Fear Ameer’s fumble habit

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With the Detroit Lions’ playoff hopes in the rear-view mirror, there is little motivation to continue watching their free fall into NFL irrelevancy. We may not often win, but it’s the small victories from solid individual performances that keep our attention. Ameer Abdullah was one of the few players inspiring hope for the future after the first four weeks of the season, but with the good comes the bad.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday was our rookie running back’s habitual inability to hold on to the football.  Lost in the pandemonium after Sunday’s debacle, most seemed to overlook Ameer’s defects and placed their dissatisfaction elsewhere. Abdullah now has three fumbles in five games for anyone not counting.

We are well past the point of calling Abdullah’s fumbles an anomaly or a case of bad luck. At Nebraska, he had a total of 15 fumbles between his freshman and sophomore seasons alone. Abdullah declared to make a concerted effort to fix the issue and whittled that alarming statistic down to nine his final two years. Once again, he finds himself in a similar situation as an old destructive habit has reared its ugly head. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to remedy the problem. Ameer understands what needs to be done and will be the first to admit the obvious.

“It’s a physical thing. I gotta tuck it away better. I know what I gotta do. I will be better,” said Abdullah.

This leads to the question, are fumbles correctable? It may seem like an easy fix, but some just don’t seem to have the knack for holding on to the ball. Abdullah is at a minor disadvantage due to his small hands and stature, but there are plenty of backs that are similar in size and possess reliable mitts. Jim Caldwell even expressed confidence in Abdullah this week and reinforced his belief that the issue is only temporary.

“The thing about it is that I think you’ve seen there’s been a number of guys that, early on, had some issues with taking care of the ball,” Caldwell said. “He’s one of those young guys, he’s going to have to learn.”

Caldwell mentioned other players turning the corner and overcoming their transgressions, why can’t Ameer Abdullah be the next illustration? A distant example of a back who mitigated the dreadful flaw includes a former Pro-Bowler, Tiki Barber. As most recall, the 205-pound running back also had plenty of ball security issues for a number of years. From 2000-03, Barber put a total of 35 footballs on the turf. He had no choice but to adopt a new ball carrying technique after Tom Coughlin seized the reins and gave Barber an ultimatum. He had to either substantially reduce the fumbles or he would sit the bench. Barber eventually embraced the high and tight method which elevated him from a good to great running back. After his transformation, he only fumbled a total of nine times in his final three seasons. The decrease wasn’t due to lack of workload either, as Tiki’s numbers and stats actually increased during that span.

Another diminutive scatback Abdullah often draws comparisons to is Gio Bernard. Both are explosive but vary greatly in their ability to hang on to the football. Bernard is one of the league’s best regarding ball security as he has fumbled just once in his 523 offensive touches. So, using size as an excuse shouldn’t be a valid point.

It’s no doubt Ameer is the most electric runner in our backfield. Opponents have to game plan for Abdullah’s skill set. We need his services to be that threat and mismatch, not only for this season, but also for our future. As a second-round pick, the Lions absolutely cannot afford another misfire. If Abdullah continues to cough up the ball, he will continue to ride the pine. You can’t make plays for your team and display your second-round value from the sidelines. Caldwell has made it clear from his actions and words that fumbling will not be tolerated.

“We took him out of the game because he put it on the ground too many times. So he’s got to earn it,” Caldwell stated.

Time heals all wounds, but the trust in Ameer’s capacity for ball security has been severely shaken. Every now and then, turnovers may be somewhat overlooked, but only when they are superseded by frequent big plays. It pains me to say this but as of now, Abdullah is a bigger risk than reward. The future still holds plenty of optimism, and lucky for him, he picked a great year to learn from his mistakes. Let’s just hope from here on out it’s the opposing defenses fearing Ameer and not us fans when the ball is in his hands.