DETROIT - It seems fitting that the Detroit Lions 17-point comeback against the Carolina Panthers was highlighted by an outstanding performance from running back Kevin Smith. Smith is a former third-round draft choice of the Lions and was their starting running back for two seasons before a string of injuries forced him to miss significant playing time.
Smith was a restricted free agent after the 2010 season and the Lions neglected to tender him an offer, instead allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Unable to make a NFL roster, Smith returned home to Florida, where he would train five days a week while spending time with his family.
Forced to watch from home as the NFL season began to slowly pass him by, the Lions decided to bring Smith in for a workout along with almost two dozen other players during the off-week. The coaching staff came away so impressed with what the 24-year old had shown that they decided to sign him.
Smith was immediately thrust into the active roster, playing sparingly in last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears.
That wasn’t the case on Sunday.
Against the Panthers, Smith had the best game of his career.
The former Central Florida standout rushed for 141 yards and recorded 201 yards from scrimmage, while finding the end zone three times.
“There’s a lot of great stories in the NFL and I’m sure there’s a lot of storylines today,” said head coach Jim Schwartz after the win. “But I think the NFL would be hard-pressed to find a better story than Kevin Smith.”
Smith’s outstanding performance helped spark the Lions rushing attack, a function of their offense that ranked 27th in the NFL heading into Week 11.
It’s hard to believe that a player who couldn’t make an NFL roster could have such a profound impact in a game.
It’s clear that even though Smith’s health may have been an issue at times, his talent was never in doubt.
“He’s a guy that obviously has a lot of talent, but early on in his career (he) was set back with a lot of major injuries," said Smith. "With the lockout this year and short training camps and things like that, it was really a terrible situation for him in trying to come back. Credit to Kevin’ he never lost faith, he persevered.”
Smith was simply grateful for the opportunity and is thrilled he was able to take advantage of it.
“Just want to start by saying God is good and today was a blessing,” said Smith. “First off, for a victory and to be able to play at home in front of these fans – I’m just geeked (up) right now.”
His off-season and in-season conditioning kept him in great shape while his body made a full recovery from his past injuries.
“That was one good thing about me not being signed the first eight weeks,” said Smith. “Although I was healthy, eight more weeks can’t hurt anything and I’ve been playing this game for a long time and really haven’t had a season-ending injury until I got to the League. I looked at this as an opportunity to get back in the repair shop, get my armor back right and be healthy and just play some football.”
With starting running back Jahvid Best still recovering from a concussion and with no true timeline for his return, Smith has an opportunity to add to his comeback story.
If Smith can continue to be successful, the Lions might have found a solution to their inconsistent running game. Although, Smith isn’t prepared to talk about the team’s struggles when rushing the ball.
“What running game woes?” asked Smith. “I’ve only been here a week.”
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