It’s too early to freak out, but not too early to wonder. Once again, the Lions are hunting for a running game and plowing through running backs trying to find one.
There’s no doubt, when healthy, this is a passing offense, led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. But Jim Schwartz knows he needs a semblance of a running game so defenses somewhat respect it. The Lions knew it enough that they traded up to draft Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure in the second round.
Now Leshoure is out for the year with an Achilles’ injury, and Jahvid Best apparently has suffered a mild concussion. So, what the heck, let’s do a Lions pop quiz: At the end of this season, who do you think will have the most carries for this team?
Hmm. I honestly thought Leshoure had a shot, until that crushing injury.
Best remains the odds-on favorite, even though the health issue reared itself again in the second preseason game. Best had concussion issues at Cal, and for all his speed and play-making ability, he hasn’t shown he can handle an NFL workload yet.
Which brings us to, well, who? Recent pickups Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell haven’t shown much. Ian Johnson, the former Boise State star? Highly unlikely.
That leaves two options, including an unnamed someone not currently on the roster. A few big names inevitably get released by other teams, and there are murmurs Frank Gore might try to force a trade from the 49ers. I’d love for the Lions to go after Gore, but he wants a big contract and this smells like a negotiating play.
And that brings us to — ta-da — Maurice Morris. And I’m here to say the 10-year veteran is underrated and well-respected in the locker room, not the worst possible fallback plan.
With Best hampered by turf toe injuries, Morris was occasionally productive during the Lions’ 4-0 flourish to close 2010. He rushed for 109 yards when they broke their long road losing streak at Tampa Bay.
In two years here and seven in Seattle, Morris hasn’t rushed for more than 628 yards in a season. But he averages a respectable 4.2 per carry and seems to get whatever is there. The Lions’ offensive line pass-blocks far better than it run-blocks, and the truth is, this team was built to throw much more than run.
That’s good to know, because every time the Lions run, they hit an obstacle. It’s not a positive sign if Morris is their predominant ball-carrier, and I sure wouldn’t count out a Best rebound. As always with the running game, there are far more questions than answers.