Eagan, Minn. – Ameer Abdullah never became the featured running back the Detroit Lions hoped he would become when they drafted him in the second round out of Nebraska in 2015.
After the emergence of Kerryon Johnson last season, the Lions cut Abdullah in November and he signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
Abdullah is not going to unseat Dalvin Cook as Minnesota’s No. 1 running back, either, but the former Lion is making his mark as a return specialist in Vikings camp. Abdullah, 26, looks like the favorite to win the Vikings’ kick returner job and quite possibly the punt returner job, too.
Not that he’s putting any limitations on himself as he working to establish himself with the Vikings.
“It’s pretty simple for me, man,” he said. “I’ll play wherever they need me.”
That has always been how Abdullah has carried himself on the field, though it was taken to another level last season after being cut by the Lions. He got claimed by the Vikings the following day, and as much as that 24-hour stretch in between was less than ideal, in a roundabout way, it showed him that he still had a lot to give.
“Not just because I got picked up really quick,” he said. “It was more about leaving one circumstance and learning not to internalize the feeling of like, ‘Wow. Is this who I am now?’
“I got here and it was like, ‘Nah. It’s really not.’ I realized I had a lot more to give. I appreciate everything that happened. It really taught me to get back on the horse and keep grinding.”
That has led him to this point, and while Abdullah is essentially a lock to be a special-teams ace for the Vikings in the return game, he has showed he can be an option out of the backfield, too. He’s impressed both head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski with his limited reps in practice, flashing the skills to be a complete back despite his 5-foot-9, 200-pound frame.
“Well, in the running game, he’s got the thing that we’re looking for with the one-step cuts, and in the passing game he’s pretty good with running the routes and running the angles to set the defender up and then beating them inside or outside on the option routes,” Zimmer said. “He will have to work on protection because he’s not a big guy, so people will see him in there and try to rush him if they can.”
Added Stefanski: “He’s a pro. He’s done a nice job so far, and (I am) looking forward to seeing him work in the preseason.”
That’s where Abdullah will have the biggest opportunity to shine, as he works toward establishing himself as a complete player.
“I want to be great in everything I do,” Abdullah said. “I pride myself on that, whether it’s in the pass game or the run game. It doesn’t matter when my number is called. I’m not here to say I’m going to be this kind of guy or that kind of guy because things can change so quick. I’m just here to work and get better.”
That is easier said than done in this fickle game.
“As simple as it is, it’s also hard,” Abdullah said. “It’s simple as far as directions. It’s hard to come in and do it every single day with discipline and at a high level. There are a lot of guys that aren’t cut out for it.”
Asked whether he was cut out for it, Abdullah confidently responded, “Absolutely.”
“I’m a big believer in seizing the opportunity at the right time,” he said. “And I believe my time is just beginning.”
Detroit News staff contributed to this report.