After leading the Lions in rushing in 2012, Mikel Leshoure has just nine yards on two carries last season. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — Describing Mikel Leshoure’s 2013 season as forgettable would be a huge understatement.
After leading the Lions in rushing in 2012, the 2011 second-round pick was a healthy scratch in 13 games last season and had only two carries as his workload went to free-agent signee Reggie Bush and versatile power back Joique Bell. Leshoure was also constantly listed in trade rumors and said he’d welcome any decision that would let him play.
With a new coaching staff led by Jim Caldwell, Leshoure hopes that chance will be in Detroit in 2014.
“It’s a different staff, different opportunities,” he said after Wednesday’s organized team activity. “That’s the only difference. I felt healthy last year. I felt good last year. It’s just a different opportunity.
“I just want to get a chance to show what I can do, and with a new group of guys, (it’s) a new beginning, new start and a clean slate.”
And even though Bush and Bell are still expected to remain the Lions’ primary backs, Leshoure has a couple of reasons to be optimistic.
First, Bell sat out OTAs this week because of a knee injury, and as long as he’s out, Leshoure will have more chances to impress in practice.
“Reps are priceless at this time of year because they’re just few and far between,” Caldwell said. “You only get so many of these practice opportunities, and the more you get the better opportunity you have.”
Second, new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi comes from a New Orleans team that utilized several running backs. In each of the past four seasons, the Saints had four running backs with at least 40 carries in addition to their varied roles in the passing game.
Behind Bush’s 223 carries and Bell’s 166, Theo Riddick, a sixth-round pick in 2013, led all other Lions backs with just nine carries last season.
“It’s a positive to look at it like that,” Leshoure said. “(Lombardi) comes from a system that runs the ball, so they usually have a few backs rotating. It feels good to know that we’ve got a coach who likes to do that.”
Still, with the contracts Bell (three years, $9.3 million) and Bush (four years, $16 million) signed the past two years, they’ll remain the top backs unless Leshoure or another makes a spectacular leap.
“My motivation is to get on the field,” Leshoure said. “Whether that’s Joique’s contract, Reggie’s contract, whatever — I have nothing to do with their earnings. I just need to go get mine.”
Leshoure also will have to battle Riddick — who has shown more special teams skills thus far — for playing time, though Leshoure said he wouldn’t mind being a special teams contributor.
“Whatever my role is, man, I just want to be out there,” he said.
And even though the Saints regularly rotated running backs, there’s no telling if Lombardi will bring that trend to Detroit, in part because New Orleans never had a weapon like wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Bush knows the value of featuring several backs after spending his first four seasons in New Orleans, and he expects all of the Lions’ ball carriers to be ready for whatever workload they receive.
“Longevity is the most important thing in this league, especially when you’re trying to get to the playoffs and make a push to the Super Bowl,” Bush said. “Around that time is when guys start to get banged up, and you need everybody to be playing their best football.”
Leshoure said he hasn’t implored the new coaches to give him a chance to play more because he thinks his desire is clear.
“I’m sure they know,” Leshoure said. “They’ve seen how bad I wanted to be out there last year, and I’m a player who usually helps the team in some way or another. So they know. They know I want to play.
“Hopefully I just get my opportunity.”