The once unutilized position of running back will be seeing action again in 2008. With Mike Martz's departure from the Lions, all running backs on the roster likely let out a big sigh of relief as they actually will be used in the offense on a regular basis. Under Martz, the focus of the offense was the passing game. Jon Kitna threw for over 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, but the running backs were really left out in the cold one might say (and that's no fun; it's freezing in Michigan right now).
There were times in the Martz era where the running game was the focus. A game or two this season did include a gameplan where the Lions tried to run the ball from the very start of the game. However, running the ball really was a direct result of Martz being criticized and seemed more like a favor to the other coaches rather than something the so-called offensive guru wanted to do. Either way, no one can disagree with the statement that the Lions didn't run the ball enough, and that will change in a big way next season.
With the promotion of Jim Colletto to offensive coordinator, I would be the Lions run the ball 60% of the time. It could end up being more balanced, but I just see Colletto focusing strictly on the run because it appears to be what Rod Marinelli wants. Rather than try to get points with a flashy passing game, Marinelli seems like a guy that would rather have his team pound the ball down the field and use up clock at the same time.
Considering the running backs will have actual value this year, it is important that a good set of players is on the depth chart at this position. Beginning at the very top of the depth chart, the starter for the Lions will be Kevin Jones if he is healthy. He suffered another season-ending injury this past season and once again will have to spend his offseason rehabbing to get healthy for the 2008 season. The only good thing about the injury he suffered this past season is that his scheduled date of return is right around training camp, which would be great if he could get back on the field before the regular season. In 2007, Jones didn't make it back until the regular season, and even that was because he really had a remarkable recovery time, so having an extra month or two really would be huge.
Jones is entering the final year of his contract and will definitely be hoping for a big season. That would be good for the Lions in 2008 as a big season from him likely would translate into a few more wins than usual, but in the future it could actually hurt Detroit. Since Jones is scheduled to be a free agent after this coming season, odds are he will try to leave Detroit for a better team. I would say that him being on the Lions in 2009 and beyond is much more likely now that Martz is gone, but honestly, why would anyone voluntarily play for the Lions if there were better options out there?
The future of Jones isn't necessarily important right now as the Lions could franchise him following the '08 season if they wanted him back for another year. By doing that, the need of a finding a new starting running back could be delayed a year if the Lions can't work out a long-term extension, and then they could worry about finding a replacement in 2010 instead of 2009.
Anyways, behind Jones there technically is a big void right now. T.J. Duckett is a free agent, and I believe Tatum Bell is as well. I've seen conflicting reports while doing some searching on Bell's situation, but I believe he will not be back with the Lions next season. That could change with the new philosophy of the offense, but I really don't think Bell has enjoyed his time in Detroit very much considering he wasn't even active for much of last season.
The realistic scenario for the Lions in my mind is that they will re-sign Duckett as he did play well when he got on the field in 2007. Aside from Duckett, Aveion Cason, who usually always ends up on the Lions, will probably be given on the team during training camp and then a decision will have to be made before the regular season starts. The reason his spot with the Lions would even be in question is because of Brian Calhoun. Calhoun is entering his third season with the Lions, although it really is like his first considering he has had season-ending injuries in both 2006 and 2007. He is really the wild-card at the running back position simply because no one knows what he will bring to the table right now. If he can stay healthy, then I would expect Calhoun to stay with the Lions throughout 2008. Only problem is his health is a huge question mark.
When it comes to the running back position for the Lions, I would say on a scale of 1-10 (1 being not at all; 10 being need someone immediately), the need for a running back is only a 4. Yes, there are a few question marks with each running back. Still, as long as T.J. Duckett is re-signed and Aveion Cason is brought back, this should not be a position of need for 2008. The future of Kevin Jones will be an issue after this season without a doubt. But for right now, Detroit really isn't in need of any running backs. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lions bring in a free agent or two for training camp, and maybe even a late-round draft pick. Other than that, though, I would expect to see familiar faces taking handoffs from Jon Kitna in 2008.