When running back George Winn joined the Detroit Lions a month ago, he was viewed as nothing more than a camp body. After all, the Lions seemed to have a pretty set group at running back, and Winn bounced around numerous teams in 2013. Even his chances of making the practice squad didn't necessarily seem that great with him joining the team just weeks before training camp.
Fast forward to now and the story on Winn is completely different. After standing out early in training camp for a couple big hits on defenders, Winn has stood out in the preseason for his overall skill set. He rushed for 39 yards on six carries against the Cleveland Browns, and he ran for a touchdown and made two tackles on special teams against the Oakland Raiders. Yes, he fumbled once against the Browns, and he only had nine yards on eight carries in Oakland, but Winn has made a strong case for inclusion on the Lions' 53-man roster.
This is not good news for Mikel Leshoure. Although we heard throughout the offseason that a role existed for Leshoure in Detroit's new offense, I'm just not seeing it based on the first two preseason games. So far this preseason, he's rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries, and he hasn't exactly contributed much on special teams. Considering he's aiming for the fourth spot at running back (behind Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick), special teams contributions are going to be important for Leshoure, and Winn's work with the first-team cover units on Friday night was pretty impressive.
Admittedly, we need to keep in mind the level of competition each player is facing since neither Winn nor Leshoure is part of the first-team offense. Also, we need to remember that they're running behind a bunch of backup offensive linemen, so you can't judge each player based solely on his numbers. However, from an eye test point of view, Winn has looked like a more decisive runner than Leshoure. Winn just seems to hit the holes faster, and as mentioned, he seems to bring more to the table on special teams.
At this point, I'm not ready to write off Leshoure completely considering there are still two more preseason games left. However, Winn has made things quite interesting at the bottom of the depth chart at running back. Leshoure has a real challenger for the No. 4 spot at running back, and he could find himself off the team if we see more of the same in the final two weeks of the preseason. There's obviously no guarantee that either player will actually make the team, but to hold off Winn and at least have a shot at remaining with the Lions going into the 2014 season, Leshoure needs a couple strong performances both on offense and special teams.