Detroit Lions’ early offseason additions point to big 2021 for D’Andre Swift

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Matthew Stafford never had much of a running game in his 12 seasons in Detroit. Now that Stafford appears to be on the outs at quarterback, the Lions seem determined to build one in his absence.

The Lions are hiring former Philadelphia Eagles running back Duce Staley as their running backs coach/assistant head coach, CBS and NFL Network reported Monday.

Staley played 10 NFL seasons for the Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, and has coached running backs in Philadelphia the past eight years. He was also the Eagles’ assistant head coach the past three seasons under Doug Pederson.

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He is the latest in a line of run-centric coaches the Lions have added this offseason.

New head coach Dan Campbell was a blocking tight end for most his NFL career, and he hired former Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, an ex-NFL running back, as offensive coordinator.

Lynn was a long-time NFL running backs coach who added play-calling duties to his resume for the first and only time with the Buffalo Bills in 2016. The Bills led the NFL in rushing at 164.4 yards per game that season and finished 30th in passing.

The Lions also retained offensive line coach Hank Fraley.

Campbell said in his introductory news conference last week his overall philosophy as coach was “to run a system that puts our best on your worst.” He mentioned using running D’Andre Swift as a slot receiver at times to create matchup problems, and insisted he did not want a play caller who was going to run or pass the ball “50 times a game.”

“I know there’s this preconceived notion about me,” Campbell said. “Of course, I want to run the football, cause there’s a mentality about it, there’s a physicality about it. It makes you better defensively as well, when you do it against yourself in practice. But ultimately, man, I want to find the best guy for the job that fits what I want to do and fits what we’re trying to do here and put our guys in the best situation to have success.”

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The Lions have not ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing since Barry Sanders’ final season with the team in 1998. Since then, they have had four 1,000-yard rushing seasons by three different backs, the last by Reggie Bush (1,006 yards) in 2013.

This season, the Lions went 5-11 and finished 30th in rushing (93.7 yards per game). Swift had eight touchdowns and led the Lions with a 4.6-yard-per-carry average while splitting time with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson.

Peterson will be an unrestricted free agent in March, but Swift and Johnson — the Lions’ second-round picks in 2020 and 2018, respectively — could take a more prominent role on offense once the Lions trade Stafford.

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Campbell acknowledged in his news conference last week “this is a passing league right now.” But speaking two days before news of Stafford’s trade request became public, he might have dropped hints about the makeup of his team in 2021.

“If you don’t have something, maybe you’re lacking in one area, boy, you better beef up another, right?” he said. “So you better find a way to build on those things around that piece that maybe you don’t have so that you can give yourself the best chance to win.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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