Allen Park — It’s not quite “Bo Knows,” but it’s similarly catchy and so far effective: “Let Bo be Bo.”
That was the conclusion Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey came up with after breaking down some film of Bo Scarbrough when the team signed him last month.
“I remember him coming out (of Alabama), a big, bruising back, but I wanted to see what he had,” Caskey said. “I wanted to remind myself of what was this guy was.”
Most football fans know Scarbrough as the most powerful piece of Alabama’s loaded backfield from the recent past, where he teamed with future pros like Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, and also Najee Harris, who should be drafted next spring.
Scarbrough is all Crimson Tide, but his name and running style harken back to an Auburn legend, while the player he replaced as Detroit’s most feared back also comes from Alabama’s biggest rival.
There’s no universe where Scarbrough is Bo Jackson though, but his late-season production could signal a credible complement to Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson going forward.
It’s something the Lions have lacked in Johnson’s first two seasons, as LeGarrette Blount floundered last season and C.J. Anderson didn’t survive to Week 3 in Detroit this season.
So instead of free-agent veterans from the Pac-12, the Lions are taking a look now at an SEC contemporary of Johnson’s, with solid results so far and a rosier outlook ahead.
It’s easy to envision Scarbrough playing in the future with a healthy Johnson, who had his first two seasons cut short by injuries.
In three games with Detroit, Scarbrough has 236 rushing yards on 53 carries and a touchdown. He has not passed the century mark in a game yet this season, but had runs that would’ve gotten him into triple digits the last two weeks that were wiped away by penalties.
The Lions have three straight games with more than 100 yards rushing for the first time since the end of last season, when Zach Zenner replaced an injured Johnson and showcased his ability in the backfield.
But that late-season run would be Zenner’s swan song with Detroit. An important question is whether Scarbrough is a flash in the pan or something more for this franchise.
It’s in Scarborough’s massive hands now. At the 2018 NFL draft combine, his 10-inch hands tied for the largest of the running backs measured.
“He’s got the largest hands I’ve ever seen in my life,” Caskey said. “He’s got some mitts on him. He has measurables.”
Scarbrough also has some “Wow” moments, making life tough on Sundays for would-be tacklers throughout the opposing defense.
“You can see him breaking tackles at the first level, breaking tackles at the second level. He can finish the run and kind of have that punishing style,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I think he’s just kind of brought a little bit of the mentality that we’re looking for, the blue collar guy. The physical, punishing style that you’d like to play in this division.”
Scarbrough also has refreshed an offensive line that sometimes has the more difficult assignment of blocking for the shifty J.D. McKissic.
“Bo has naturally given us a boost,” offensive line coach Jeff Davidson said. “It’s good to go into a game plan knowing who the guy is, and who you’re playing for. He’s definitely given us something different.”
Caskey said the 6-foot-1 Scarbrough has impressed with his acceleration of his long legs.
Scarbrough was drafted in the seventh round last year by Dallas, and spent time with practice squads in Jacksonville and Seattle.
At every stop, he’s been stuck behind some deep and talented rooms, from the great Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas to fellow former SEC standouts Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon in Jacksonville. Seattle showed on Monday night in a win against Minnesota just how tough backs like Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny would be to unseat.
“Situational stuff I guess just didn’t work out in other places, but we’re rolling with what we’ve got,” Caskey said. “Sometimes it’s just as simple as saying, ‘Hey, Bo. Just run, just be Bo.’
“I think right now, he just needed to hear that. I’m not real sure what happened in other places, but just allowing him to say: ‘Remember that feeling you had when you ran out in the national championship game, the playoffs, SEC Championships… just go be that guy.’
“I think that’s helped him out a lot. But on top of that, just making sure that he’s been in the right place at the right time, doing the right things.”
Lions at Vikings
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
TV/radio: Fox/760 AM
Records: Lions 3-8-1, Vikings 8-3
Line: Vikings by 14
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.