Allen Park — It's no secret that the Lions' long-struggling running game has higher expectations going into the 2018 season with the additions of second-round pick Kerryon Johnson and free agent, short-game extraordinaire LeGarrette Blount.
Despite the past foibles of the run game, new coach Matt Patricia held on to running backs coach David Walker, as the Lions hope this new bag of toys will be the spark the offense needs to reach its full potential.
"Smart kid," Walker said of Johnson. "The bulk of what we've given him hasn't overwhelmed him, so (I'm) pleased with the mental capabilities of the young man. He's going out and working hard and trying to learn."
The one knock on Johnson coming out of the draft was his ability to stay healthy, but one thing that isn't questioned is his toughness. Despite shoulder, ankle and rib injuries during his time at Auburn, Johnson appeared in 37 games over three seasons before being named Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.
Johnson's fearlessness on the football field is something that impresses offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
"I think any time you carry the ball the amount of time he did in the SEC, that's pretty impressive," Cooter said. "He kept getting hit. I remember certain games, I don't know how many carries he was getting, but he was just hammering it in there over and over. We think he brings a lot to the table."
As for Blount, it wouldn't surprise anyone to find out that his role in the offense is more defined. He can rumble through the line on short-yardage situations and has a knack for finding the end zone, something Lions running backs have routinely struggled with.
"We're going to find out," Walker said when asked if Blount's addition would rectify past short-yardage struggles. "That's his style. We expect him to do a good job at creating yards after contact."
Oh, and don't forget Blount has also won a Super Bowl in three of his last four seasons, including the last two years with New England and Philadelphia.
That, according to Walker, could be one of his most valuable assets.
"We expect him to be productive," Walker said. "He's been a part of winning cultures over the last few seasons, so (we) expect a lot of leadership. He's not intimidated to be in a locker room setting with new guys. He's shown some moxie and been able to do what you expect out of a guy in that position."
Where does Abdullah fit?
While Theo Riddick's position on this team is well-defined as a pass catcher out of the backfield and occasional change of pace runner, Ameer Abdullah may be left wondering what his role will be going forward.
According to Walker, the Lions have a long way to go before they figure out how all of the pieces are going to fit together.
"We'll figure that out when we get to August," he said. "There's some things that (I've) talked about (with Abdullah), but I'll keep that between me and him. He's doing a good job competing. In his mind, and in our mind, there are some things we want to work on."
Abdullah was drafted by the Lions to be the solution at running back in 2015, but after an injury in 2016 forced him to miss 14 games, he just wasn't the same guy in 2017.
Abdullah has expressed his frustration at the way he's been used in the Lions' offense in the past, and while the addition of two news faces to the running backs room may not sit well with Abdullah, Walker says it's a reality of the NFL.
"I think everybody is threatened by everybody else," Walker said. "That's the nature of the business. They're all mature enough to understand there's 90 guys on our team now, and in August there won't be. I don't say that lightly. Everybody's competing for their jobs."
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.