Re­built Detroit of­fence aims to ‘pound the rock’

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - DON BREN­NAN dbren­nan@post­media.com

It’s not a hard and fast rule. But show me a good team, and more of­ten than not, I’ll show you a team that can run the ball.

And then there’s the Detroit Lions.

Rarely do they find suc­cess. They have only one play­off win, a 38-6 vic­tory over the Dal­las Cow­boys in the 1991 di­vi­sional round, since claim­ing the NFL cham­pi­onship in 1957.

Lions fans are noth­ing if not pa­tient.

Detroit had the great Barry Sanders, the fourth lead­ing rusher of all-time, from 1989-98. He rushed for more than 1,100 yards in each of his 10 sea­sons, and 2,053 yards in his sec­ond-last sea­son.

But the Lions were never as great as they should have been with Sanders, com­pil­ing a 78-82 reg­u­lar-sea­son record and go­ing 1-5 in the play­offs. Any­way, Detroit had a good year along the ground last year, for them. They ranked 21st in the run game.

In this off-sea­son, they have made a com­mit­ment to im­prove that part of the game. In free agency they signed for­mer Ea­gles tackle Halapouli­vaati (Big V) Vaitai. Then they drafted Ge­or­gia run­ning back D’an­dre Swift in the sec­ond round and guards Jonah Jack­son (Ohio State) and Lo­gan Sten­berg (Ken­tucky) in the third and fourth, re­spec­tively.

Now they’re work­ing on their over­all mind­set.

“Run­ning the ball is all about the tough­ness,” third-year cen­tre Frank Rag­now said from his off-sea­son home on the team’s web­site. “It’s the hard work. It’s the dirty work. I’m just try­ing to work my tail off in­di­vid­u­ally here in Min­nesota, in my mom’s base­ment, try­ing to get to be the strong­est, tough­est guy I can be, so we can pound the rock this fall.”

Ul­ti­mately, Swift could be a dif­fer­ence maker. At Ge­or­gia, he played be­hind Cleve­land’s Nick Chubb and New Eng­land’s Sony Michel.

“He’s a phe­nom­e­nal player,” Lions run­ning back Ker­ryon John­son told re­porters on Wed­nes­day. “I re­mem­ber play­ing against him at col­lege. I hated see­ing him. I’m telling you, when that kid stepped on the field, he was light­ning in a bot­tle.”

If the run­ning game is, in fact, much bet­ter, and quar­ter­back

Matthew Stafford plays the way he did be­fore get­ting in­jured half­way through the 2019 sea­son, the Lions just have to do some­thing about their 31st-ranked de­fence.

SEC­OND AND LONG

The NFL and NFLPA are dis­cussing chop­ping the pre-sea­son in half, from four games to two. By all in­di­ca­tions, it’s go­ing to get done … The statue of Jerry Richard­son is be­ing re­moved from out­side Bank of Amer­ica Sta­dium. Who, you say? How quickly they (want to) for­get. Richard­son founded the Carolina Pan­thers and owned them for 23 years, un­til he was ba­si­cally forced to sell af­ter al­le­ga­tions of work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment and racially in­sen­si­tive lan­guage to­ward a for­mer scout. When David Tep­per pur­chased the Pan­thers in 2018, he said he was con­trac­tu­ally ob­li­gated to keep the statue on the grounds. He has since found a loop­hole, ap­par­ently.

DOWN THE SIDE­LINES

New Browns coach Kevin Ste­fan­ski seems like a wise man. When it comes to the play­ing of the na­tional an­them be­fore games, he says he’ll do what­ever the play­ers de­cide.

“I am just so keen on di­a­logue with our play­ers and lis­ten­ing,” Ste­fan­ski said in a con­fer­ence call. “My big note to our play­ers is that I have their back, and that’s not just lip ser­vice. I’m stand­ing right there be­side them. They have my sup­port, and I prom­ise one thing, we will just con­tinue to lis­ten to each other from a place of mu­tual re­spect.” Ste­fan­ski wants his play­ers to play for him. For what­ever rea­son, they didn’t do that for his pre­de­ces­sor, Freddie (The One Year Won­der) Kitchens … There’s talk Jade­veon Clowney, who re­port­edly turned down an $18-mil­lion of­fer from the Browns, could now ac­cept $15 mil­lion from his old team, the Sea­hawks.

D’an­dre Swift

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