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Detroit Lions adding ‘another level of complexity’ with 2-back looks

We could be seeing two RBs in the backfield a lot more often in 2018.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Minicamp Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

For the past couple of years, fans have been dying for the Detroit Lions to put more players in the backfield. Whether it be a fullback or a second halfback, many believed Detroit had too many talented athletes to only use one at a time.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Lions only utilized two back sets on 34 total snaps last year, good for just 23rd in the league.

But six months into his job, it’s clear that new head coach Matt Patricia is working to make that number a lot higher this year. The Lions went out and grabbed themselves a fullback in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and although he has since landed on injured reserve, Detroit transitioned linebacker Nick Bellore into a full-time fullback.

On Wednesday, Patricia explained his change in strategy.

“From a fullback standpoint or even just trying to put a second back in the backfield, it’s something that always gives teams a lot of difficulty when you can line up with a guy in the backfield and then insert him into the defense, from that standpoint, create an extra gap or extra space,” Patricia said. “It always adds another level of complexity to it to try and defend.”

But it’s not just a fullback the Lions are putting out there, several times throughout camp, Detroit has shown a split backs look with different variations of running backs in the backfield. Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington have played makeshift fullback at times, while other times, Detroit will just go split backs with two tailback or even place one out wide as a flanker.

“From a personnel standpoint, it could be a number of different players that are back there.” Patricia told the media.

And while the Lions will almost certainly remain a pass-heavy offense under Jim Bob Cooter for a third straight year, there’s reason to expect a drastic change in the frequency of two-back formations. Last year, the New England Patriots led the entire league with 369 snaps with two-back personnel on the field. That’s 35 percent of all their offensive snaps.

The Lions are entering 2018 with a ton of talent in their backfield. Second-round pick Kerryon Johnson joins talented veteran LeGarrette Blount and third-down back Theo Riddick to form a pretty versatile backfield. Even Ameer Abdullah still brings athleticism and potential to a deep position group. But with a limited amount of snaps to share between the corps, Patricia may be planning to maximize that potential by keeping as many players out there as possible, and that could be good news for the entire backfield—and bad news for opposing defenses.