Kevin Smith is not just a running back, and he is not just going to carry the ball. For at least the first two games of the 2012 regular season Smith will be tasked with making the Lions running game effective, and he will literally have to do so on his own. Mikel Leshoure has been suspended for the first two games of the year, and the status of Jahvid Best is questionable at best. In fact until Best returns to teh field of play we here at DJC are going to assume that he is never coming back.
The means for at least two games Smith must shoulder the load. The Lions must come up with a scheme that takes some of the pressure of QB Matthew Stafford, or come up with a way for young Stafford to reproduce his pass happy 5,000 passing yard production of 2011. It could happen, but conventional wisdom says this team needs a better running attack to take teh next step in their evolution.
Adding insult to injury and suspension, Leshoure is nursing a hamstring injury and is not practicing with the team currently. If both Best and Leshoure wind up being high round draft busts that will really change what we think about Lions’ GM Martin Mayhew. In fact we could even argue that Mayhew has not kept up with the times where taking a RB (especially trading up for a RB) is not how teams acquire their backs. With the new concussion rules taking backs high in teh draft is a very risky proposition.
On the offensive side of the ball RB is certainly the biggest area of concern. The O line needs a little tweak and Riley Reiff may be exactly the cure for the ills there. The WR corps is outstanding, the TE are very good. Stafford is becoming a great QB, and that leaves RB as the area where this team can improve the most.
For Smith this is familiar territory. He came back to the team last year to help fill the void of the Best injury. He has tremendous faith in his ability, and unlike most NFL stars some of that faith is entirely justified. A third round pick by the team in 2008 he has lost his job several times, but he goes away gets better and winds up back on the roster. Along the way there have been injuries, and more and yet he looks to be the Lions opening day starting running back.