 touchdowns. He was voted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend.
The NFL has changed a bit since Tomlinson was in his heyday. It's more of a passing league now, and teams are more apt to enlist multiple rushers to carry the load.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn said after the season that he was planning on Ameer Abdullah carrying the ball at least 200 times, but Abdullah suffered a foot injury in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season. It was the second major injury requiring surgery (shoulder) in Abdullah's short career thus far.
View the best #OnePride fan photos from the the 2016 season presented by Pepsi.
When asked about Abdullah and Detroit's run game, Tomlinson thinks the Lions need another back to carry more of the load.
"They are going to have to get another runner," Tomlinson said. "I think Ameer, I have a lot of respect for him, a tremendous talent in my mind. I think there's ways Ameer needs to be used, but I do think you need another physical, bruising running back to go along with Ameer.
"I think at this point, with Ameer just finishing his second year, and missed most of it, as an organization, you're probably thinking, 'okay, he probably won't be able to be the full-time starter as a runner and be able to handle 15 to 20 touches, but if I can get him 12 to 15 touches, then that might be ideal and then have another running back than can get 15 to 20 touches as well.'"
Quinn did throw his support behind Abdullah and Theo Riddick, saying after the season that he thinks they can both be very productive players, but he also made it clear that he's always looking to upgrade.
"That's what my job is, I think the players understand that," Quinn said. "I think the number of new players that we brought in this year and the number of guys we tried out and worked out, I think it was eye-opening to a lot of people.
"My eyes are always open. If we can get somebody better, then great. But do I believe in Ameer and Theo and Zach (Zenner) and Dwayne Washington and Mike James? I do."
This year's draft class at running back is one of the best in recent years, and there could be a number of physical veteran backs that might hit the free-agent market.
So that's Tomlinson's opinion on how the Lions can improve their run game.
Then there's Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, who carried the ball 300 times in a season just twice, averaging 230 carries over a 12-year career – about the amount the Lions had planned for Abdullah – and he believes Detroit has the right runners in place.
"They have the backs, it's just a matter of time," Faulk said. "You don't just wake up in the morning and say, 'we're going to be a good team at running the football.'
"Dallas was great at running the football in the Emmitt Smith days, they got away from it. Then Jerry Jones had to make some bold moves. Instead of (Johnny) Manziel, he takes Zack Martin. A guy with a third-round grade he takes in the first round in Travis Frederick. You have to make some moves."
Quinn addressed the offensive line in his first draft last season, selecting Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl, who could all figure into Detroit's plans upfront in 2017.
"I'm going to tell you, when (Abdullah and Riddick) were healthy, they were getting production," Faulk said.
The Lions did rush for 116 and 137 yards, respectively, in the two games Abdullah and Riddick were on the field together this past season.
Two schools of thought on what the Lions need to do to become a more balanced offense and a better rushing team from two Hall of Fame running backs.
It will be interesting to see what approach Quinn and the Lions take this offseason in hopes of finally sparking a long-dormant Lions rushing attack.