ALLEN PARK -- It’s too bad the Detroit Lions didn’t end up on the HBO series Hard Knocks, because training camp is becoming increasingly interesting.
There are multiple positional battles, including an unexpected one at running back.
The Lions currently are carrying nine backs, with a maximum of five making the final roster.
To make the situation even more interesting, return specialist Stefan Logan – who has normally filled a role at receiver – has been practicing as a running back recently, potentially adding a 10th runner to the roster.
Entering camp, when talking about positions of concern or competition, the backfield was on the backburner. The team was returning a healthy Jahvid Best, had spent a second-round draft pick on promising power runner Mikel Leshoure as well as brought veteran Maurice Morris back into the fold. Add fullback Jerome Felton to the list and it seemed like the position was settled.
Fast forward three weeks into training camp and 'settled' is the last word that could describe the situation.
The Lions have lost Leshoure for the season and have inked veteran backs Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell to supplement. Best has touched the ball nine times and has already sustained a minor injury and the 32-year old Morris hasn’t been able to complete a full practice due to a broken hand. All the while the Lions running game has sputtered during two exhibition contests.
Now, the Lions are forced to make quick evaluations regarding the position and who to keep. New rules restricting teams from practicing twice in a day only makes the process more difficult.
“No two-a-days,” said head coach Jim Schwartz after Tuesday’s practice. “So you don’t have that other practice where you can get them more reps… (but) we still got two preseason games to go. We got a lot of time.”
That time is slowly dwindling down as weeks will soon turn to days.
What will the Lions decide?
Best will obviously have a roster spot. The second-year pro figures to be a major component of the Lions running game (and short passing game) this season. The Lions have even spent time lining him up at the receiver position during team drills. Interestingly enough, Best has not looked strong as a receiver. He’s had multiple drops in training camp – both in positional drills and team scrimmages – and must correct that before the season starts. There are also concerns regarding his durability.
Morris doesn’t have the speed that Best does, but is a patient runner who has excellent vision. He also should make the team and may even end up with the heavier workload. Some may be concerned due to his inability to fully practice but he is familiar with the playbook, has stayed involved during practice and has kept himself in shape.
Felton isn’t a lock to make the roster but has the inside track. The fourth-year fullback is an effective blocker and can contribute in short-yard situations.
Harrison, Bell and Aaron Brown appear to be in competition for one spot.
The three have rotated reps in training camp, with Brown appearing to be the most effective. However, Brown does not offer the downhill running the Lions are seeking from the position. Harrison and Bell both offer more as power runners but haven’t been successful with the opportunities they have been given.
If either Harrison or Bell step up over the next two weeks, it’s likely they will occupy a roster spot on the 53-man roster. If not, the Lions may be forced to forfeit the dimension of the offense that they so desired – power running.
The battle should be intense, the outcome will be impactful and the observations will be interesting. If only it were all televised.