O'HARA: Walker optimistic RB group has improved

Adding a veteran and some young legs at running back have given the Detroit Lions more versatility at the position with the potential to pay dividends.

Running backs coach David Walker is optimistic from what he has seen in the supervised offseason workouts that the position has been upgraded.

The Lions’ running game ranked last in the NFL last season, and general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia have made improving it a primary focus of the offseason.

Personnel additions are part of that plan.

“We’ve brought in some guys who have different skill sets than some guys we’ve had in the room previously,” Walker said Tuesday.

“Not to try to pigeon hole guys and say, ‘This is their only role,’ I think with those additions there won’t be any job descriptions on the field that we can’t do, based on what we have in the room.”

Veteran LeGarrette Blount was signed as an unrestricted free agent. The draft added Kerryon Johnson of Auburn in the second round and fullback Nick Bawden of San Diego State in the seventh. The Lions did not have a player designated as a fullback last season.

Four holdovers from last year remain on the roster – Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington.

Quinn has said he plans to keep four or five running backs on the 53-player regular season roster. It is almost certain that two of the newcomers – Blount and Johnson – will claim two of the roster sports. It’s game on for jobs, from now until the final cuts.

Blount and Johnson bring different skills to the offense. Blount has experience and a proven record in his eight pro seasons as a 247-pound power runner who excels in short yardage situations. Johnson brings potential from producing at a high level in the tough SEC.

Walker talked about Blount’s power and leadership.

“Initially, he brings good leadership and a good work ethic,” Walker said. “He’s blended in well with the guys in the locker room already. He’s had many experiences over the last couple of years that he can share with our guys that will help us improve, mindset-wise.

View photos from the Detroit Lions assistant coaches meeting the media on May 29, 2018.

“When we get to the physical part of it, obviously teams that have been going against us the last couple of years, it’s a little bit different tackling LeGarrette than it was maybe tackling Ameer (who weighs 203 pounds) in the hole.

"He’ll have a chance to be a guy who’ll give us a physical presence in the backfield that maybe we didn’t have as consistently as we’d like last season.

“I think we’re all looking forward to seeing him bang around out there on Sunday.”

Pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield are two skills that add to a running back’s value. Riddick is outstanding at both.

Walker hasn’t seen any sign that Johnson won’t be able to handle those parts of the job. His background as an all-state basketball player in Alabama indicates he has a high level of hand-eye coordination.

“If you can’t protect the quarterback, you can’t play,” Walker sad. “It’s a huge part of the job. I think Kerryon will be fine when he gets to that position where he has to handle it.

“He’s already made some plays on our practice field that show he’s got good ball skills. That won’t be an issue.”

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