When news broke Monday that rookie running back Mikel Leshoure suffered a torn Achilles after being laid out in a routine 11-on-11 drill by DE Cliff Avril, many Detroit Lions fans who had become hopeful for a 2011 playoff performance felt the twinge of that all-too-familiar dread seeping back into their bones, suggesting their beloved Lions are just plain cursed.
But yesterday, Coach Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions front office made two quick signings that may end up making Mikel Leshoure’s injury seem more like a blessing than anything else.
Don’t get me wrong—no self-respecting human would consider such a severe injury to any player a stroke of luck much less one to a second-round pick the Lions traded up in the draft to attain.
And even less to a running back who perfectly fits the profile of a player the team desperately needed, a 6’0” 227-pound barbarian who chalked up 1,697 yards rushing in his senior year with Illinois, scoring 28 touchdowns while producing nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage in his total college career.
But despite Leshoure’s profile being a perfect compliment to starting running back Jahvid Best, a speed and receiving threat who was bit by the injury bug much of last season himself struggling with turf toe issues, this season-ending injury won’t end up the Achilles heel to the Detroit Lions.
The Lions made quick work on Tuesday, signing two 28-year-old running backs with huge—albeit uncertain—upside in Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell.
Both have the potential to have breakout seasons in 2011 and both offer a key addition to a Detroit team that’s been bitten hard by the injury bug the past few years—young depth to their running game.
While neither player produced in 2010, both seem to have been passed over in free agency as a byproduct of most NFL franchises’ inability to examine player’s intangibles, instead using prior season stats as their primary metric. As a result, the Lions were able to sign both to relatively inexpensive short-term contracts.
Jerome Harrison’s potential is enormous, stemming back to his 2009 season with Cleveland where he put up an impressive 778 of his 862 total rushing yards in the seven games he started.
His lack of success in 2010 seems only situational—Jerome probably didn’t expect Peyton Hillis to perform as if he trained by sleeping with rabid hyenas and eating porcupines in the wild for breakfast…but he did, leaving Harrison in a cornfield at the height of his potential with a frustratingly undefined role.
After he was traded to the Eagles, (coincidentally for Mike Bell), backing up LeSean McCoy seemed an equally mismatched scenario as the two backs are cut from a similar mold. The Eagles confirmed this by letting Harrison go unsigned when they were able to pick up Ronnie Brown in free agency, a seemingly more complimentary situational back to McCoy.
But Harrison could be a better fit for Detroit.
Harrison actually grew up a Lions fan in Kalamazoo and says "(Barry Sanders is a player) that I tried to pattern my game after," in addition to expressing a surreal feeling as he walked the same halls his childhood heroes did in the Lions facilities for the first time this week.
If there is any place that might better poise Harrison to have a breakout season, it’s Detroit, and if Jahvid Best faces injury trouble again in 2011, Jerome could feasibly step up as a productive starter.
Mike Bell is in a slightly different situation than Harrison. While Harrison maintains a 4.8 yards-per-carry career average, Bell only produced 99 rushing yards on the 47 carries he saw in 2010 in both Philadelphia and Cleveland.
Still, at 6’0” and 225 pounds, Bell is almost a carbon copy of Mikel Leshoure in terms of body frame, suggesting he might have the ability to step up as that situational back the Lions traded up to get in the draft. Additionally, Bell’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, eager to finally produce a breakout season of his own.
"LeSean McCoy is Pro Bowl-caliber and Peyton Hillis is Pro Bowl-caliber," said Bell regarding his unproductive 2010 season. "It really was nothing I did. I know I’m stigmatized now, but I’m about to show everybody this year.”
Detroit Lions Injury Report
The Detroit Lions have a ton of buzz surrounding their rebuilding efforts this 2011 season—probably more so than any other NFL team.
But so far, the Detroit Lions injury report has more fans feeling cursed than hopeful and makes the bite of that mythical “Injury Bug” seem more like the bite of a deadly South African water snake.
LT Jeff Backus is still nursing a pectoral muscle injury and RT Godser Cherilus is still recovering from knee surgery.
Rookie Nick Fairley broke his foot, requiring surgery, and veteran running back Maurice Morris broke his hand.
OL Jason Fox and CB Alphonso Smith are both dealing with foot injuries. Rookie WR Titus Young injured his leg the first day of practice and is still slow to practice fully.
The key to the Detroit Lions living up to the high hopes their fans have this year, the ones that haven’t been this high in decades, will be Schwartz and the Lions front office continually having the resources to adapt to situations like Mikel Leshoure’s injury in ways that not only maintain the integrity of their organization, but can also potentially improve it.
While there’s no guarantee that either Mike Bell or Jerome Harrison will actually be on the 53-man roster when Detroit makes its final cuts, these two signings just may end up construed as a little more “lucky” than “cursed” come playoff time in 2011.