ALLEN PARK -- The Detroit Lions running back corps is crowded with bodies and question marks.
With Jahvid Best on the PUP list, Mikel Leshoure facing a two game suspension, coming off an Achilles injury and having yet to handle a carry in an NFL game (preseason or otherwise) and concern around Kevin Smith’s ability to remain healthy the Lions top three runners all come with baggage.
Enter Keiland Williams and Joique Bell -- two intriguing runners acquired in 2011.
Williams, an LSU product, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Washington Redskins in 2010. He started three games as a rookie, including an 89-yard, two touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite some success as a rookie, Williams was cut by the Redskins at the end of the 2011 preseason. The Lions claimed the 25-year-old off of waivers and he appeared in 15 games for the team.
Williams mainly played a special teams role, receiving only 66 total touches, but he may have the opportunity for an increased role in 2012.
His ability to take advantage of the opportunity begins with the familiarity of the system gained after having a full offseason with the team.
“Anytime you have some time to spend a year in a system and just get comfortable and familiar with everything, you feel better,” said Williams. “I’m able to go out there and react and I’m not really thinking about what I have to do.”
Williams’ top competition for a roster spot might come from Bell, a 26-year old runner who has bounced around NFL practice squads but has never received a regular season carry.
Bell rushed for over 150 yards in each of his first two preseasons, scoring three touchdowns in the process.
In addition to Bell’s productive preseason games, he had a very productive collegiate career for Wayne State University – winning the Harlon Hill Trophy (awarded to the Division II player of the year).
So why hasn’t Bell stuck with a team?
“The biggest thing is finding a fit with the team and there could be a million different things,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “You could be as productive as can be in the second half of the game and if your team doesn’t have any spots it’s not going to translate. He’s had a good camp and it showed in the game. We obviously rushed the ball well. We didn’t play well but we rushed the ball well. I thought Kevin, I thought Keiland, I thought Stefan Logan as well as Joique all ran hard and were very productive in their runs. We didn’t have ton of real long runs, so to still average six yards a carry, that’s pretty good when you’re sort of, I don’t want to say grinding it out, but you’re not getting a 70-yard chunk in there that speared that average.”
The Lions generated 198 yards on the ground in their first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. These yards were achieved by committee, increasing confidence in the Lions stable of backs.
“I feel like we’re a talented group,” said Williams. “I guess we didn’t live up to other people’s expectations outside but if we go back and look at film from last year we did some good things. We just want to build on that this year and have more of a balanced offense.”
Based on the question marks around the top of the Lions depth chart at running backs, the Lions ability to achieve success on the ground may have more to do with Williams and Bell than many are expecting.