I have been suspicious of the running game in Detroit for sometime now. Obviously, Barry Sanders is a hard act to follow and most running backs would be a let down. The production, the excitement, and the hope that Barry provided was monumental. Detroit fans soaked it in and up. After ten years of bliss Sanders retired and fans have experienced mostly heartache since. There was a fleeting season or two of joy with James Stewart. That is until we ran his wheels off. But I want to focus on the period from 2004 to present. The Kevin Years.
Kevin Jones, Explosive runner with great elusiveness, speed, and athleticism. Runs with good lean and balance, keeps his footing after the initial hit was the scouting report from Scout.com October 16, 2003. I remember that Kevin Jones. I was particularly impressed with his elusiveness and vision, he would find the path of least resistance naturally and find his way there. He was tough, I remember a game vs. the Ravens when he fearlessly took on Ray Lewis a few times in a row on the goal line. After that game it was reported that he was high energy and often tried to motivate the team with his hard play. We couldn't wait for his second season.
His second season things didn't seem as natural for him and it didn't take long for Detroit fans to say "he has no burst". (Something Detroit fans say when they are not happy with a running back.) But what puzzles me is he had a burst the year before. Where did it go? Then his production seemed to decline and the "no burst" chatter simultaneously inclined. Soon he was just RB fodder on the Bears roster.
Kevin Smith, Smith is very fluid in his running style, cuts smoothly, doesn't stutter-step to change direction and hits his top speed quickly. The other strength of his game is his vision, a trait that helps separate the good ones from the great ones was the evaluation of the late Tom "Killer" Kowalski in 2008. I remember that Kevin Smith, very smooth and fluid with great vision. In fact in his first year he was very similar to Jones the way he ran. He gained yards effortlessly. Why did we hand him the #34 jersey? Kevin "common last name" followed by Kevin" common last name" both wearing 34. That's almost creepy. The entire time Kevin Smith (Kevin 2) was successful I called him Kevin Jones (Kevin 1). In his second year he began running less naturally, following the same trajectory as Kevin 1. Guess what Detroit fans started saying? I'll give you a hint, it has the word "burst" in it. Now Kevin Smith is sitting at home as an unsigned free agent. Really? We don't need him, we have Jerome Harrison. Guess what the biggest criticism of Jerome is? His lack of burst. I have to slow down I am getting dizzy.
Now there were injuries with both these running backs and you could blame production reduction on that fact. You could also blame it on schemes, both backs faced multiple coordinators. Maybe you think it's the running back coach? Sam Gash has had his hand in coaching both Kevins. Initially Wilbert Montgomery was the RB coach while, get this, Gash was learning under Stan Kwan. Then Gash became RB coach.
There are two other reasons I brought up Sam Gash. The first is a statement I heard from Best last year when he was asked about his coaching. I can't give you the actual quote because I can't seem to find it, but I cringed when I heard it. Paraphrasing, it mentioned how Gash was teaching him how tho hit the whole hard and fast. Doesn't sound so bad until you realize these running backs all had great vision and running talent which included patients. They don't need a bruising fullback telling them how to hit the hole. Which young running backs hit the hole hard and fast? The bad ones. This leads me to the second point. That was how Sam Gash ran the ball. It wasn't pretty. Don't get me wrong, he was a GREAT fullback and was very respected by his piers, but a pure runner? Not even close. In fact he was the first running back to be elected to the pro bowl without a single carry during the season. Detroit doesn't even utilize fullbacks but we have one coaching our running backs.
I am not at practice and I don't know whether this has anything to do with the decline of running backs at Detroit. You would think someone would notice if it were true. That is why I want to know what you think.
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Killer, I hope you are dreaming of large women.