Healthy again, 'tenacious' Nick Bawden looks to claim Lions' fullback job
Allen Park — Between the sturdy 6-foot-2, 245-pound frame and the long, curly locks spilling out the back of his helmet, it's difficult to miss Detroit Lions fullback Nick Bawden when he's working with the team's other running backs.
But for his first year with the team, Bawden was quickly forced into the background, when his season was cut short due to an ACL tear in June.
As a seventh-round draft pick, almost nothing is guaranteed. Spending your rookie season on the shelf is a quick way to fade into obscurity, to be replaced without hardly anyone noticing.
But Bawden managed to stay in front of the coaching staff by aggressively taking on his rehab and learning the playbook the way he would a linebacker in the hole. And entering his second season, finally healthy, he has a chance to stake a claim to the role he was drafted to fill a year ago.
"Every year you start over and obviously Nick had a lot of on field time that he missed, but that stuff isn’t really what’s important," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "What’s important is Nick’s approach since the moment he got injured and his work and progress into getting back.
"He is a tenacious worker. He’s in every single day. He is trying to learn not only his position but things that effect the other side of the ball, and those are the things that you just understand that this kid is determined to do everything he can to be out there."
Off the field, Bawden is like many of the young players the Lions have added in recent years, quiet and humble. But between the lines, he's ferocious, according to teammate Jahlani Tavai, who matched up against Bawden several times in college.
It's difficult to believe he began his college career as a quarterback before changing positions and leading the charge for back-to-back 2,000-yard rushers at San Diego State.
Bawden's tenacity and blocking ability could help him carve out an important role in a new offensive scheme that's determined to control games on the ground.
"A fullback for us, it can help you create mismatches," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "It can help you exert your will, your toughness, your dominance. With a lead back, we like to use that guy in different spots, move them around. Again, it gives us an opportunity to be multiple.
"I think it's important for us to be as multiple as we can be," Bevell said. "That's what I'd like to be. I'd like to be as balanced, as multiple, and present a lot of different issues for the defense."
Bawden practiced for the first time in nearly 14 months this week, getting a clean bill of health prior to the start of training camp. It was a relief for a player who had been out of action for so long.
"I think anytime you take a lot of time off football, there's thoughts the entire time you're rehabbing of just wanting to get back out there with the team," Bawden said. "I was extremely eager. This is what I love to do, this is my passion. There was a lot of work put in and I'm really happy to be out there."
And while it's still early, the team isn't taking it slow working him back into the action. On Friday, he was taking snaps with the first-team offense.
It's clear he was far from forgotten while he was on the mend.
With Bawden out last season, the Lions turned to veteran Nick Bellore at fullback. He played a little more than 100 snaps for the team last season. Additionally, both Bevell and Patricia come from backgrounds that utilized a fullback in the offense. While the position may be getting phased out elsewhere, there's still a place for it in Detroit.
Bawden will have an opportunity to further bolster his case for the job when the pads come on this weekend. It will be the first time he'll have donned them since December 2017, when San Diego State played Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
"That's life for a fullback," Bawden said. "I don't need the ball or anything like that. I'm happy run blocking, pass blocking."