Rudi Johnson won't have to wait long to reach the field.
The recently signed running back will line up as Detroit's "No. 2" option in the backfield during Sunday's opener at Atlanta, spelling rookie Kevin Smith on occasion. While Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli didn't state how many carries the team would attempt to give the former Cincinnati Bengal and Pro Bowl runner, he did confirm that Johnson would play.
"Yeah," said Marinelli following Wednesday's practice. "We have No. 2, No. 3; we have to get up our No. 2 runner. So he was in here all day yesterday and we've kind of pushed it and had a good day today."
According to Marinelli, Johnson continued to show no ill-affects from his hamstring injury, which limited his production last year and was the reason Cincinnati -- at least publicly, anyway -- released him over the weekend. He ran with Detroit's second and third-team, and also participated in running back drills.
"Didn't seem like it," said Marinelli when asked if Johnson was nagged by his injury. "He kind of went out and had a good day."
Johnson has admittedly been cramming to learn Detroit's playbook, which has been simplified for his initial introduction. The Lions will continue to expand the plays as Johnson becomes more comfortable in the offense.
When asked whether or not Johnson would supplant Smith as the starter, Marinelli didn't elaborate. He also didn't deny the possibility.
"I'm just looking short term - tomorrow," said Marinelli. "I'm a short-term guy."
- RB Tatum Bell was released to make room for Rudi Johnson, but he certainly made waves during his departure. Caught on the team's video surveillance feed, Bell had snatched Johnson's bags from the locker room -- returning them later to a hodgepodge of odd excuses that didn't add up to anyone. Johnson said he wouldn't get the police involved. Bell had a visit with Houston lined up.
- RB Marcus Thomas impressed running backs coach Sam Gash at the East-West Shrine Game this year, and the Lions liked how he played in the preseason for the Chargers, who drafted him in the fifth round out of Texas-El Paso. He also can help the Lions' coverage units, which have struggled at times.
- QB Jon Kitna was sharp in the exhibition season with a 150.5 rating. He seems comfortable with more control at the line of scrimmage under new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, and his athleticism shows with the Lions' new use of rollouts and bootlegs.
- RB Kevin Smith popped three runs in the exhibition season, but he didn't gain much yardage otherwise. The Lions like his vision and cutting ability, and they think the running game will improve as games go on, with the line getting into rhythm and defenses wearing down.
- WR Calvin Johnson has recovered completely from the back injury that bothered him most of last season, and he seems on the verge of a breakout year. He looked dominant in limited action in the exhibition season. If he sees single coverage, he will do damage.
- WR Roy Williams should benefit from WR Calvin Johnson's emergence. If teams double team Johnson, Williams might see single coverage and have chances to make plays. He has plenty of motivation in a contract year.
- TE Dan Campbell didn't play in the exhibition season because of elbow and hamstring injuries. He went through his first contact practice Monday. He said he started slowly but felt good by the end of practice, and he expects to be ready for Sunday's opener at Atlanta.
- CB Travis Fisher continues to hold onto a starting job over Leigh Bodden, who had six interceptions for Cleveland last season and signed a contract extension with the Lions after they acquired him. Bodden needs to learn the Tampa Two system a little more.
- LB Ryan Nece, who signed Sunday after being cut by Tampa Bay, is one of the football character guys coach Rod Marinelli loves. He is the backup strong-side linebacker, but he can play all three spots and has value on special teams.
- DT Landon Cohen, a seventh-round pick this year, impressed coach Rod Marinelli so much that the Lions kept 11 defensive linemen, fearing someone would claim Cohen if they tried to pass him through waivers and sign him to the practice squad.
- RG Stephen Peterman continues to hold off Manny Ramirez for the starting job.
- RT George Foster continues to hold off Gosder Cherilus for the starting job. Foster struggled badly last season, but he looks better this season in the Lions' simplified offense and zone-blocking scheme. Cherilus, a first-round pick this year, is expected to start eventually but needs to refine his technique.