A tough question becomes simple with one small nod from the team doctors. When the Detroit Lions’ medical crew gives running back Jahvid Best that nod, their backfield issues disappear.
But that just won’t happen soon. With the ever-increasing concussion crackdown in the NFL, Best’s third such injury may be a death sentence.
With Best not cleared to play, and no timetable set for his return, a void has appeared in the Lions’ backfield.
The void is apparent, but who will fill it is unclear. Veteran Kevin Smith gave the Lions some good reps as the first back last year, but I doubt his ability to stay full speed for 16 games.
Smith has been nicked up in the past, and the Lions will need other players to be in the picture in order to run the ball effectively.
Second-year player Mikel Leshoure sits in the same oft-injured category as Smith. Leshoure missed his entire rookie season to an Achilles injury, and now sits on the injured reserve with a bad hamstring. Leshoure, who will begin the 2012 season by serving a two-game suspension, is a powerful back that could give the Lions a solid short-yardage presence when healthy. But without a single NFL snap under his belt, questions remain.
Keiland Williams and Stefan Logan have also taken reps with the first team in training camp, but neither provides the answer for Detroit. Williams doesn’t have the explosion necessary to succeed in Detroit’s system, and at 5’6”, 180 pounds, Logan is a situational scat back who is far better suited on special teams.
Stephfon Green and Joique Bell are new players to watch, but don’t expect much more than situational snaps from either one in their first season with Detroit. Both backs have potential, but at this point it’s hard to say what kind of players they will be.
I see it playing out this way: Smith will be the number one back to start the year. Especially with Leshoure suspended, Smith’s experience will earn him the starting spot out of camp. Williams will be in the mix in short-yardage situations, with a situational mix of the other backs I mentioned. Once Leshoure returns from suspension, he will be eased into a timeshare with Smith that will play out throughout the season based upon efficiency.
The Lions boast one of the best passing games in the league, and they will look to move the ball primarily through the air. The running game only needs to compliment the pass and be good enough to make defenses honor it. Even without Jahvid Best, the Lions’ rushing attack is good enough to do that.
If healthy, and used effectively of course. A big “if,” considering the Lions resorted to a free agent to tote the ball halfway through last year.
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