By: Will Burchfield
When the Lions learned they would be without running back Ameer Abdullah moving forward, they reacted in kind:
“Guys have to step up and play. Somebody has to take a few more carries than they would have ordinarily and obviously I think we have a number of guys that can do that for us,” Jim Caldwell said.
Abdullah injured his left foot in Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans and underwent surgery earlier this week. He was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, rendering him ineligible for at least the next eight weeks.
His teammates admitted they were saddened by the news, with a collective caveat.
“Just a great guy and a great competitor and a great asset to our team, but we can’t dwell on it now,” said Marvin Jones. “He’ll recover fast, but we have to worry about what we’re going to do.”
Such is life in the NFL, where the only players who really matter are those who can take the field.
“At the end of the day you gotta go into the game with the guys that you have,” said Glover Quin. “It’s the next man up. We don’t expect whoever it is to be Ameer, we expect whoever it is to be who they are and make the plays that they can make.”
For the Lions, the “next man up” is Theo Riddick.
“Obviously Theo is the veteran guy back there, the most productive guy that we’ve got back there at this particular point in time. So yeah, he’s the lead guy,” Caldwell said.
The switch from Abdullah to Riddick isn’t necessarily a downgrade. The latter has performed very well through two games this season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception. He has played a large role in the revival of the Lions’ rushing attack, which has recorded over 100 yards in each of Detroit’s first two contests.
“He’s done a nice job, every time we hand him the ball he seems like he’s picking up positive yards,” Matthew Stafford said of Riddick. “He’s doing it in the passing game like he always has, but doing a really nice job in the run game.”
Stafford’s comments were echoed throughout the Lions’ locker room on Wednesday, with a number of players praising Riddick’s elusiveness and versatility.
“But we still have people even behind him that could handle that,” said Jones, “and that’s a tribute to the depth that we have.”
Behind Riddick is rookie Dwayne Washington, the seventh-round draft pick who burst onto the scene during the preseason.
“He’s big and he’s versatile and I think when people see him coming out of the backfield they don’t realize how fast he is,” said Jones. “He has great acceleration and he can get from point A to point B very fast so he definitely adds a different element.”
Where Abdullah and Riddick are smaller, shiftier runners, the 6’1, 223-pound Washington gives the Lions a physical, straight-ahead threat in the ground game.
“He’s more of a power guy, but has some good speed too. He’s young, got a ways to go, but he’s a talented football player,” said Stafford.
Washington was the third running back on the depth chart for the Lions first two games, dressing ahead of last year’s preseason star Zach Zenner. The rookie received two goal-line carries against the Indianapolis Colts, plowing in for a touchdown on his second attempt, and ran four times for 31 yards against the Titans in Week 2.
“When he touches the ball he’s generally pretty productive, but he’s young,” said Caldwell. “I think you’ll see him improve and keep getting better week by week.”
Stafford agreed, noting Washington has shown a conscientious attitude since joining the team during OTAs.
“He’s obviously still learning the game. Everything we’ve given him he’s done a nice job of soaking up, and taking to heart and going,” Stafford said.
Jones recalled he wasn’t sure what to think of the big-bodied Washington before seeing him play. All it took was one snap for Washington to make an impression.
“It kind of surprised all of us how his burst was and how strong he was. But it’s not too much of a surprise anymore, we know what he can do now,” Jones said.
Asked if Washington might surprise some of the Lions’ upcoming opponents, Jones smiled.
“We’ll see on Sunday. I think what he adds is great. He’s got it.”