Big Bo Scarbrough Gives Lions 'What We Were Looking For'

He was hardly awed by his NFL debut.

Will Burchfield
November 20, 2019 - 4:08 pm

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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As long as he's played football, Bo Scarbrough has run hard. You can bet he ran hard growing up, and you know he ran hard for three years at Alabama. So you probably weren't surprised when he ran hard last Sunday for the Lions in his NFL debut -- more than a year after he was drafted by Dallas, and less than two weeks after he was signed by Detroit. 

Scarbrough's performance -- 55 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries -- didn't come as a surprise to the Lions coaching staff either. 

"We had a nice little concise package for him, and he just used his talents and did a great job of hitting the holes," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday. "The line did a good job of giving him a little bit of daylight. Surprised? I don’t know if I was surprised, but I was really happy to see it. I was excited about where it went, what we were doing, and obviously that’s why he was able to get a few more carries." 

Decimated at running back, the Lions added Scarbrough to their practice squad in Week 9. They activated him last Saturday, and Scarbrough said he learned a couple hours before Sunday's game that he was starting. He took his first carry for two yards, his second for five and his third for a touchdown. Half of his attempts went for five yards or more. He ran the way a 6'2, 235-pound back should run. 

53 of his 55 yards came after contact, according to Pro Football Reference. 

"He really did a nice job of bringing a physical presence for us," Bevell said. "He was really hitting the hole hard, running downhill, breaking tackles at the first level, breaking tackles at the second level. I mean, that’s kind of what we were looking for in the run game. I thought he gave us a little bit of a spark. You could see the tenacity that he brought to it and the style that we would like to play.”

Scarbrough knows what it means to run downhill. That's what running backs at Alabama do. As a freshman in 2015, he was part of a backfield that featured Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and Damien Harris. Now all four of them are in the NFL. Scarbrough was drafted in the seventh round by the Cowboys in 2018 after tallying 19 touchdowns and 5.7 yards per carry over his final two college seasons. 

Lions rookie defensive lineman and Clemson product Austin Bryant remembers playing against Scarbrough in the College Football Playoff back then, remembers specifically what it felt like trying to bring him down. Big boy, huh?

"You're telling me," Bryant said with a shake of the head. 

But it didn't click for Scarbrough right away in the NFL. He never saw the field with the Cowboys, and so it went with the Jaguars and then the Seahawks. Scarbrough ended his first NFL season without a single game under his belt. It looked like this year would end the same, until the Lions called looking for help. Kerryon Johnson was down. Backup Tra Carson was, too. Ty Johnson and Paul Perkins weren't the solution. 

Is Scarbrough? He made a solid case in his first opportunity, and he's the last person, by the way, who would ever be surprised. 

"I mean, it’s something that I expected. I’ve been doing this," Scarbrough said after Detroit's 35-27 loss, speaking calmly as he buttoned the cuffs of his pressed white dress shirt. "It’s just that ‘Matty P’ gave me the opportunity -- and I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity -- but this is something I’ve always done. Nothing surprising or anything to be proud of, it’s just another opportunity. Another day."  

At first, his cool sounds contrived. Then you remember that Scarbrough has thrived on the big stage before. He racked up 364 yards and six touchdowns in the last three games of the 2016 season at Alabama -- the SEC Championship versus Florida, the Peach Bowl versus Washington and the National Championship versus Clemson. Yeah, this is what he's always done.

So nah, he didn't really care about finding his touchdown ball from his NFL debut. 

"Look at the score, we lost. The touchdown really don’t mean nothing to me," Scarbrough said. "It’s just another score on the board for us to get ahead. If you can contribute and win, it would be different."

Scarbrough has a chance to keep boosting his stock in the weeks ahead. He played half of the offensive snaps and got the bulk of the carries against the Cowboys, and Johnson won't be back until Week 16, if at all. Scarbrough could cement himself in Detroit's backfield by season's end. He certainly did enough to earn another opportunity this week against the Redskins.

Well, depends who you ask. 

“I don’t ever feel like it’s enough," Scarbrough said. "It doesn’t matter how I feel, it’s about how the team and organization feels.”

Safe to say, right now, the Lions feel pretty good. 

"He’s been working hard since we got him," Matt Patricia said Sunday. "He’s a big back. He comes downhill. Some of things that we saw (in practice), we wanted to give him that opportunity to go out there and show us what he could do.

"I thought he ran hard, showed the physical part of the run game. That was good for us to see. I thought it definitely gave some life to some of the downhill runs that we had and some of the physicality in the run game that we needed."