Shortly after the 2009 season ended, general manager Martin Mayhew made it clear the Lions would be looking for a new running back.
"This offseason we have to look at every situation and evaluate what kind of player we're going to bring in at what level," Mayhew said. "I anticipate adding somebody to that position, but the question will be what their role is going to be. Is it going to be a guy you bring in and say, 'This guy is going to be our starter'? Or is it going to be a guy you bring in to supplement what you already have?"
The Lions have been curiously quiet since. Their only acquisition has been DeDe Dorsey, the most valuable player of the UFL title game last year. They didn't chase free agents like Chester Taylor and Thomas Jones. As Mayhew said in February at the NFL scouting combine: "Most of the guys out there have some miles on 'em."
So is it safe to assume, then, that the Lions are focusing on the draft April 22-24?
"I don't think so," Mayhew said. "Frequently, running backs are out there available in free agency later in the year and that kind of thing. We also have the trade option. And obviously there's a draft coming up. So I think we have several different opportunities to improve in that spot."
And improve they must.
"We feel like as a team to be a better offense we need consistently better performances at our running back," Mayhew said.
Starting with Schwartz himself, there has been a lot of talk about the need for more explosiveness. Kevin Smith had only one run more than 20 yards last year -- a 31-yarder -- and then suffered a torn ACL. Maurice Morris busted a 64-yard TD filling in for Smith, but that was about it for big plays.
Mayhew stressed consistency, though.
"It's great to have a guy that can take it 80 yards, but if he's getting two yards a carry on every other carry, then that's a problem, too," Mayhew said. "We need consistent production from the running back position. We need that, and we didn't have that last year, I don't think."
Smith's rehab from a torn ACL is going well, by all accounts.
"I can do almost everything except run," Smith blogged at smith34.com. "I'm not even trying to run right now, though I know I could. It would probably make the knee swell up. I'm lifting weights and doing everything else I can do."
Smith wrote that he's "right on schedule," but also that "there's no timeline" for the knee.
"Whether he's ready at the beginning of training camp, whether he's ready during the season, he'll be ready," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's just a matter of when."
Still, the Lions will keep looking.
"We have contingency plans," Schwartz said. "We'd like to be a good running team, and to do that, you need to continually take care of your running back situation. Good teams generally have more than one running back."