Versatility could prove to be rookie Jason Huntley's ticket to spot in Lions backfield
Running back. Slot receiver. Receiving back. Third-down specialist. Speedster.
It’s hard to put Lions rookie Jason Huntley in a box — positionally or otherwise. Even in a box, Huntley might find a way to get away from a defender, using his quickness or low-to-the-ground style that has garnered some attention in training camp.
In recent years, the Lions have had trouble staying healthy and building a solid corps in the backfield, but they look to have the makings of something solid this year with Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson and rookies D’Andre Swift and Huntley.
In the Lions’ scrimmage on Saturday, Huntley had some big gains out of the backfield and showed that the concerns about him being durable enough to run between the tackles are a bit premature.
“It felt great just to be able to prove I can run the ball between the tackles if need be. It honestly just felt good to have pads on and going live,” Huntley said Monday via teleconference. “It's been so long. Overall, it felt great, a great confidence booster.”
Huntley is an intriguing back because of his size, and at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, he presents problems for bigger linebackers because of his elusiveness and 4.37 speed in the 40. He can be a threat out of the backfield, in the slot, or anywhere on the field.
That versatility, as much as anything else, could land him a spot on the roster.
That’s something for a fifth-round pick out of New Mexico State. It’s meant some extra work for him, though, trying to stay up with all the play calls and understanding the offense, something Ty Johnson said was a big benefit coming into his second season in the Lions offense.
“Just putting in overtime whenever I go home, to the hotel, just making sure I study again. The vets have helped me a lot, just little things, just teaching me little tricks that they've learned, how it helped them to remember it,” Huntley said. “And then, my (running backs) coach, (Kyle) Caskey, he's been putting in overtime with me, as well. That's been helping me, so when I'm on the field, I can just play fast.”
How the Lions would choose to use Huntley provides more intrigue, as he could be in two-back sets with Swift or Kerryon Johnson. He could be a menace in short-yardage situations, or he could be a wild-card as a decoy.
Where he will need to improve is in blocking schemes, where he’s made some notable whiffs in practices, but some of that is normal for a rookie. With a smaller frame, there will be challenges, but protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford will be a key to the Lions’ success, as they saw last season, going 0-8 after Stafford was lost to injury in the last eight games.
Huntley knows that’s the biggest area for improvement, which could net him more snaps if he can fix the issues.
“Just each day, taking it day by day, getting better in aspects. That just goes with the progression of being in my playbook, so I know where to be and where to look and things like that, so it will help me out in the long run,” he said. “I think with that, it's just going to take repetitions. Repetition is good for me.”
With cuts coming this week, Huntley and all the young players know that roster spots are on the line, so paying attention to details and hunkering down for the last week of training camp is important.
“You just want to make sure you stick to the fundamentals. You don't want to do too much and just forget, as a running back I carry the ball a lot, so my coach said the fate of the organization is in my hands,” Huntley said. “In that situation, you just want to make sure you continue to do the little things, just like that, like carrying the ball, protecting it.”