Justin Rogers | The Detroit News
Several years ago, while serving as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, team security director Dom DiSandro told Duce Staley he needed to see this high school running back generating some serious buzz around town.
So Staley and DiSandro made the trek across town to St. Joseph’s Prep to see D’Andre Swift in action.
“He was awesome,” Staley said. “I mean, he was able to do what special players do on that level, and that’s make everyone miss, including the referees.”
Staley, who joined the Detroit Lions staff this offseason, now gets an opportunity to coach Swift.
“I’m just happy to be a part of his growth and his development for the next couple years or so,” Staley said. “I’m excited. I had a chance to study him at Georgia going into the combine, and getting a chance to see him, he’s got some special traits. I can’t wait to just get him in the room, have a conversation with him — that’s where it starts — and then we’ll start building what we’re going to do with him.”
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Staley brings instant credibility to those conversation. A 10-year NFL veteran, he’s considered by many to be on a fast track to a head-coaching job after working with the running backs for 10 years in Philadelphia and serving as the team’s assistant head coach the past three seasons. He’ll have the same roles as part of Dan Campbell’s staff in Detroit.
In Philadelphia, Staley worked with a versatile group of runners, from LeSean McCoy to LeGarrette Blount to Miles Sanders, who like Swift is a former second-round pick with impressive speed and a dual-threat skill set.
Both Staley and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn see three-down potential in Swift after he racked up 878 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 times in 13 games as a rookie last season.
“I like his versatility,” Lynn said. “I think there are some things that we can do with him in the passing game to get him a little bit more involved in that. I’m looking forward to working with this young man. We just have to keep him on the field and I believe he wants to be on the field, so we’ll find someone else to go with him but I’m excited about what I saw on tape.”
Swift’s workload figures to be one of the top questions heading into the 2021 season. At 5-foot-8, 210 pounds, he’s not built like a traditional workhorse back, one who handles 20-25 carries a game. But for Lynn and Staley, the key is not limiting the vision to carries, but to touches.
“I’m about touches,” Staley said. “You know, a lot of people think you got to go have 20 carries as a running back to be successful, and sometimes you do. But touches, when you have a good back, an electrifying back, touches are definitely more important. You can get 18 carries and seven touches, as far as receptions, and you have 25 touches, which is what you want from your star back. When I look at D’Andre, I do think he’s a three-down back. And like I said, he has some special traits I can’t wait to get my hands on. I’m excited about that.”
Lynn, Staley and the rest of the offensive staff are going to be charged with fixing Detroit’s long-broken rushing attack. It’s been more than a decade since the unit finished in the top half of the league, but, at the very least, they’re inheriting a deep and talented offensive line, in addition to Swift.
That’s not a bad start.
“I know that being a former running back and all, that narrative has kind of followed me as being a ground-and-pound guy,” Lynn said. “Yes, (my teams) have rushed for a lot of yards over the last decade, but I believe, in this league, the defenses are too good to be one-dimensional.
“You have to be balanced in your attack, in your approach and that’s going to be our intentions. But at the end of the day, we just win some damn games. And so if we have to throw it 50 times, we will. If we got to run it 50 times, we will. We’re just going to focus on winning.”