Allen Park — It’s not unusual to see a red jersey during an NFL practice. Typically worn by the quarterbacks, the bright attire sticks out like a sore thumb and boldly states, “Don’t hit!”
And while the standard red was being worn by Detroit Lions quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky and rookie Jake Rudock during the team’s first training camp practice, there was a fourth, numberless player sporting the color on Friday.
Running back Ameer Abdullah, who was practicing for the first time this year following offseason shoulder surgery, avoided the physically unable to perform list, but still isn’t at a place where the Lions want him absorbing unnecessary physical punishment.
Simply excited to be working with the team again after watching from the sideline for months, the second-year running back was in good spirits about his unusual practice attire.
“We’re trying to keep people healthy, so they don’t want me killing people right now,” Abdullah said. “You get the idea why they’ve got me in this red jersey.”
Abdullah was obviously a limited participant during the practice, but he moved well. He showcased his trademark agility, besting linebacker Tahir Whitehead in a one-on-one receiving drill. The tailback also did some work in seven-on-seven, but was held out of full-team scrimmaging.
At this point, it remains unclear whether he’ll be able to play in the preseason.
“We’ll see,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “The most important thing is him getting healthy. Obviously, he’s been cleared, but it’s just kind of a progression that he’s going through.”
Abdullah acknowledged the shoulder injury was affecting him at the end of last season, but he did his best to ignore the pain because the team was leaning on him down the stretch. He finished his rookie year strongly, averaging 4.7 yards per carry the final eight games and mitigating the ball security issues that plagued him earlier in the season. He fumbled just once during the second half.
This season, the Lions are expected to put more on his plate as the team aims to significantly improve on the league’s least productive rushing offense.
“I take it personal. Running the ball well is what we need to do to be a great team,” Abdullah said. “There’s no reason why we should be last in the league in rushing. We’ve got too good of backs.”
The back is excited by how much general manager Bob Quinn invested in the blocking up front, from spending three draft picks on an offensive lineman to adding respected blockers tight end Matthew Mulligan and wide receiver Anquan Boldin via free agency.
As for the shoulder, which the Lions are handling with caution, Abdullah is feeling fresh after his lengthy rehab.
“It’s good now,” he said. “I was blessed to go through this process as pleasantly as I have. I’m happy that I’m pretty much there. I obviously got to keep better, but I’m happy to get back at it.”