Lions newcomer Bo Scarbrough runs with long-awaited opportunity

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Lions running back Bo Scarbrough reaches over the goal line for a touchdown in the first quarter on Sunday.

Detroit — It’s been 568 days since former Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough was selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

Which, to some degree, makes it a little strange that after finding out on Sunday morning that he’d get the start for Detroit in his NFL debut, against the team that drafted and later cut him, his emotions remained unchanged.

“It felt regular to me,” Scarbrough said after the 35-27 loss at Ford Field. “There’s nothing surprising, or to be proud of. It’s just another opportunity, another day.”

A mere opportunity, sure, but one that Scarbrough has waited over a year and a half to earn — one that has required signing with four different teams and putting in countless hours on practice squads that didn’t believe he was fit to play at the NFL level. But also, an opportunity that Scarbrough was ready for.

The Lions promoted Scarbrough to their active roster on Saturday after signing him to their practice squad on Nov. 6. He was just the latest practice-squad refugee to get a shot in the Lions backfield and the fifth Lions running back to start in as many weeks. But unlike Tra Carson and Paul Perkins, the 23-year-old out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama made a case for remaining an important piece of the offense.

Scarbrough ran the ball 14 times for 55 yards, the second-most rushing yards by a Lions player this season, and gave the Lions a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a 5-yard touchdown run, the first of his career. His longest run of the day went for a gain of 23 yards and set the Lions up for a 2-yard touchdown run by Jeff Driskel that gave Detroit a 14-10 lead in the second quarter.

“I was feeling good from the get-go,” Scarbrough said. “Every player should be used to running plays, and being in the NFL is just faster. Nothing different, the same players from college.”

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And the college game, mostly, was good to Scarbrough. He saw his workload dip during his junior season, but the Alabama experience — big games, tough in-house competition, Nick Saban — played a major role in him getting comfortable in a new organization, which he said operates under a similarly demanding, team-centric philosophy.

“Playing under Coach (Matt) Patricia is just like playing under Coach Saban,” Scarbrough said. “We do some of the same things that we do at Alabama, so when I came in, I was very used to it.”

The characteristics of Scarbrough that appeal to Patricia shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound back bruised his way up the gut for a majority of his carries, demonstrating impressive control of a large body frame and making defenders pay for trying to bring him down.

“He’s a big back. He comes downhill, and some of the things we saw, we wanted to give him that opportunity to go out there and show us what he could do,” Patricia said.

“I just thought it definitely gave some life to some of the downhill runs that we had and some of the physicality in the game that we needed.”

Driskel, starting in the place of the injured Matthew Stafford (back), said that he was impressed by how quickly Scarbrough showed NFL-level poise and awareness.

“I kind of grabbed him after the game and just told him how proud I was of him,” Driskel said. “He knew what he was doing. He hasn’t been here very long at all and he stepped right in there.”

Scarbrough might never forget his NFL debut, but he probably won’t try too hard to remember it, either.

“We lost," he said. "That touchdown doesn’t really mean anything."

Most would identify this kind of talk as cliché, but after just one game in the NFL, it’s clear that Scarbrough truly operates on a plane of banal ideals — hard work and selflessness.

When asked about where he was going to display the ball from his first touchdown run, Scarbrough laughed.

“I don’t even know where it is,” he said. “I didn’t keep the ones in college, either.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.