Fullback Nick Bawden is feeling the pace speed up in a delayed start to his career with the Detroit Lions.
It’s been a rapid progression in a week of important steps: Last Friday night’s scrimmage at Ford Field, the combined training camp practices with the New England Patriots that began Monday, and Thursday night’s opening preseason game with the Patriots at Ford Field.
After spending a year on the injured list in what would have been his rookie season, it’s an exciting time for Bawden.
“Totally,” he said after Monday’s training camp practice.
“It’s been a dream come true, for sure. It got cut short, as you know. A lot of work was put in, but I’m super, super happy to be out here.
“I’m incredibly happy. It’s a lot of fun.”
Bawden’s enthusiasm for football is genuine and apparent. It’s part of the reason the Lions drafted him in the seventh round out of San Diego State in 2018 with the possibility of being the starting fullback.
The fullback was restored to the offense last year under head coach Matt Patricia. Bawden’s chance to win the starting job vanished when he sustained what proved to be a season-ending knee injury in training camp.
“I was just running down covering a punt,” Bawden said. “I got put in a weird position. I knew something felt different.”
Nick Bellore, a converted linebacker now with Seattle, held the job most of last year.
Bawden had surgery in Detroit and remained here to work on his rehabilitation program. He had to overcome some mental hurdles while he worked to regain his health. He was a full participant when training camp opened.
“It felt like a long time, even though a year’s not a long time,” Bawden said. “It’s important to get over that as quickly as you can. Stop feeling for yourself.”
Bawden went through a brief period of depression.
“It was a day, and I was out of there,” he said. “It was a complete bummer. It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do to change it.”
There was something he could do about the future – work hard and study.
He impressed head coach Matt Patricia with the way he studied the game to prepare for the next season.
“I think Nick is unbelievable,” Patricia said. “He loves the game. He’s passionate about it, and when you go through something like that it’s definitely a reminder of how difficult this is.
“I know last year, it’s long (the rehab process) but he approached it the right way and had his head down and just grinded it out trying to learn as much as possible.”
The fullback position has changed in recent years. About half the teams in the NFL don’t have a defined fullback, choosing to use offensive linemen and tight ends in the role.
However the position is filled, the old days are gone when the fullback was strictly a road grader for the tailback and an outlet receiver.
Bawden has been used a lot as a receiver in training camp, with a variety of routes.
“They stress to you versatility,” he said. “The more you can do out on the field, the more you can stretch the field and create some different mismatches for the defense.
“It’s important to do as many things as you can.”