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Monday, September 29, 2008
Tone changes for Lions in return from bye

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Two interesting things happened Monday as the Detroit Lions resumed practice following their bye:

 
 Michael Sackett/US Presswire
 Lions running back Kevin Smith has just 102 yards on 29 carries this season.

1. Veteran Rudi Johnson took over as the team's No. 1 running back, sending an unhappy Kevin Smith to the bench.

2. Lions coach Rod Marinelli addressed his job status for the first time since the Lions fired the man who hired him, former president/general manager Matt Millen.

On the running back issue: According to multiple media outlets in Detroit, Smith revealed he had been demoted. Johnson, who joined the team a week before the season began, will get the majority of carries for the time being. Smith hasn't been overly productive in his first three NFL games, totaling 102 yards on 29 carries, but it doesn't take a lot of thought to understand what's happening here.

The Lions made it clear last week they hadn't given up on the season and expected to compete the rest of the way. If nothing else, the Lions have seven more homes games to sell to their fan base. No one wants to send a message that the team is building for the future.

Smith is the Lions' future, but Johnson might represent a more productive present. Here's what Smith said to reporters in Detroit, according to Mlive.com:

"Personally, I don't like it. I think I should be playing a lot more. But it's all about winning."

Marinelli, meanwhile, said little about his future but did acknowledge he met with owner William Clay Ford. Asked if he felt obligated to dispel rumors that he is a "lame-duck coach," Marinelli said:

"I won't combat anything. I had a chance to talk to Mr. Ford and everything is zeroed in on the Chicago Bears, and that's what we're trying to do."

The Lions will play the Bears on Sunday at Ford Field.

The Lions have promoted Martin Mayhew (personnel) and Tom Lewand (business) to run the franchise in Millen's place, but the team hasn't indicated how it will proceed beyond this season. That means Marinelli's future will be a constant topic of conversation in Detroit.