- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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What type of back the Lions are targeting remains in question. While it would seem logical to assume the franchise would want to add a speedy back in the mold of Bush, the team also has Theo Riddick as someone who could fill that void.
So the combination of Riddick and for-now featured back Joique Bell leaves Detroit with some options for what type of back the team might pursue.
“It just kind of depends,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said at the owners meetings Wednesday. “Riddick’s not particularly slow and I think you look at Joique, he had a pretty good year. The effectiveness of that particular position, in this league, you’re not going to find a whole lot of guys that are going to break out 40- and 50-yard runs consistently.
“That’s why 12 yards, in most systems, is a big play in terms of the running game. We just need to be effective in that area. Every guy that we have, some bring different elements to the table, and we just need all our guys to be able to function extremely well at that position.”
Using the big-play metric Caldwell set up along with his oft-stated goal of an average of four yards per carry, the Lions did not do well running the ball in any way last season. Bush actually was the only Detroit back to hit four yards per carry. Bell was at 3.8 yards per carry and Riddick, who has yet to gain 10 yards on a single rush in his career, was at 2.5 yards per carry. Little-used George Winn was at 3.8 yards per carry.
The Lions only had 26 runs of 12 yards or more last season -- and 11 of those came in three games (four each against Chicago in Week 16 and Arizona in Week 11 along with three against Green Bay in Week 17). The Lions gained 469 yards on those carries, with 279 yards before contact and 190 yards after contact.
Detroit was tied for 23rd in the league with the number of carries of 12 yards or more. The 469 yards were ranked No. 25 in the NFL. So this is an area the Lions know they need to improve, both with the backs and with the offensive line expected to block for Bell, Riddick and any other backs the franchise bring in.
Hitting the metrics Caldwell set, he believes, will offer Detroit more balance and turn the Lions into a better team than they were during an 11-5 season in 2014.
One of the players who might see a massive bump in production (depending on what happens in the draft) is Riddick. Despite being explosive when he was on the field, he was often stuck behind Bush and then Bell when he became the team’s primary back.
“You got to go with what’s working for you,” Caldwell said. “In this business, you play potential and you [are] hoping, you’ll be looking for a job in a short period of time.
“So we try and give it to the guys that are going to do something with it and I think he’s going to be one of those guys that force us to get him that ball a little more.”
With Bush’s departure, the Lions could have around 120 touches that need to be redistributed. Who takes them -- and how that changes the running game and offense -- is one of the questions Caldwell has to figure out this offseason.