Detroit Lions running back David Montgomery has been the centerpiece of the team’s running game for the first two weeks of the season, but with a thigh injury likely to keep him out this week against the Atlanta Falcons, attention is turning to rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs.
The Lions’ first-round pick—12th overall—has had a minimal role in the running game through the first two games of his career. He’s carried the ball just 14 times (to Montgomery’s 37) and turned that into 59 yards. Instead, the Lions have utilized Gibbs more in the receiving game, lining him out as a receiver on a third of his snaps and targeting him 11 times.
While Gibbs’ explosive running style and high-end speed favor getting him the ball in space, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said on Thursday he has plenty of confidence in the former Alabama running back running between the tackles, too.
“Yeah, Gibby can do anything,” Johnson said. “So yeah, we’ll see what all we ask him to do, but we feel very comfortable with him doing anything that our running backs need to do.”
That being said, coach Dan Campbell has stated several times since Montgomery’s injury that they will continue to be a running back by committee attack in the ground game. That means ceding some of Gibbs’ opportunities to either backup Craig Reynolds or Zonovan Knight, who was signed to the practice squad less than a month ago and added to the 53-man roster this week.
Knight’s style of running best mimics that of Montgomery, but the challenge for him is learning the nuances of the offensive scheme in time to earn the coaching staff’s trust. So far, so good on that front.
“He’s doing a phenomenal job picking it up and we’ll see as the week goes along how much he can handle,” Johnson said. “But (I’ve) been encouraged with what he’s shown on scout team over the last couple weeks and so far this week in terms of running ability, pass protection, and receiving ability.”
Overall, Johnson hasn’t been satisfied with the Lions’ run game through two weeks. They’ve averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, ranking 22nd in the league. Their longest run of the year is just 18 yards, but Johnson thinks they’re on the verge of breaking a big one.
“We’re very close from not just having these 2, 3-yard gains, but having explosive runs,” Johnson said. “I think that’s what shows up. Normally when you say, ‘Hey, one guy is awful.’ That’s the difference between a 3-yard gain and a 5 or 6-yard gain. These are the difference between 12, 15-yard gains.”
Without a doubt, Gibbs is the most capable back on the roster to create those explosion plays, and while he’ll split the backfield on Sunday against a solid Falcons defense, Campbell did not hide that Gibbs will see a bigger usage this week.
“Gibbs is going to get more of a role and we’re going to do what we do.”