Abdullah still sees himself as answer to Lions' run game
Allen Park — How long have the Detroit Lions been trying to find a running game? What year did Barry Sanders retire again?
Outside of 2013, when Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for a 1,656 yards on the ground, the Lions have struggled to find a supplement to quarterback Matthew Stafford’s arm and it has often hindered the offense from reaching its full potential.
After ranking 30th in the NFL this past season, and mustering a paltry 49 rushing yards in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, it’s back to the drawing board for the Lions this offseason.
“Yeah, because we’ve been very, very inconsistent in that area,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “There’s been some times when you think at least you have some portion of it headed in the right direction and then we have a bit of a setback. …We’ve just got to keep working at it.”
This obviously isn’t a new problem. The Lions have finished bottom five in rushing all three seasons Caldwell has coached the team. Even the aforementioned 2013 campaign, the year before Caldwell was hired, the team couldn’t crack the top half of the league.
General manager Bob Quinn invested heavily in the offensive line last offseason, adding Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl via the draft. Decker started all 16 games at left tackle and Glasgow moved in the starting lineup in Week 6. Both showed promise, but the run blocking remained inconsistent.
At running back, the rotation looked formidable to start the year. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick combined for 108 yards on 18 carries in the opener and the duo had 49 yards at the half in Week 2 before Abdullah suffered a season-ending foot injury.
It was a devastating blow to the backfield and a high ankle sprain that slowed Riddick and subsequent wrist injury that put him on the shelf the final four games didn’t help matters. Rookie Dwayne Washington offered little all season, and while Zach Zenner flashed some promise down the stretch, he wasn’t a factor in Seattle.
The Lions held out hope Abdullah could come back late in the season, but he couldn’t get medical clearance. He wouldn’t say how close he was, but he expects to be cleared for the offseason program.
Dating back to when he started playing football, this was the first time Abdullah had ever missed time with an injury, which he called a humbling experience.
“Last year wasn’t a conventional year for me at all,” Abdullah said. “Mentally, I had to keep myself way more grounded because I’ve always had football, at least, to rely on. Not having football was something that was different, foreign to me, and I had to find different outlets to keep me grounded. I’m glad I had family structure and support that I had because it was tough. Something I learned is this game can give you a lot, but it can take a lot away from you as well.”
Abdullah, who the Lions drafted in the second round in 2015, remains convinced his future is bright and he can be part of the long-term solution for the Lions.
“Coming into this league, I had no other plans than to be a premier back,” he said. “I know I will be. It just takes patience. It takes prayer. It takes diligence. Coming from these injuries the last year, it’s just that much more important to me.”
In a radio interview last week, Quinn mentioned he has his sights set on upgrading the backfield. He didn’t offer specifics about whether he intended to accomplish that in the draft or in free agency, or if he was looking for a workhorse who could start or better depth in case the injury bug strikes again.
Abdullah doesn’t know if the franchise still believes he’s capable of being the lead option, but he’s hopeful.
“I sure hope so, but I definitely understand the business,” he said. “I understand that they have to do things they are in the best position for them, just like I have to do things to make sure I’m in the best position for myself.”