Detroit Lions challenge D’Andre Swift: ‘Difference between being injured and hurt’

Detroit Free Press

D’Andre Swift looks bigger this offseason, his sleeves rolled up to his shoulders instead of half way down his biceps.

Just don’t say that publicly, asks Detroit Lions running backs coach Deuce Staley, who fears it will go right to his head.

“Please, don’t tell him that,” Staley said on day five of Organized Team Activities at Lions headquarters. “That’s only because he did five pushups before practice.”

Staley said Swift knows how to look good for the camera, too, “he’s got that baby oil over there” to make sure he looks shiny. But joking aside, part of Swift’s offseason to-do list was to add bulk.

Keep the shift and the burst, but add some muscle in order to take some of those NFL hits that kept him out of four games his rookie season with a sprained shoulder.

Injuries weren’t new to Swift last season; he battled different ailments at times during his collegiate career at Georgia.

Swift left a game early in 2018 against Middle Tennessee State with a strained groin, then left one the following season against Georgia Tech when he injured his shoulder.

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In 2020, he sat out two games with a concussion. The Lions are confident in their running back room — Staley says he doesn’t determine the starters, his backs do that for him with their work and production — but there’s little doubt Swift has the most talent.

He has the skills to be the feature back, with Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Greg Bell and Jermar Jefferson getting some snaps. That’s why the Lions issued him a new challenge heading into this season.

“Injuries happen, but one of the things Swift and I had a conversation about is you’ve got to be able to play through some of these injuries as a running back,” Staley said. “We all know there’s a difference between being injured and hurt. As soon as you step in this building as a running back, Day One training camp, you’re not going to feel the same.

“There will be some things you have to fight through.”

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Staley acknowledged it’s not entirely in Swift’s control. He said luck is a factor in staying  healthy during this game of “violent car wrecks,” where guys are running 18-20 mph, smashing their bodies into one another.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said an offensive line that’s at full strength should help the running backs as much as anything.

“Not to slight D’Andre, but it starts up front with those linemen,” he said. “I’m equally as excited seeing those five healthy O-linemen as I am seeing him out there on the field.

“But there’s no doubt he makes us better, he’s a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands and we’re going to use him as such.”

It’s not as if the Lions ignored their rookie back in 2021. In 13 games, Swift had 213 touches (just more than 16 per game), totaling 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns.

Besides the game against Pittsburgh when he rushed a career-high 33 times, he never saw 15 carries in a single game.

Just because the staff wants him to stay available, doesn’t mean they plan to change his touches or run him into the ground this year.

In fact, they went through the list of offensive weapons  — Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, T.J. Hockenson, Jameson Williams and Josh Reynolds — to exemplify the new depth on the offensive unit, adding that no single player has to do too much.

But outside of Williams, a rookie who’s yet to participate as he continues to work his way back from an ACL tear he suffered in the championship game against Georgia, nobody has the athletic upside on the Lions offense like Swift.

So far, Staley said, Swift has responded exactly as he’d hoped he would.

“Super positive and he knows (we need him out there), which is good,” Staley said. “Playing running back, you’re going to take your fair share of hits.

“You just have to make sure you protect yourself when it’s the time to protect yourself and then there’s going to be time to put it all out there.”

Contact Tony Garcia at apgarcia@freepress.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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