The Lions ranked amongst the bottom five in the league in 2014 with 88.9 rushing yards per game, contributing to the overall struggles of the offense.
“Our running game was sporadic,” said head coach Jim Caldwell. “There were sometimes where it was really good and then there were sometimes where it wasn’t good enough. We just have to get it where it’s consistent.”
Tomlinson and Abdullah have combined for prolific ground gains in the past, with both representing the North in this year’s Senior Bowl. The two proved to have chemistry as the North produced 142 rushing yards behind Abdullah’s 73. The runner also chipped in 40 receiving yards en route to 34-13 victory.
“At the Senior Bowl, you saw it,” said Abdullah. “Even though I got MVP, it probably should have been (Tomlinson). He just opened up holes and today we hit the ground running. I expect him to do great things.”
Tomlinson played left guard during his first practice despite spending his collegiate career at right guard. He is expected to play on the left side with starter Larry Warford entrenched on the right side in Detroit. Fortunately for the Lions, the transition seems to be smooth as Tomlinson spent the spring preparing for it, including playing at that spot in the Senior Bowl.
“Yes the stance is different but it’s bringing the same effort, intensity, same footwork,” said Tomlinson. “You’re just mirroring it, just flipping it.”
As Tomlinson gets acclimated to the left side of the line, Abdullah is getting re-acclimated with returning punts, something he did in college but not something he has done since his junior season – on gameday anyway.
“Today, they had me at punt return,” said Abdullah. “Even though I didn’t do them in the game at Nebraska (as a senior), I did it a lot in practice. I’ve been kind of use to that phase and I’m eager just to get better every day.”
He later added: “I’ve (returned punts) my whole life really, so it’s not really adjusting.”
If Tomlinson and Abdullah are able to combine to help revive the Lions running game, it will make a big difference for the team, including quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“It’s a quarterback’s best friend,” said Caldwell. “You hear that often, it’s an old term that’s been used for 70, 80 years. The fact of the matter is that it’s true. If you think in terms of our situation last year, you run the ball a little bit better, it gives us the chance to win a couple more ball games. It’s the difference between 11-5 and 13-3. It takes some of the pressure off of him and not feeling like he has to do everything.”
Ultimately, it’s not about racking up the rushing yards, it’s about winning games. That message appears to have resonated with this new class of Lions.
“I feel like there is an emphasis to win here,” said Abduallah. “Any way it’s going to be done, just get it done. Not necessarily just focusing on one thing or focusing on another phase, I can just really tell there is an emphasis to win here.”