Lions running back Mikel Leshoure had two carries last season. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Indianapolis — Don’t discard running back Mikel Leshoure just yet. The Lions certainly aren’t. General manager Martin Mayhew said Friday at the NFL scouting combine a new coaching staff and a new offensive system means Leshoure will have a clean slate coming into 2014.
“I think he’s obviously a very talented guy,” Mayhew said. “He did not get a lot of opportunities last year. Our system last year was really a two-back system. If Joique (Bell) and Reggie (Bush) were healthy, they were going to get the bulk of the carries … (Leshoure) couldn’t break into the top two.”
Leshoure, the team’s second-round pick in 2011, was active for three games last season, playing behind Bush, Bell and rookie Theo Riddick, who had a role on special teams. Leshoure had two carries the entire season.
But with new coach Jim Caldwell, and especially offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, there may be a more pronounced emphasis on the run game and perhaps roles for more than two backs. Caldwell has had successful run offenses in Indianapolis and Baltimore, as did Lombardi in New Orleans.
“If you go back and look at what the Saints did, they used multiple backs in a lot of different ways,” Mayhew said. “I’m encouraged about that for Mikel. It could bode well for him in terms of getting more playing time and having a more specific, defined role in our offense.
“I’m encouraged by that for him and look forward to seeing him when he gets back.”
At the end of last season, a frustrated Leshoure had said he would prefer to be traded to a team with a more run-based attack.
“I just want to be somewhere they’re going to feed me the rock and I can go eat, man,” Leshoure told the Free Press. “That’s it. They could be the worst team in the NFL. … Just give me the rock. I feel like I just need the ball. Even here, we don’t really run the ball here.”
Caldwell reiterated Thursday his desire to beef up the Lions’ run game. He was asked what he felt the team needed to do to get over the hump.
“Minimize mistakes, don’t turn the ball over, be able to run the ball — particularly in our division where we have to go outside and play in some inclement weather,” he said. “You can’t always just wing it up and down the field. You’ve got to be able to run that ball as well.”
Along those lines, both Caldwell and Mayhew have indicated the fullback position may make a return to the Lions’ offense after a three-year hiatus.
“I've kind of always liked to have a fullback around,” Mayhew said. “The problem has been if the guy is just going to be an I-back, and that's all he's going to do — play 10 snaps — then how do you keep him active?”
He said he hoped Montell Owens would have fit the bill last year — a fullback-halfback who played on multiple special teams. But Owens’ season was lost to a knee injury.
“I've always liked to have a fullback, though, and we're looking to find a guy that can fit into one of those roles.”
Most likely, that player would come through free agency. Mayhew made it clear he was happy with the running backs on the roster — Bell, Bush, Leshoure, Riddick, Owens and Steven Miller.
“We’ve got backs that we like right now,” he said. “We have backs that are quality players, that are good players. I think we’re going to be in pretty decent shape at running back assuming we can stay healthy.”