Kevin Smith: Team Player or Possible Problem?

Rudy DominickCorrespondent IMay 2, 2010

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 23:  Runningback Kevin Smith #32 of the Detroit Lions walks the sidelines during the NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ford Field on November 23, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. The Buccaneers defeated the Lions 38-20.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk regarding the Detroit Lions running back situation with 2009 starter Kevin Smith coming off a major injury and the first round selection of Jahvid Best.

Smith has stated on his website, “He’ll have his role and I’ll have my role.”

His 2009 season ended with a knee injury and he finished with 747 rushing yards and four touchdowns. His greatest contributions to the team were in the receiving game, where he gained 415 yards on 41 receptions. 

He didn’t cement his place as the starting running back with a 3.4 yard average and a season long rush of 31 yards. 

Though a lack of success is not entirely Smith’s fault. 

Many factors played a part: a below average offensive line, a quarterback carousel, and playing most games from behind forced the team to pass more often than not.

Regardless, Smith has never been a home run threat with a career long of 50 yards.  A number Best has topped in each of his three collegiate seasons (64, 86, 93 yard rushes).

Smith did have some success last season with his receiving abilities, but Best could be an upgrade in that area as well.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan coveted Best and kept tabs on the young running back throughout the fall and the coaching staff seem elated with him in the backfield.

Best was moved around during rookie camp, lining up at wide receiver at times. 

Maybe he won’t be an every down back, but his stature is extremely similar to the Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Johnson toted the rock for Tennessee last season, racking up over 2,000 yards after splitting carries in his rookie season. 

Johnson’s success led to the demise of LenDale White, who had 200 rushing attempts in 2008, a number that dramatically decreased to 64 carries in 2009.

Best’s presence on the field will cause defenses to account for him on every play taking some pressure off Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.

If Best has a few breakout performances early in the season, Smith might not see much of the field. 

What happens then? 

Smith said all the right things, recently stating, “I’m not a selfish football player. I started my college career sharing carries, I was getting 15-20 a game and still got 1,200 yards.”

Although those numbers were not achieved in a major college conference and he may not see 15-20 carries if Best excels.

Smith believes he can be a standout NFL running back and stated before the 2009 season that the Lions would be in the playoffs. 

His attitude has always seemed positive, but would that change when he’s healthy and standing on the sidelines?

Last season, the Lions faced a disgruntled Daunte Culpepper, a player that still believes he can be a starting quarterback after numerous injuries and time away from the game. 

It seems no NFL team has that same opinion or Culpepper would be on an NFL roster today.

It’s not correct to compare the two players at this stage, though certain players may believe their abilities are higher than they truly are.

Culpepper certainly seems to be. Smith may or may not be, though due to strong, unreasonable predictions by him it may be the case.

Smith was drafted in Matt Millen’s last draft as Lions GM, under former head coach Rod Marinelli. 

Every new Detroit coach has brought in new systems and it seemed Smith wasn’t the type of running back Schwartz and Linehan wanted.

Had Chris “Beanie” Wells slipped to the Lions' No. 32 selection in the 2008 draft, it seems likely he would have donned a Detroit uniform last season.  The Lions were watching film on Wells when they spotted DeAndre Levy in the process. 

Now that Best is a Lion the coaching staff is completely enamored with him. 

Schwartz and Linehan have raved about Best ever since his selection.

Best certainly will have every opportunity to produce, though it may come at the expense of Smith. 

It will be interesting to see how Smith reacts, if he doesn’t receive the amount of playing time he deems worthy. 

Hopefully Smith will be a team player and help the Lions during their rebuilding process.