Running back T.J. Duckett has officially signed with the Detroit Lions after agreeing to terms a week earlier. Duckett signed a one-year contract on Friday with Detroit and will join a backfield that is getting awfully crowded.
This signing marks the second transaction this offseason to pick up a running back. It appeared at one time a third might be coming in (Chris Brown from Tennessee), but it is believed that Brown was only a backup plan in case the deal with Duckett fell through.
The question of why certainly comes in now that Duckett is officially a Lion. At this time, the Lions have Kevin Jones, Tatum Bell, Brian Calhoun, Shawn Bryson, Aveion Cason, and the newly signed T.J. Duckett in the backfield. Sifting through that list, it's obvious that something is up. Let's rundown through the players and see what each role will be.
Kevin Jones: Will be the starter if he is healthy enough to do so. Some say he should be ready by training camp and others suggest he is out until the halfway point of the 2007 season. Whichever is true, just hope for the first option. Assuming Jones is back by training camp, look for him to slowly work his way out onto the field and eventually into a game situation. I wouldn't expect to see him in the preseason very much if at all considering there is no reason to risk the injury getting worse.
Tatum Bell: Traded from Denver alongside George Foster, Bell was originally brought in as an insurance policy for Kevin Jones. Bell has been a starter in the past and could certainly step in to do so here in Detroit if that was needed. Although many have suggested he could be dealt somewhere else, I wouldn't expect that to happen.
Brian Calhoun: A third-round pick in last year's draft, Calhoun's season was ended due to an injury in practice. Looking back, it was probably a bad move to draft Calhoun considering he serves no purpose as of right now, but we'll just have to wait and see. Personally, I think Calhoun may still be injured, which would better explain some of the latest moves by Detroit. He could end up on the PUP list for the first part of next season and may have to wait even longer to be 100%, leading me to believe the Lions will store him on the shelf until 2008.
Shawn Bryson: Bryson is a transitional back that can be used in either spot in the backfield. He played at fullback sporadically last season and now may see that position as a starter in 2007 with the departure of Cory Schlesinger. Bryson could still be used as a running back if needed, but I expect him to be listed as the starting fullback.
Aveion Cason: Cason was signed during last season specifically to add depth. Towards the end of the season he actually played quite a bit since all of the other running backs were on the IR. I don't expect Cason to make the roster in September but do see him making the practice squad. If any of the running backs were injured, he would get the first call to come up as a replacement.
T.J. Duckett: The former Michigan State running back comes back to his home state by joining Detroit. He will be used as a role player in short-yardage and goal line situations. That is one thing the Lions always have trouble with. When down near the goal line, Detroit just can't punch it in. Hopefully Duckett solves that problem. He could also be used if an injury occurred, but not on every down.
Arlen Harris is an unrestricted free agent and I wouldn't expect him to be signed by Detroit. Even if it was specifically for training camp, he would probably end up being cut just as he was prior to last season. Although Harris was brought back during the year for depth, Cason serves the same purpose, so there's no need for two similar players.
As you can see, the running back position is very crowded right now. There are many question marks surrounding each player and I imagine we'll begin to find out some answers sooner or later. The Lions have done a good job adding insurance just in case Kevin Jones isn't healthy next season, which was one of the biggest needs this offseason. Hopefully the insurance policy won't need to be used, but it's better to be safe than sorry.