Kevin Jones is ready to go. He's ready to start Sunday against Tampa Bay, and he's ready to carry more of the load as the Lions try to improve their running attack.
Coach Rod Marinelli said Wednesday that Jones had reclaimed his spot as the Lions' No. 1 running back, three games into his return from a serious foot injury. Tatum Bell is No. 2. Then there is T.J. Duckett, who is ready to return from a high-ankle sprain.
"We've got a chance to have that whole group, finally," Marinelli said.
Trying to score a touchdown Dec. 10 against Minnesota, Jones suffered a Lisfranc injury -- a tearing of the tissues that connect the bones in the middle of the foot. In surgery three days later, three pins were inserted into the foot. One pin still remains.
No one knew when Jones would be able to return, and the Lions acquired Bell from Denver and signed Duckett as a free agent. Jones insisted all along he would be the guy when healthy. He rehabbed hard using traditional methods, and he even sought a non-traditional heat acupuncture treatment in an Asian man's basement.
From early in the offseason though Sept. 1, the question was whether the Lions would keep Jones on the physically-unable-to-perform list or put him on the active roster to start the season. Numerous reports said they would keep Jones on the PUP list, which would have kept Jones out for at least the first six weeks of the regular season.
But the Lions put him on the active roster, and Jones returned in the Lions' third game, Sept. 23 at Philadelphia, his hometown. He scored a touchdown on his first NFL carry at Lincoln Financial Field, the stadium his father, Thomas, helped build as part of the construction crew.
In the Lions' last game, Oct. 7 at Washington, Jones didn't touch the ball in the first half. But he had 11 carries for 48 yards and two catches for 17 yards in the second half.
Asked about the way he was used in the first half, Jones said: "I don't agree with that. I think I need to be in there consistently getting touches so I can get into the rhythm of the game."
Jones said he wasn't 100 percent yet, but added: "I'm good enough to play and good enough to get the ball." Talking about how he played in the second half, Jones said: "Hopefully that shows them that I can go."
Bell requested a trade through his agent in the following days, knowing his role would be reduced. The Lions denied the request because they still need insurance for Jones, who still experiences soreness after games. The Lions need to manage Jones' pain.
But Jones is much farther ahead than he would have been otherwise. Had the Lions kept Jones on the PUP list, he just now would be eligible to practice with the team and play. He likely would not have been in good enough shape to play Sunday against the Buccaneers.
"We were lucky, I think," Marinelli said.
SERIES HISTORY: 51st meeting. Lions lead series, 26-24. The former NFC Central rivals have played only once since 2002, but it was a memorable game. The Lions lost, 17-13, after a touchdown by tight end Marcus Pollard was overturned in the final seconds.
--Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia acknowledged the bickering in the Lions locker room when he was in Detroit two years ago. "Obviously there were a couple players in the locker room that had issues (with quarterback Joey Harrington), but I think that was something that had built up over the years of frustration, having been there together, having not been able to win football games," Garcia said. "That creates a frustrating situation, and it's hard to fight through that when it's year in and year out, and I think that's what created some of the explosion that took place within the locker room. But it wasn't like it was completely out of control. I thought that guys, for the most part, tried to work through it. They tried to give their best. They tried to create a winning effort. And it just, unfortunately, wasn't happening."
Garcia also scolded his former wide receivers for their lack of work ethic. "I can't force players to take their playbook home with them," Garcia said. "I can't force players to get in the weight room. I can't force players to watch more film. That's up to each and every individual player. And that was something I'm sure was talked about at the time and it's just unfortunate that for whatever reason when you're not winning football games, you're trying to search for answers as to what can we do to be better."
Garcia is not surprised coach Rod Marinelli cleaned house when he took over in 2006. "I think that you have to create a certain attitude, and if the attitude is bad or wrong, then you need to clean it up in some way or another," Garcia said. "And if that means that you have to bring in fresh faces and a fresh perspective and a fresh attitude, then that's what you have to do. I think that coach Marinelli has done a great job. I think that he has a great staff underneath him and he has players who are believing in what they have to coach and teach, and that's so important in order to be successful or have a chance to compete on Sundays, is that your players have to believe and they have to believe in everything that they're taught and they have to believe in each other. You see that this team is really beginning to believe or is believing in each other and that's what's given them a chance to win on Sundays."
