John Niyo, of The Detroit News, reports Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith has been removed as the team's starting running back. Smith said he was told by running backs coach Sam Gash Monday, Sept. 29, that running back Rudi Johnson will start the team's Week 5 game.
After receiving 20 utilizations in Week 1, Smith has received just 18 over the last two games, including only three plays in Week 3. Johnson replaced Smith in the first half and kept Smith on the sidelines. Johnson's utilizations jump to 18 in Week 3 after receiving just four in the first two weeks.
In Week 3, Johnson ran the ball 14 times for 83 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and caught three passes for 48 yards and one touchdown. For the season he has 18 carries for 99 yards (5.5 yards per carry) while his sole receiving contribution came in Week 3.
On the other hand, Smith has run 29 times for 102 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He has caught eight passes for 53 yards.
This move could signal Johnson is finally comfortable in the team's offense after his signing just prior to the regular season, which is something Johnson has acknowledged. "I had some time to get acclimated with the system," he said. "I just had to come in and get the coaches' confidence, as far as learning the playbook and being able to go out and execute and be a leader in the huddle."
While Smith says he has been demoted, the distinction between the two backs might not be that clear-cut. Smith was the starter in Week 3, yet Johnson received the majority of the utilizations. Head coach Rod Marinelli said he expects both players to see some carries in Week 5 and has consistently said he would go with the hot hand.
The Lions were aiming to employ a run-first offense but have trailed early in all three of their 2008 contests. If they can establish the run early in a close game, both backs could see a legitimate workload.
If you own Smith or are looking for running back depth, look to acquire Johnson immediately if he is still available, though there is a good chance he has already been snatched up. Don't consider dropping Smith because of the dynamic nature of this situation.
Unless you're desperate for an injury or bye week replacement, you would be taking a chance by starting either back this week. The Lions match up against the Chicago Bears, one of the best run defenses in the NFL.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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