By Ashley Scoby

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and the rest of his staff have always preached productivity as the way to earn a starting spot. Yet after half a season of mediocrity, Joique Bell is still the Lions’ consistent starter at running back.

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Bell is averaging 2.6 yards per carry, and that only comes after a seven-carry, 56-yard performance against Kansas City, by far his best game of the year. He’s rarely targeted in the passing game (11 times all year). And rookie Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have both showed more explosiveness this season.

Still, Bell is the Lions’ man.

“There’s certain run schemes we like with different guys,” Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “There’s certain run schemes that some guys like better than others and we’re always keeping an eye on how many times different guys touch the ball, and you can’t always 100 percent control that. But we’re keeping an eye on the whole system and we’re trying to do what’s best for our team to win the game.”

The Lions, of course, have not won many games, stumbling to a 2-7 record more than halfway through the season.

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Chances at a playoff berth are approaching zero, and Detroit could stand to gain from building a future. Abdullah, who was the team’s second-round draft pick this year, is most likely that future. But Cooter says the team still wants to spread carries among the backs, rather than featuring just one, stressing that Bell was a “productive running back.”

Abdullah, who has had fumbling issues this season (four of them), has been benched at times. Coaches have stressed that he has to take care of the ball security problems before he sees a dramatically different role on the team.

“When you feel secure that the guy you’re handing the ball to is going to have it at the end of the play and it’s not going to end up on the ground, it’s a lot easier to call that run for that guy,” Cooter said. “So it’s a process with every running back and Ameer had a rough start to the season. He’s fighting his way back through that, but it’s a difficult process. There’s a lot of big, strong guys in this league doing everything they can to knock that thing out.”

With Cooter as play caller, Abdullah has seen his role diminish. He carried one time against Kansas City for three yards, then five times against Green Bay for 15 yards. Against the Packers, he also ripped off a 104-yard kickoff return, which tied Percy Harvin’s NFL record for longest play without scoring.

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“He’s making the most out of it for the most part when he does (get the ball),” Cooter said. “He’s just a young player. He’s got to continue growing. He’s got to continue growing in all facets of the game, protections and routes and all that stuff. So we’re going to keep him going. There’s a lot of packages and stuff that we’re working on getting installed that should mix the backs’ reps up pretty good.”