Tuesday, July 22, 2008

State of the Team: RB

I've already written a lot on the running backs thanks to KJ in the ifseason. However, as I put down my thoughts/feelings a to each position group heading into camp, I figured this deserves one more go round before we start getting real news out of camp -- which will likely take a few days.

The Lions official site, of course, put out their "state of the team at RB" article a short while back.

The current roster for the RB position as found on the Detroit Lions website is as follows:

28 Bell, Tatum RB 5-11 213 27 5 Oklahoma State
Calhoun, Brian RB 5-10 208 23 3 Wisconsin
Cason, Aveion RB 5-10 204 28 8 Illinois State
Pinner, Artose RB 5-10 232 30 6 Kentucky
Smith, Kevin RB 6-1 217 21 R Central Florida
Bradley, Jon FB 6-0 301 27 5 Arkansas State
Felton, Jerome FB 6-0 246 21 R Furman

As you can see, the depth chart at RB has certainly dwindled since we last visited the subject looking at the bubble guys. In particular, Ervin, who I hoped would be a practice squad guy was a casualty of the hard-80 cap number this year. My gut says that problem is corrected as they negotiate a new CBA throughout the season.

Last season, the Lions kept 2 FB (one of whom was primarily a TE), and 4 RB. Keep in mind, though, that RB was one of the spots inactive after week 5. So even though they had 4 HB on the roster, they were at most dressing 3. With the focus on actually having a running game to further complement their deep and talented WR corps, I don't see them keeping fewer backs - but possibly utilizing their skills better than as a bench warmer.

While last season was a perfect example of how to attempt to play football without the RB position at times, lets look at the more balanced games to see how the breakdown of the positions went:

At FB, Bradley was used in traditional FB situations, which, even in the games they ran, meant almost never. Which was too bad, as he did well when he did see playing time -- both as a runner and especially as a blocker. The second FB was more often used as a blocking TE and not a traditional FB role. The 2nd FB was really a third TE.

At HB, KJ was the primary back, Duckett was used for the "power" runs and as a 3rd down back, and Cason returned punts/kicks and played special teams.

The very inane rule that a team has a 53 man roster, but only dresses 48 for game day really hurts teams on game day, limiting their flexibility to adjust in game using the players on their rosters. I can see 2 OL, 1 RB, 1 LB or secondary, and one of 5 DE's being inactive normally on game days.

This means that even assuming they keep 6 players between HB and FB, at least one will be a healthy scratch each week.

I have two words to describe my overall thought on this position right now: Open Competition

I can't even begin to guess, beyond K.Smith, who will make the roster, much less who will play what role in the offense. I have some ideas, but their connection to reality may end up being only loosely connected or not at all.

That won't stop me from making a stab at it anyways.

Here Goes:

Bell and Smith will win the 1-2 RB spots, and split carries to start the season, with Bell moving more to backup role than 3rd down back. Calhoun will be the special teams player, beating out Cason. I also see them possibly listing Felton as a HB. If they don't, then I see Pinner making the team, but as the healthy scratch each week on the roster "just in case" Bell or Smith gets hurt.

Wherever they list him, I see Felton as the goal-line back who will also carry in short-yardage, obvious run downs. That is pretty much all he did in college, and he does it very well. One weakness of the Lions was an inability to punch the rock in at the goal line, and I think Felton -- if he can translate his skills to the pro level, will fill that need. IF.

Bradley will still make it as a FB, in most probability lead blocking for Smith in the heavy package, and lead blocking for Felton in the super-heavy FB-FB-TE-TE-we're going to run it through you no matter how many guys named Williams you have blocking the middle of the field package.

With AP/Taylor, Ryan Grant, Kevin Forte/Jones, and Smith/Felton -- I truly think the black and blue division moniker may be making a comeback.

This of course, all depends on IF the rookies step up, IF Bell returns to his starting form in Denver, IF the OC can get creative with the talent he has, and IF the Line can step up and show their stuff, and IF Calhoun is finally healthy and able to prove he was worth a 3rd round flier.

There are a lot of IF's -- but this is still the Ifseason. Pretty soon it will be the preseason; then the FilmSeason begins.

It's beginning to look a lot like Football, every-where you go...Lions gear at the 5 and 10, sparkling once again...their record clean, the preseason to go...


JJLions20 said...

DetFan1979, I predict a surprise (to many) in the RB's making the roster. But the Scenario has to play out that Calhoun has a good camp, and the Lions feel he can share some reps at RB. Pinner will show he can take some reps if needed and contribute on special teams. Combined with Smith who if he looks like he can carry the load... Another thing that could be a factor is if Bell coughs up the ball in the preseason. Something he has a tendency of doing. The Lions would not need Bell and can clear some cap space for another move (for example: Spikes) by cutting Bell before the first game. The Lions go with Smith/Calhoun/Pinner as the HB's (all Millen draft picks). Bradley gets the FB spot. The Lions may try to hide Felton on the practice squad. There is not a large market for 5th round FB's in the NFL. Remember he would have to be signed to a 53 man roster by another team if they pick him up. This is a perfect situation to hide a player on the practice squad. So I give Cason or McHugh the last RB spot.

Anonymous said...


I like your scenario of the Lions not keeping Bell, and using the extra cap space for somebody like Spikes. I have a feeling that Calhoun will have a good year and be a servicable back-up to Smith.

I really don't like your scenario of trying to hide Felton on the practice squad. I think that the guy is too valuable to risk. I know that pretty much everybody loved Duckett and was upset when he left, but the fact of the matter was that KJ had a better nose for the endzone, and that is why he got the touches in the red zone.

Felton has a great nose for the endzone and he's got good size. This guy will help our team week 1 by being able to punch the ball into the endzone even when everybody in the building knows it's going to be a running play. I'm hoping they keep Smith, Calhoun, Pinner, Felton, Bradley. And of any of those guys, I'd be least upset if Pinner didn't make it.