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Sanders weighs in on Lions' run game

HOUSTON – When president Rod Wood and general manager Bob Quinn were hired last year, both men met individually with Lions legend Barry Sanders.

"I had good meetings with both of them," Sanders said Thursday in between promoting Pepsi's Rookie of the Year announcement on Radio Row.

"Joked with Quinn about how similar Detroit is to Boston. He was amused by that. Pretty early on had a chance to talk to them and they said the door is always open and definitely made me welcome and at home."

That offer extended to practice, and if Sanders ever wants to come in and talk to the players or bring his kids around the facility, Sanders said. It's an offer he plans to take the Lions up on more often in 2017.

When Sanders is around Allen Park, he'll no-doubt have his eye on Detroit's backfield and their attempt to improve an anemic rushing attack going on nearly two decades now.

The Lions haven't ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing since 1998, Sanders' last season in the NFL. They finished 10th in overall rushing that year behind Sanders' 1,491 yards.

In the last eight seasons, or the entirety of quarterback Matthew Stafford's career, Detroit has had a 100-yard rusher just eight times.

"At some point you would think you would need to be a little more balanced or whatever, I guess," Sanders said. "So I'm sure that's kind of what they're thinking."

Quinn said after the season that he'd try and tackle some of Detroit's deficiencies, including rushing the football.

It certainly didn't help this past season that Detroit lost Ameer Abdullah in just the second game of the season. Before Abdullah went down with a foot injury, Detroit rushed for more than 100 yards in both of their first two games, and Abdullah averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.

See where the Lions will play their road games during the 2017 season.

It's now two major injuries for the running back (also a shoulder) that have required surgery in less than a calendar year, though Abdullah said after the season that he's confident he can be a premier back in the NFL.

"He looked good early," Sanders said of Abdullah. "He looked very good early. I don't know how many games he missed. I know it's a lot. So, you figure you're going to give him a chance to be that guy and kind of see how it works out. Certainly, Ameer could play into that."

But if Atlanta's high-power offense has shown the league anything this year, it's that two can be better than one when it comes to the running back position. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have become one of the best one-two punches at the position in the league, combining for 1,599 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns and another 883 yards receiving with five more touchdowns.

Abdullah and Theo Riddick were Detroit's planned one-two punch this season, but injuries cost them 20 games.

"It's frustrating when you sit in my seat that build a team and then you have your starting running back go week in the second week of the season," Quinn said after the season. "At the end of the season you look back and you say, 'Why didn't we run the ball?'

"We tried to improve the offensive line, which I think we did to a degree. It's hard to replace one guy that you think is going to carry the ball for a couple hundred times a year when he's gone.

"We did our best and that's not an excuse because every team goes through injuries. My job is to replace those players if they go out and we have to do a better job."

Sanders thinks the Lions will be on the lookout for help at the position this offseason.

"Just because you have a draft doesn't mean you have a guy," Sanders said of the running back position. "It takes some home work.

"Who are those guys out there that can do what you need them to do to run the ball? Whether it's a free agent or someone in the draft. I couldn't tell you who that guy is. I don't know. But I'm sure they're putting their minds to it."

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