Abdullah learning from sidelines as shoulder heals

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Injured Lions running back Ameer Abdullah leaves the field after watching practice Monday.

Allen Park — Missing the offseason before his second year in the NFL might seem like a detriment for Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, but he sees a benefit to watching from the sideline as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

“I feel like it’s actually helped me a lot, just mentally, just watching from a coaching perspective,” he said after minicamp on Wednesday.
“I understand why we do things more and where people are going to be, so like I said, it’s been a very mentally challenging.”

Time will obviously tell if Abdullah’s optimism is warranted, but there’s no doubt the Lions need him to be better in 2016.

Yes, Abdullah showed promise as a rookie, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but his five fumbles limited his touches. And even if there was some individual success, the Lions still ranked last in the NFL in rushing in 2015.

For coach Jim Caldwell, the steps to improving the run game are simple.

“Block better; run the ball better,” he said. “I think that’s obviously the key. Maybe run it a little bit more when they give it to us.”

With star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions likely will need more production out of the run game, too.

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“I think it’s important even when he was here, really,” Abdullah said. “Of course, we’ve got a great challenge ahead of us to improve the running game this year, and I know myself and the rest of the backs and (running backs) coach (David) Walker are eager to meet that challenge.”

The only information Abdullah provided about the shoulder injury, which wasn’t public knowledge until a few weeks ago, was that he suffered it “playing football.”

Last year, Abdullah peaked at 16 carries in a game, so it would seem there’s more he can offer if the Lions give him more opportunities. Although the lack of touches was frustrating at times — he had double-digit carries in just six games despite being the top rusher — Abdullah said he understands the need to spread the ball.

And, partly because Abdullah has yet to practice this offseason, Caldwell wouldn’t commit to him being more involved this season, though that seems likely if he’s healthy and protects the ball.

“He led our team in all-purpose yardage,” Caldwell said. “He’s probably going to be somewhere close to that again this year, I would hope and think, but he’ll be just as involved as he was a year ago.”