By: Will Burchfield
The Lions’ running back situation doesn’t quite feel settled.
Though GM Bob Quinn and head coach Jim Caldwell have professed faith in the team’s current stable of backs, an addition still seems like it’s in the cards. The Lions were reportedly “squarely in play” for LaGarette Blount as recently as last week and on Friday they brought in former Viking Matt Asiata to work out during rookie minicamp, which extends through Sunday.
Though Caldwell declined to comment on Blount, dismissing the topic as “rumors and innuendo,” he had this to say of Asiata: “I think anybody knows that’s seen him work, he’s a good special-teamer, he’s tough, he’s a very good pass protector, he carries the ball and he runs behind his pads. He’s always been a very, very effective player in this league.”
In 16 games with the Vikings last season Asiata ran for 402 yards and six touchdowns on 121 carries. (He also hauled in 32 receptions for 263 yards.) The Lions, by contrast, had six rushing touchdowns as a team. Even if top running backs Ameer Adbullah and Theo Riddick can stay healthy for the entire 2017 season, an uncertain proposition at best, Asiata would provide a bruising complement in the backfield.
For now, though, the Lions are projecting confidence in Abdullah and Riddick, who were sidelined for a combined 20 games in 2016. Abdullah broke a bone in his left foot and Riddick was hampered by ankle and wrist injuries.
“I believe this,” said Caldwell, “I believe Ameer Adbullah, when he’s healthy and rolling, he’s awfully good. All you have to do is just take a look at the numbers. Don’t listen to me, look at the numbers and see when he’s on the field for you what he does. When Theo’s out there and healthy everybody knows what he can do. Those guys create a punch.”
Over 18 games in the NFL, Abdullah is averaging a tidy 4.3 yards per carry. Riddick, meanwhile, was tied for the most receptions (80) in the league among running backs in 2015. There’s no doubt that, when healthy, the two players form a pretty potent duo.
Behind Abdullah and Riddick, the Lions have Zack Zenner, who led the team in rushing yards (334) and rushing touchdowns (4) last season, second-year pro Dwayne Washington and veteran Mike James. They also recently signed Tion Green, an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati.
Caldwell likes that group’s potential.
“I don’t think anybody in this room has any question of whether or not Zack Zenner can run the ball. We got a young guy in Dwayne Washington. Nobody really knows how good he can be, but he has talent, he has ability, we like what we see in that particular area and he’s developing. He’s coming along. And then we got Mike James as well and obviously Tion’s part of that group in free agency. So we have a pretty good group of guys, some pretty good depth there,” Caldwell said.
Quinn expressed the same sentiment last week.
“Our running backs, when they’re healthy, and we feel that they’re going to be ready for the season, are more than capable of producing enough yards on the ground. Between Ameer, Theo, Zack, Dwayne, Mike and whoever else we may bring in here in the future, I think we’re going to have plenty of running backs to carry the load,” he said.
Asiata might soon be part of that equation — or he might not.
“Do we look to improve any time that we can? You better believe it, anytime we can,” Caldwell said. “We look and we see if it fits us and if it does we’ll make that decision. If not, we move on.”