Young Detroit Lions have sparked team’s turnaround
Detroit has won three of their last four
ALLEN PARK, Mich. —The Detroit Lions are getting key contributions from players they’ve drafted the last two years.
Second-year pros Mikel Leshoure and Titus Young, along with rookies Ryan Broyles and Riley Reiff have helped Detroit (4-4) win three of its last four games to bounce back from a rough start this season.
“Those guys have taken advantage of the opportunity, that’s what this league is about,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday. “When you get an opportunity, you need to prove it. There’s a lot of circumstances, whether it’s injuries or whatever, that you get your chance to get on the field. “
Leshoure has made the biggest impact, giving the team a desperately needed power running back to help the pass-happy offense strike a balance. He became the franchise’s first player since 1934 to run for three touchdowns in a half in last week’s 31-14 win at Jacksonville and has run for 375 yards in six games since being suspended for the first two weeks of the season.
Leshoure said violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy last summer and becoming a first-time father last week have helped him grow up fast.
“I learned a lot from my situation in the offseason, it made me a better man,” he said. “And having a son, it has made me an even better man. I’ve learned to be smart by understanding my surroundings and to put myself in good situations that I don’t have to second-guess.”
Leshoure’s play has gotten the attention of the slumping Minnesota Vikings (5-4) and their defensive-minded head coach Leslie Frazier.
“He’s running with authority,” Frazier said. “He’s really making people miss at times. He’s able to run through contact. He’s really given them something in the backfield. He’s an elusive runner with some power.”
Young and Broyles are providing the offense with finesse.
Since receiver Nate Burleson broke his right leg last month, Young and Broyles have made the most of the double- and triple-coverage schemes teams use to slow down Calvin Johnson.
In the last three games, Young has 17 catches for 201 yards and two TDs while Broyles has 12 receptions for 140 yards and two scores. Broyles was brought along slowly by Detroit because he tore a ligament in his left knee during his ninth game as a senior last year at Oklahoma.
“It was a little frustrating, but they did a good job of holding me back,” he said. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It’s Week 9 and I’m full of energy because I’ve really only played in three games.”
Detroit drafted Reiff 23rd overall this year for depth, but he has been ready enough to start three games — including the last two — as an extra offensively lineman that has basically become a blocking tight end.
The Lions have scored 10 times on the ground — their highest total through eight games since 1990 — and Reiff has been on the field for their last five TDs rushing.
“He’s given our run game an incredible boost,” Schwartz said. “The offensive line has blocked very well and he’s a big part of that.”
NFL teams routinely select players and quickly put them on the field with the expectation that they’ll produce, but Detroit wasn’t one of those teams in the previous decade.
Dominic Raiola knew that all too well.
Detroit drafted him in 2001 and the center saw draft selections — such as quarterback Joey Harrington along with receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams — come and go without proving they were worth being high picks.
Raiola credits Schwartz along with general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand for changing the trend and finding players who can produce.
“It’s night and day,” he said. “You can go look at the drafts and see how different it is.”
NOTES: Young, Johnson, S Louis Delmas and DT Corey Williams didn’t practice Wednesday because of knee ailments, DE Cliff Avril was held out of the workout because of a back injury and S Amari Spievey is still out because of a concussion. … The Lions have decided to end Chris Greenwood’s season before it began, keeping the rookie CB on the physically unable to perform list for the year after he had abdominal surgery.