Abdullah Airs Frustrations With Lions Offense

"You have no clue," he said of his role on a game-to-game basis.

Will Burchfield
May 11, 2018 - 6:40 pm

© Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

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Like any running back, Ameer Abdullah wants the ball as much as he can get it. He hasn't gotten it a whole lot over three seasons in Detroit -- one of which was wiped out by injury -- and the former college bellcow is still trying to adjust. 

"It’s frustrating, especially coming from Nebraska where I was the guy, I knew I was going to get the ball at least 20 times a game," Abdullah told Michael Rapaport on the I Am Rapaport: Stereo Podcast. "For me, it’s not necessarily getting a certain number of touches. It’s getting meaningful touches and getting into a rhythm. That’s where it gets kind of frustrating.

"The coaches, I trust their game plan, they’re much smarter than me. They go in and they dissect how they want to attack the team we’re playing and how they want to break up the touches, but it’s hard when I come in, I get a carry and break it for about 10 yards, then I come out for about three plays, then I gotta come in to pass protect, then I don’t get my next carry until, like, the next quarter." 

The Lions don't run the ball a whole lot under Jim Bob Cooter, and carries are shared among a handful of backs. Detroit's 363 rushing attempts last season were the second least in the NFL. Abdullah's 165 carries were 28th. He struggled to produce when given the opportunity, averaging just 3.3 yards per attempt, partly because he didn't know when those opporutinies would arrive. 

In the lead-up to each game, Abdullah wasn't sure how many many touches he'd get. He wasn't even totally sure how he'd be used. 

"You have no clue," he said. "We’re in a pass-heavy offense as it is, very pass-heavy offense, so it’s tough to make the most of some of your touches, especially when you don’t know when they’re going to come. But for me, what I’ve learned the most in Detroit and what I appreciate about Detroit is the fact that mentally I’m a lot tougher than I ever would have been if I would have went somewhere else." 

Drafted in the second round in 2015, Abdullah hasn't sparked the Lions' run game the way many fans had hoped. He's yet to eclipse the 600-yard mark in two healthy seasons, and last year finished 36th in the NFL in rushing. Two quarterbacks -- Cam Newton and Russell Wilson -- gained more yards on the ground. 

Then again...

"I probably got maybe, like, seven carries a game last year, which is less than two a quarter if you want to break that down. It’s tough, especially when you have a lot of pressure on you to be that 1,000-yard back, and it’s like, what do you expect if I’m getting six (carries) a game?" Abdullah said. "It’s kind of tough, but I appreciate that because mentally it’s made me a lot tougher, and going into the last year of my contract I feel like I’m ready for anything." 

To be fair, Abdullah got 11.8 carries per game last year, which was actually a career high. Still, that's hardly enough for a running back to really stand out. Among the NFL's nine 1,000-yard rushers last season, the average number of carries per game was 17.8. The low (Mark Ingram) was 14.4. 

With the Lions shaking up the coaching staff in the offseason, Abdullah is hopeful the offense will become more tailored to each player's strengths. 

"I think things are coming together," he said. "I know we made a couple coaching changes and hopefully we get a couple guys in there who really are going to look and evaluate our talent and use each talent individually to succeed, not just to run a scheme, but to see these guys and be like, ‘I gotta get him involved this way.’"

"Just running a scheme," Abdullah said, "never works." 

One area in which he hopes to see more action this season is the passing game. Abdullah can be a weapon in this capacity, but finds himself on the same team as Theo Riddick, one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. Abdullah saw 35 targets last season, Riddick got more than twice that. 

Can the Lions expand Abdullah's role to get him more involved as a receiver? 

"Something that I think separates myself, Theo, some other guys like (Christian) McCaffrey, Chris Thompson -- there’s a number of guys who are good at it -- from maybe some of the guys you don’t necessarily see running option routes or different choice routes, is we can create separation and catch the ball in small windows," Abdullah said. "Anyone can catch a swing pass, anyone can catch a flat route, but a guy who can be in hybrid, who can line up in the slot and have a nickel on him and still win, that’s what I feel like me and Theo bring to the game.

"Like I said, hopefully this year Detroit actually gives me more of an opportunity to do that because that’s always been my strong suit. I started off playing receiver because I wanted to be like Percy Harvin growing up, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to." 

It's a critical season in Abdullah's career. The general manager who drafted him is long gone, and Abdullah has yet to prove himself under Bob Quinn. To no surprise, Quinn added two running backs this offseason, both of whom figure to cut into Abdullah's playing time. When Quinn was asked about Abdullah's future in the wake of drafting Kerryon Johnson, he didn't say much more than, "I mean, Ameer's here." 

Quinn plans to roster four or five running backs, with three being active on game days. Among the quartet of Abdullah, Riddick, Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, someone each week will be the odd man out. (That's without mentioning Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington.) Riddick's spot on the roster doesn't feel especially safe at the moment, although the Lions' highest-paid running back said this week he'll be happy with any role he's given. Abdullah, meanwhile, is striking a much different tone. (They were also speaking in much different forums.) 

Abdullah figures to be on the team when the season begins in September. Whether he's here beyond that is a less-sure bet. His contract, as he mentioned, expires next year, and he hasn't given the Lions much reason to bring him back. Abdullah will have to show them something new in his fourth season. Question is, will he be given the chance?