After lamenting the loss of Jahvid Best we move forward and look at this year’s group of running backs. Newly signed Reggie Bush, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell will try to form the 2nd coming of Earth, Wind, and Fire. No, not the soulful singers from Chi-town, but the famous trio of Giant running backs: Brandon Jacobs (Earth), Derrick Ward (Wind) and Ahmad Bradshaw (Fire). Jacobs ran over opponents with his brute strength, while Bradshaw broke ankles with his agility. Ward provided the cherry on top as a young, all-purpose back hungry for yardage. The power of these three unique talents gave the New York Giants the NFL’s top run attack of 2008.
The Detroit Lions try to emulate the three-headed monster in this week’s position preview:
Halfback Depth Chart
Reggie Bush (6-foot, 203 pounds) replaces Jahvid Best’s role for Detroit. He will be called on to provide electricity through both the run and pass. While he doesn’t have the same speed, he is plenty elusive and can create his own holes with ease.
In Bush’sdays with the Saints the high octane offense made him a threat primarily in the receiving game. In his first two seasons he accumulated 161 catches.
3rd downs plagued the Lions last season as their receivers dropped ball after ball. Bush will be a tremendous dump-down option with sure hands who can juke his way for first downs.
As his seasons went on with the Saints, the third pick of the 2006 NFL draft saw his production drop with the emergence of a crowded backfield and an injury-plagued season in 2010. The following offseason Bush took his talents to South Beach, and his skills were demonstrated in a new way. The Dolphins gave Bush his first two 200-plus rushing attempt seasons, and he did not disappoint as a run-first back averaging nearly 4.7 yards per carry. The Lions hope to see more of that in their quest for a more balanced attack on offense.
Fire Grade (No. 1 RB): B
Mikel Leshoure (6-foot, 227 pounds) is fully healed and has no excuses. A year following an ACL tear the 2nd rounder disappointed with a noticeable lack of burst that left the Lions last in rushes over 20 yards. His lack of speed could be cited as a side effect from his injury. Players do not fully heal from Achilles tears until two years following surgery, so Leshoure has another chance to justify his high selection.
Coming out of Illinois he was regarded by many as the 2nd best running back in the 2011 draft. Leshoure dazzled scouts with his array of skills running, receiving, and blocking. The all-around back showed off decent speed mixed with solid power. Last year he bulldozed his way for nine touchdowns, but bystanders wait to see his full repertoire translate to the NFL.
Earth Grade (No. 2 RB): C +
Joique Bell (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) came out of nowhere last season in his admirable campaign for more snaps. He vastly outperformed Leshoure averaging 5.0 yards per carry compared to Mikel’s 3.7. With less playing time Bell caught 52 passes at 9.3 yards per catch, while Leshoure had only 34 grabs at 6.3 yards per catch.
However, Bell never surpassed Leshoure for the starting role because of difference in pedigree. While Leshoure was a high draft pick, Bell came into the league as an undrafted free agent from Division II football. It will take time for the hometown, Wayne State product to be trusted by the Lions over the profiled, Big Ten alum. If Bell can continue to showcase superior play than coach Schwartz will have no choice but to increase the Warrior’s workload.
Wind Grade (No 3 RB): B
Overall Grade: B-
Overall Summary: The Lions have a nice 1, 2, 3 punch. If Bush goes down, the fire will likely fade, and teams will be able to stifle the slower backs like last season. Bush’s health is the key to the Lions’ run game and the focal point of the offense (outside of one Mr. Johnson.)
Of course, no matter who carries the rock the run game will rely heavily on an evolving offensive line that we will delve into next week.