--Lions linebacker Ernie Sims fits the mold of Derrick Brooks in the Tampa 2 defense -- and fits it well. "He's a great player," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "I just think he's defining his own niche here. He is a collision guy, man. He makes some of the greatest plays I've seen sideline to sideline. I love watching Ernie Sims play. Derrick is a guy that's going to the Hall of Fame and had a long, healthy, productive, great career, and I'm sure Ernie Sims can accomplish a lot of those similar things if he keeps doing what he's doing, that's for sure."
--The word before the NFL draft was that Gruden really liked wide receiver Calvin Johnson. "I think that's an understatement," Gruden said. "I loved Calvin." The Buccaneers flew a crew up to Georgia Tech to see Johnson. Gruden raved about his combination of size, speed, intelligence and creativity. "I know he's going to be a superstar for the Lions," Gruden said. But Gruden said the Bucs didn't really try to move up from No. 4 to No. 2. They didn't want to give up picks they desperately needed, and they knew the Lions had drafted a wide receiver in the top 10 in three of the previous four drafts. "We weren't really ambitious in terms of moving up," Gruden said. "We had some thought that maybe he might fall to us, given the history that the Lions had."
The Lions took Johnson second overall. The Bucs took defensive end Gaines Adams fourth.
--Tight end Dan Campbell, on injured reserve with an elbow problem, had a torn triceps reattached to the bone in surgery. The last two years he has tried to rush back from the problem in about six months, when it needs about eight months. "I've tried to beat the odds and tried to come back a lot quicker than really you should from these, because the season gets here and you want to play," Campbell said. "So this kind of just forces me take the time that is needed to let it properly heal." Campbell, who has three years left on his contract, said he would be back next season at "full force."
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Interceptions by Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia, who threw six in six games with the Lions in 2005, including one that was returned for a touchdown in overtime against Chicago.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mean, you know, we brought it up. But it wasn't really just demanding a trade or nothing like that." -- RB Tatum Bell, on his agent asking the Lions for a trade.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Lions released linebacker Donte' Curry, a special teams stalwart they brought back recently, and signed cornerback Dovonte Edwards.
Edwards' only NFL experience is 12 games with Minnesota in 2005. He intercepted a Brett Favre pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown against the Packers at Lambeau Field on "Monday Night Football." He spent last year on injured reserve with an arm problem.
The Lions have injury issues at cornerback, but Edwards probably won't be ready to play until next week at the earliest.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Calvin Johnson is back to normal after struggling with a sore lower back.
--CB Stanley Wilson didn't practice Wednesday because of a groin injury. Coach Rod Marinelli said Wilson was being examined and his status was uncertain.
--CB Keith Smith returned to practice Wednesday but was limited by his ankle injury.
--TE Sean McHugh has a small cast on his left hand to protect a broken bone and isn't sure how well he can catch the ball. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
GAME PLAN: The Lions have to get their offense back on track after failing to score a touchdown in nine of their last 10 quarters. They have to stay on the field, they have to protect quarterback Jon Kitna and they have to protect the ball. The Lions' strength is their offense, and they should have plenty of experience against the Tampa 2 defense because they see it every day in practice.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bucs LDE Greg Spires, who has only one sack this season, vs. Lions RT George Foster, who has been benched in each of the past two games. The Bucs' pass rush isn't what it once was. Warren Sapp is gone. So is Rod Marinelli, Dewayne White and Simeon Rice. Spires is the last holdover from the old days, and Gaines Adams isn't ready to start yet. Foster has struggled badly. The Redskins had success with a four-man rush in the Lions' last game, and a four-man rush is the key to the Tampa 2 defense.
Lions RB Kevin Jones, who is ready to start for the first time this season, vs. Bucs WLB Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay tackling machine. Jones is ready to go three games into his return from a bad foot injury, and the Lions need him to get their running game going. The Lions are a passing team, but they need to run the ball better for a number of reasons -- to keep the rush at bay, to give their defense a breather and to put teams away in the fourth quarter. Brooks is getting up there, but he's still a future Hall of Famer who makes plays from sideline to sideline.
INJURY IMPACT: The Lions return from their bye week relatively healthy, but they have issues in the secondary. If cornerbacks Stanley Wilson and Keith Smith can't play, that will test their depth.