Jim Schwartz would like to see more explosive runs in 2013

Posted Feb 21, 2013

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz cites the need for a big-play threat in the running game

INDIANAPOLIS-- The stats are feeble on an important part of the Detroit Lions' running game, but they shout out loud and clear.

The Lions' running game showed improvement in some areas last season, but in terms of any semblance of a big-play threat that put fear in defenses and forced them to account for a game-breaker, it didn't exist.

Coach Jim Schwartz underscored that weakness when he met with the media Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"One thing I'd like to see more of from our running game is more explosive runs," Schwartz said.

Explosive plays are considered anything of 20 yards or longer. The Lions had only four of those, tying the San Diego Chargers for the fewest in the league.

Those stats add volume to the campaign for the Lions to add a speed back to the offense, whether it's in the draft in April or by signing free agent Reggie Bush.

There are signs that veterans on the Lions offense are campaigning for Bush in separate ways. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has begun following Bush on his Twitter account, and wide receiver Nate Burleson came out aggressively for Bush on the NFL Network's NFL AM show on Monday.

"I'm going to just say this: 'Reggie Bush, you already took your talents to South Beach (the Miami Dolphins),'" Burleson said. "Come on to Detroit."

The free agent signing period begins March 12. Whether the Lions can meet Bush's contract demands, or if Bush would give strong consideration to playing in Detroit, remains to be seen.

The Lions are likely to address defensive needs early in the draft. Teams have shown in recent years that productive backs can be picked up in the later rounds.

Andre Ellington of Clemson is an intriguing prospect who might be available lower in the draft, from the third round on.

Schwartz joked when asked about Burleson campaigning for Bush.

"Has tampering season officially opened?" he said. "I don't know if that's tampering. We're worried about our own team right now. We're evaluating every single player, potential fits."

The Lions improved marginally in rushing yards, gaining 1,613 compared to 1,523 in 2011, and they almost doubled their total of rushing touchdowns with 17 compared to only nine in 2011.

But the big-play threat was missing, and it allowed teams to concentrate more coverage on Calvin Johnson than had the running game been more of a threat.

Mikel Leshoure, the No. 1 tailback, led the Lions with 798 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, but his longest run of the season was 16 yards.

Jason Hanson

Strong legs: With kicker Jason Hanson's future undecided after 21 seasons with the Detroit Lions, longer kickoffs will be part of the evaluation if a change is made. With kickoffs moved up to the 35 the last two years, kicking the ball out of the end zone is more of a priority to eliminate big returns.

The Lions gave up touchdown returns on kickoffs in back-to-back games against the Vikings and Titans last season. The Lions returned 39 kickoffs last season compared to 49 by their opponents. Ten returns doesn't seem like a lot, but it represents about 25 percent more.

Hanson was in in four-way tie for 16th in the league last year with 30 touchdowns. Vikings rookie Blair Walsh of the NFC North-rival Vikings lead the division with 53 touchbacks, fourth most in the league.

"Having a kicker that can eliminate a really good specialist, particularly on offenses that score a lot. That's definitely part of the equation. It's something that has changed. Just even four years ago, teams had been content to take a knee if the ball's four or five yards deep. Now guys are itching to bring it out."

One man's opinion: it would be a shame if inability to cover kickoffs led to the end of Hanson's career after 21 stellar seasons, but it's part of the game. And young kickers are thriving in the NFL because of college training and kicking camps.

Young gone: Schwartz hadn't commented before Thursday on the Lions decision to cut wide receiver Titus Young on Feb. 4, the first day teams could release players. The St. Louis Rams claimed him, then released him 10 days later.

After meeting with Young at team headquarters, Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he felt "Titus is better suited for another organization."

Obviously, that will be one of 30 franchises – if any – but not the Lions or Rams.

Schwartz was defensive coordinator under Fisher at Tennessee before being hired by the Lions in 2009, but Schwartz said he did not talk to Fisher about Young. Fisher was out of football in 2011 and attended some Lions games. That gave him some exposure to Young, Schwartz said.

Young's misbehavior outweighed his ability on the field in his two seasons with the Lions.

"Obviously, it didn't work out for us," Schwartz said. "It's very disappointing. He's a guy that physically was very productive for us and looked like he was going to be a very important part of our offense."

Young gun: Young sent out some bitter tweets about the Lions before he was released. Ryan Broyles, a second-year receiver with a promising future, was just the opposite with his Twitter account.

His rookie season ended early with a knee injury, and Broyles tweeted a picture of his first workout running in the therapy pool at the Lions' headquarters facility in Allen Park.

Schwartz is impressed with Broyles' attitude and desire to get back on the field as soon as possible. Schwartz also joked about the picture of Broyles running in the pool.

"We don't play the game under water," Schwartz said.

Trestman in Detroit: New Bears head coach Marc Trestman coached the Detroit Lions' quarterbacks in 1997. It was Bobby Ross' first season as the Lions' head coach, and Ross said at the time that he hired Trestman in part because of his experience with an offense that used a fullback.

As head coach of the Chargers, Ross used the H-back.

Trestman said Thursday that Ross never told him that was part of the reason he hired him, but the offense was successful in Trestman's one season.

Barry Sanders rushed for a career-high 2,053 yards, and Scott Mitchell had his last productive season as an NFL quarterback. Mitchell started all 16 games and threw 19 TD passes against 14 interceptions. The Lions made the playoffs with a 9-7 record but were beaten in the wild card playoffs by Tampa Bay.

Mitchell was benched after two games in 1998 and never was a full-time starter again before retiring after the 2001 season.

"I had a tremendous experience in Detroit," Trestman said. "From a standpoint of ownership,  the Fords were terrific to my family.  It was a really good season for us. Working with Scott and being around Barry Sanders, it was completely a positive experience."

Trestman left Detroit in 1998 to become offensive coordinator of the Cardinals. He was head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes the last five years.

Trestman was asked if his CFL experience would be an advantage if the NFL went to a bigger field in an effort to reduce images, as some have proposed doing.

"I have some plays if we ever get to a bigger field," he said.