NFC North: Marcus Thomas
We all knew the Detroit Lions were committed to improving their running game this season. But with all the problems they've had in their first two games, it's a little jarring to see reports of their running back tea party Tuesday at team headquarters.
Two weeks after signing veteran Rudi Johnson, the Lions had former MVP Shaun Alexander and ex-Green Bay runner Vernand Morency work out for them. Disgraced former Chicago tailback Cedric Benson also visited.
None were signed, and reports indicated the Lions were merely building an internal scouting report should they need to add a runner in the future. But as John Niyo of the Detroit News points out, the same thing was said the night Johnson arrived for his visit Labor Day weekend.
As it stands, Johnson is backing up rookie starter Kevin Smith. The No. 3 runner is rookie Marcus Thomas, whom the Lions claimed on waivers from San Diego.
From this vantage point, personnel in the backfield ranks pretty low on the Lions' list of concerns. You can only hope the Lions are attacking the rest of their issues with the same tenacity.
Elsewhere around the NFC North this morning:
- After losing three of five night games last season, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy commissioned an internal study to compare his team's performance during day and night games. The results, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal, were noticeable. They averaged more than four additional penalties at night and had a significantly worse turnover ratio. The Packers play Sunday night against Dallas, the second of four prime-time games this season for a team with an average age of 25.57.
- Minnesota probably wishes Carolina receiver Steve Smith was suspended for one more game. The last time he played them, Smith caught 11 passes for 201 yards in a 2005 game. On the first play of the 2001 season, Smith returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown at the Metrodome.
- Talk about the impact of big plays: More than a third of the total yards the Vikings have allowed came on four explosive plays. The exact figures, according to the Star Tribune: 220 of 638 yards.
- Although the Bears haven't updated the status of kick returner/receiver Devin Hester, the Chicago Tribune reports he should be healthy enough to play Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Here's an odd twist to the Detroit Lions' personnel maneuverings this week: The Lions will debut a new running game with a pretty inexperienced backfield Sunday at Atlanta.
Their starting tailback will be rookie Kevin Smith. The primary backup will be Rudi Johnson, who signed with the team Monday and missed the entire preseason with Cincinnati because of a hamstring injury. The No. 3 running back is rookie Marcus Thomas, whom the Lions were awarded on waivers Sunday from San Diego.
Oh, and their starting fullback is rookie Jerome Felton.
Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto told reporters in Detroit that both Johnson and Thomas know enough plays to contribute if needed. Johnson's health was in question for much of the summer with the Bengals, but Colletto said Johnson has looked decent in practice.
"He's going to play," Colletto said. "How much he'll play Sunday, I don't know. But he can play. "I don't think we can ask Kevin to carry the load all day."
How serious are the Detroit Lions about improving their running game?
According to multiple reports in Detroit, the Lions are hosting former Cincinnati running back Rudi Johnson on a visit. Johnson arrived Sunday night in Detroit and is scheduled to take a physical and work out with the Lions on Monday.
It's not clear if Johnson has other options he intends to pursue as well. But as with free agency in the offseason, a player's first visit usually is pretty important. The Lions' original 53-man roster included only two tailbacks - Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell - but they were awarded rookie Marcus Thomas on waivers Sunday.
Johnson, who is entering his eighth season, was a 1,000-yard rusher as recently as 2006 but has since struggled with injury problems. A hamstring injury slowed him during training camp with the Bengals, and he was released Saturday.
He probably is past his prime as an everydown runner, but Johnson would represent an improvement over Bell as a backup to Smith. The Lions plan to run with frequency this season, and they'll need as many pairs of fresh -- and competent legs -- they can get.
We'll use the blog today as a clearinghouse for all NFC North practice squad news. (Wow. There's a sentence you might not have read before.)
We expect teams to announce their lists throughout the day Sunday, so check back this afternoon and evening.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
- WR Jake Allen
- C Brennen Carvalho
- TE Joey Haynos
- LB Danny Lansanah
- DT Alfred Malone
- CB Joe Porter
- WR Brett Swain
- RB DeShawn Wynn
Of note: The Packers released Wynn during the first round of roster cuts, but he did start four games last season and gives them an excellent internal insurance policy should an injury occur elsewhere. Haynos is an interesting physical prospect at 6-foot-8 and should at least give the Packers' defense a good look on the scout team.
- LB Darnell Bing
- OL Matt Butler
- RB Allen Ervin
- WR Eric Fowler
- QB Drew Henson
- S LaMarcus Hicks
- WR Kenneth Moore
Of note: The Lions made two other roster moves, signing linebacker Ryan Nece and claiming runing back Marcus Thomas off waivers. Thomas, a fifth-round pick of San Diego this year, gives the Lions a third tailback behind Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell. To make room for Nece and Thomas, the Lions released linebacker Anthony Cannon and fullback/tight end Sean McHugh.