By: Will Burchfield
Chris Spielman, once an All-Pro linebacker for the Lions and now an analyst for the NFL on FOX, was driving up to Allen Park on Wednesday to check out his former team’s training camp.
Along the way, he called a handful of well-connected people in the NFL.
“Guys that are actually involved with teams and guys that cover the league,” he said.
He wanted to get their impressions of Ameer Adbullah, the Lions’ explosive but injury-prone running back. Abdullah was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2015 and missed 14 games last season due to a torn ligament in his foot.
Still, in 18 career games, he’s averaged an impressive 4.3 yards per carry.
Spielman had his thoughts on Abdullah. He was curious to see if folks in the know agreed.
“Each of them said, ‘When healthy, he is a difference-maker. He makes them better right now.’ To a man. And that’s what I anticipated,” Spielman told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “I just haven’t seen him play in a year and a half.
“Hopefully he’s healthy, because I do think he will help this football team quite a bit.”
Abdullah had foot surgery soon after his injury, and entered this year’s training camp with a clean bill of health — a stark contrast from 2016, when he was still in a red no-contact jersey. The 24-year-old has been a full-go in the team’s practices.
So far, he’s looked like the Adbullah the Lions know he can be: elusive and explosive. If he can stay healthy — an increasingly big ‘if’ — he might become the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013.
That would quite the boon for an offense that finished third to last in the NFL last year with 81.9 yards per game. For the Lions to be a better team in 2017, they’ll have to ease some of the burden on Matthew Stafford.
“I think they have a really good chance of doing a lot. They were 30th in the league in rushing last year, and they made the playoffs,” Spielman said.
The team’s biggest question right now is how the offensive line will hold up without Taylor Decker. Free-agent acquisitions Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang will certainly fortify the right side of the line, but Decker leaves a serious hole on the left.
“I was talking to my brother, [Vikings GM Rick Spielman], in the offseason and he said, ‘The one thing you can’t overcome on the offensive line – you can overcome one or two guys getting hurt for two or three weeks – but you can’t overcome replacing a Decker or two positions on that offensive for a long-time absence,'” Spielman said.
“If they’re out for eight or nine weeks – and I talked to Bob Quinn about this [on Wednesday]– that kills your team,” he added. “You’re pretty much done.”
The Lions acquired tackles Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio in the hope that one of them can provide cover until Decker returns. Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, is starting to show his worth.
“They’re backups for a reason, there aren’t any starters walking on the street. Robinson has experience, Kouandjio has experience, and somebody’s getting an opportunity to prove that they can be a starter,” Spielman said.