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Burton’s exit signals Lions’ shift from fullback

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions liked Michael Burton. Coach Jim Caldwell believes Burton will find another job in short order. But the fact of the matter is the team no longer had a need for a fullback.

“Early on, when we first came here, obviously, we were a little bit more of a fullback-oriented unit,” Caldwell said. “We’ve changed a little bit in that regard, the schematics. That was the thing. Mike Burton was a tremendous teammate, tremendous person. He’s one of those individuals that I think in every way you can use as an example of how to do things the right way.

Lions running back Matt Asiata looks up the field after a reception during Wednesday's OTA in Allen Park.

The fullback role in the NFL has been shrinking for years, so it wasn’t surprising that the Lions moved away from it once again. Still, it didn’t find Burton long to find a new home. He was claimed by the Chicago Bears off waivers.Replacing Burton on the roster is veteran running back Matt Asiata. In his five years with the Vikings, he had done some lead blocking, but the Lions don’t intend to use him in that role.

“The reason why Burton is no longer here is because that position is not a part of how we function,” Caldwell said. “We find a way to get it done with other positions, tight ends and things of that nature. That’s where we are.”

The Lions like Asiata’s experience, versatility and ability to contribute on special teams. During Wednesday’s OTA practice, he largely worked with the third-team offense, behind Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington. Theo Riddick remains sidelined with a wrist injury.

Prior to signing with the Lions, Asiata had a three-day tryout during rookie minicamp earlier this month. He wasn’t added immediately and when his agent called with the news late last week, he almost missed the call because he was sleeping.

Thankfully, Asiata’s 2-year-old son Henry had his back.

“He woke me up,” Asiata said. “He put the phone to my face as it was vibrating and said, ‘Daddy, phone.’ ”