The Detroit Lions have spent the offseason renovating their ground game. After another dismal display of rushing in 2017, General Manager Bob Quinn made it a priority to repair the running attack which has been reflected through his signings in the free agency and NFL Draft. Most notably Quinn picked up new pieces for the offensive line, signed RB LeGarrette Blount and selected RB Kerryon Johnson in the second round of the draft. Whether these moves will spark the run game is yet to be known, but there is a lot to be excited about with Detroit’s new running backs. Here are five ways Blount and Johnson can make an immediate impact on the Detroit Lions offense.
One giant stumbling block the Lions’ offense faced last year was the inability to convert on third-and-short. The combination of a struggling offensive line and lacking a back who could grind out tough yards played big roles in this situational-underperformance.
Enter LeGarrette Blount. A true power back, Blount has earned a reputation of being an absolute bulldozer making his living between the tackles. He is a violent runner who is tough to bring down, especially if he breaks free for a few yards and gets his momentum rolling like this TD run against the Vikings in the NFC Championship game:
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 22, 2018
Blount is essentially a human bowling ball and gives Patricia and Jim Bob Cooter a good option in short-yardage situations.
When you have an offensive line that underperformed in the run game to the extent that Detroit did, a great trait to have to balance out this weakness is a running back who is patient. A patient back gives the offensive line time to get to all of their blocks and potentially open up a gap, and allows the RB to get a better look at how the play is unfolding.
This is one characteristic that has been raved about with Kerryon Johnson’s run style. While at Auburn, he frequently gave his line an extra second to do their work before exploding through a hole or, if necessary, bouncing it outside. He was excellent at slowing the game down while playing for the fast-paced SEC.
Every time I watch new #Lions RB Kerryon Johnson, his patience reminds me of #Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell. Johnson is a three-down back. His unique style will be a change of pace in Detroit, I just hope it translates. pic.twitter.com/cQOor6zb3p
— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) April 28, 2018
If Johnson continues to be a patient back in his transition into the NFL, we could see an instant improvement to the run game as the Lions’ arsenal of backs lack this skill.
The New England Connection
In 2016, LeGarrette Blount led the entire league scoring 18 rushing touchdowns while playing for New England. Bill Belichick and the Patriots masterfully used Blount’s size and power to contrast their scatbacks and Tom-Brady-led passing attack in a season where they would ultimately win the super bowl. In contrast, the Lions only managed to rush for a mere 10 touchdowns all season last year, which ranked 21st in the league according to Pro Football Reference.
Blount is 31 years old now but if he can produce even close to what he did in 2016, that could be a game changer for the Detroit offense. Matt Patricia is familiar with how Blount’s skill set is best used and will bring this knowledge with him as he and Jim Bob Cooter begin to strategize during the offseason.
There were a number of situations last year where Ameer Abdullah would get entangled at the line of scrimmage and wind up with a minimal gain. Although it was rare that the offensive line opened up holes for Abdullah, when there were lanes, he frequently flat-out missed them. This led to many cases of Abdullah either trying to bounce it outside to no avail or hitting a hole and not seeing a lane to cut through to get past the second line of defenders.
This is another big upside that has stirred excitement about Kerryon Johnson’s game. Johnson excelled at diagnosing lanes and frequently got through to the secondary during his career with the Tigers. If he continues to see the field as well as he did in college, this could mean big things for the Lions’ ground attack.
Kerryon Johnson is a "slow to, fast through" type of runner. He has very good patience, vision, and acceleration. pic.twitter.com/TRGuhmSAer
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) April 17, 2018
By this time last year, the roles for Detroit’s backfield were already locked up. Abdullah and Theo Riddick were the starters and expected to do the majority of production in the run game. Although other players such as Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner were also on the roster, they did not have a realistic opportunity to compete for a starting spot.
However, the signings of Blount and Johnson now put Riddick, and especially Abdullah, in a situation where they have to compete to earn their share of touches. Riddick expressed his excitement and belief in competing for a spot in his press conference earlier this month. This could also be the spark that Abdullah needs to be the ball carrier Bob Quinn and Jim Caldwell expected him to be before last season.
As the Lions continue offseason OTAs, it will be interesting to see how the roles shake out between running backs both new and old.