Lions remain confident in current running back unit

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions running back Theo Riddick averaged a career-best 3.9 yards per carry last season.

Allen Park – When Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn opted not to sign a running back in free agency or select one in the draft, it was a clear vote of confidence for the team’s current backfield rotation.

Before the start of the team’s rookie minicamp on Friday, coach Jim Caldwell doubled down on the organization’s confidence in its young stable of backs.

“I believe Ameer Abdullah, when he’s healthy and rolling, he’s awfully good,” Caldwell said. “All you have to do is just take a look at the numbers. Don’t listen to me. Look at the numbers and see when he’s on the field for you what he does.

“When Theo (Riddick) is out there healthy for us, I mean everybody knows what he can do. Those guys create a punch and I don’t think anybody in this room has any questions whether or not Zach Zenner can run the ball. We’ve got a young guy in Dwayne Washington. Nobody really knows how good he can be, but he has talent. He has ability.”

The sample size is small, but Abdullah has averaged a respectable 4.3 yards on 161 carries his first two seasons. His 2016 campaign was off to torrid start when he suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first half of Week 2.

Lions sign eight of nine draft picks, 14 UDFAs

Riddick, who is coming off his own injury and offseason surgery, has established himself as one of the premier receiving backs in the NFL, averaging roughly five catches per game the past two seasons. He also showed improved ability as a ball carrier in 2016, churning out a career-best 3.9 yards per carry.

But even with the expressed confidence, the Lions are continuing to do their due diligence with potential upgrades. In rookie minicamp, undrafted prospect Tion Green worked side-by-side with five-year veteran Matt Asiata, who is in town for a weekend tryout.

“I think anybody knows who has seen him work, he’s a good special teamer, he’s tough, he’s a very good pass protector and he carries the ball,” Caldwell said of Asiata. “He runs behind his pads. He’s always been a very, very effective player in this league.”

Helping fill the void for an injured Adrian Peterson last season, Asiata carried the ball 121 times for 402 yards. He also chipped in 32 receptions for another 263 yards.

The other option remains LeGarrette Blount, who is still unsigned after leading the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns last season. The New England Patriots slapped a rarely used May 9 tender on the 30-year-old running back, which subjects his eventual signing to the compensatory pick formula, but should be minimal hindrance for an interested team to work out a deal.

Predictably, Caldwell declined to comment on the Lions’ reported interest.

“We typically don’t talk about rumors and innuendos or anything of that nature,” Caldwell said.  “We don’t discuss those things.”

The Lions ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing last season and have been in the bottom five in each of Caldwell’s three years as coach.

Twitter: @justin_rogers