A lingering leg injury that’s kept D’Andre Swift off the practice field for more than a week could impact what role the Detroit Lions rookie running back has to start the season.
Swift will miss his seventh straight practice Friday because of an injury he suffered Aug. 20 in the third padded practice of the summer.
The Lions had been counting on their second-round pick to share the backfield workload with Kerryon Johnson, but Swift’s injury, combined with the lack of a formal offseason program, has left him in catch-up mode.
“I think (missing time) in general, with rookies, is a concern,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said before practice Friday. “Just in general with a normal season when we have the spring and we have the preseason and when we get to the regular season, things happen a lot quicker and they’re a little bit more complex than what we’ve seen.
[ The Free Press has started a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive sports content. ]
“So we’re going to have to do a good job of making sure that he’s acclimated when he is ready to go to be in situations that we think he can handle and kind of work him in that way until we build up a little bit of a background, a little bit of a repertoire for him where he knows maybe what he’s going to see in those certain situations.”
Swift excelled at the start of training camp in a receiving role, showing his elusiveness in open-field one-on-one drills against a variety of defenders.
He caught 73 passes in his three seasons at Georgia and lined up occasionally at the slot receiver position as part of a two-back look early in his college career.
But to have a third-down role in the NFL, running backs also must excel in pass protection, something that’s not always easy for rookies to learn.
“Swift’s done a nice job obviously of, being thrown into the fire as a rookie a little bit in training camp with no offseason is tough,” Patricia said before Swift’s injury last week. “Tough mentally, tough physically and not really sure what to expect if you’re that guy, young guys as rookies coming in. But I think he’s done a nice job just trying to adapt and get on the program and go. Obviously, when he has the ball in his hands is probably when he’s most comfortable. He’s a talented guy running with the football. He does a nice job out of the backfield catching the ball as well. Just looking for him to be the best version of himself he can be.”
Johnson, the Lions’ leading rusher each of the last two seasons, is the favorite to start at running back when the Lions open the regular season in 16 days against the Chicago Bears.
The Lions have managed Johnson’s workload carefully this summer after he missed time each of the last two seasons with a knee injury, but he’s clearly ahead of the rest of the team’s backs in the pecking order.
Rookie fifth-round pick Jason Huntley, second-year back Ty Johnson and veteran Jonathan Williams, who signed earlier this month, are vying for backup jobs, while Bo Scarbrough has missed nearly two weeks with an undisclosed injury.
Along with Swift and Scarbrough, Patricia said fullback Nick Bawden, defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand and tight end Hunter Bryant won’t practice Friday.
Left tackle Taylor Decker and defensive end Trey Flowers aren’t likely to do much, either, after sitting out Thursday with body soreness.
Right tackle Hal Vaitai, who was escorted to the locker room at the end of practice with trainers, was suffering from heat-related exhaustion, Patricia said.
The Lions moved practice inside Friday for the first time in camp.
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.