ALLEN PARK — Ameer Abdullah showed up to the first Detroit Lions practice following the mock game with a baseball cap on, sitting out a day of drills.
It was a luxury, though, more than a cause for concern. The Lions running back was receiving a veteran’s day. He’s eligible for one now that he’s in his third season, even if he’s only 24 years old and has played 18 total games in the NFL.
His health is a precarious topic for the Lions after he missed the final 14 games of last season following a Lisfranc injury that required surgery. He’s 5 feet 9 inches and 203 pounds and plays one of the most brutal positions in the game, so he’ll receive some extra caution at times. The Lions are doing the same with guard T.J. Lang following his offseason hip surgery, despite the fact that he says he feels the best he ever has.
That’s the kind of tone Abdullah’s carrying one week into the training camp he waited many months for. Many players say it in training camp, but Abdullah has lived through the darkness away from the field.
“It’s a good feeling when you know you’ve done everything you could in the offseason, turned over every stone to be ready for your team,” Abdullah said. “God has blessed me with health now, so I’m ready to go.”
He’s bursting with energy, whether it’s in taking handoffs up the seam or in talking about it after practice. The biggest plays of Lions camp have often belonged to him. The focus of the offense has shifted somewhat to the running back and what Detroit has to use in him again.
It’s a new air for everyone involved. No team ran fewer times than the Lions did last year, when Abdullah and Theo Riddick combined to miss 20 games. Detroit hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher since 2013, and Matthew Stafford has only had seven in his eight-year career.
And so protecting Abdullah’s health is critical in the rear-view of how it all fell apart a year ago. It just hasn’t taken all that much protecting so far. He’ll get a vet day here and there, and the Lions will have a rep sheet for his action in live settings. But by a running back’s standard, Abdullah has some claim to durability. Last year was the first time in six seasons that the Nebraska product failed to play in every single game.
That moment, his size and the history of injuries at his position will keep the worries alive. For the Lions, those fears remain real enough with Riddick practicing in a no-contact red jersey following wrist surgery and with no signature additions to the group that fell apart with failing health a year ago.
But for as long as he’s on the field, Abdullah believes he can bring something new to the offense. He’s promising to play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts, even when teams tend to go light with starters this early in the slate of meaningless games.
“Any time I’m on the field, I feel like I can be the best player for our team sometimes,” he said.