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Kevin Smith says Lions' running game will improve

Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith said that opposing defenses having to focus on defending wide receiver Calvin Johnson will lead to big things in a running game that ranked 31st in rushing attempts and 29th in rushing yards last season.

"The sky is the limit," Smith said, according to Anwar Richardson of "I think with the way Calvin plays ... you have to start with his play. With the receiving game and passing game, all across the board from the receivers to the tight ends, you want that type of threat to open up the run game. You just can't come in and stack the box against the Lions anymore. You have to have that kind of player (Johnson) who balances game.

"Then it becomes a chess match between the coordinators. I'm very excited. We have a long way to training camp. We have a long way to the opener. We have a long way to the preseason game, but right now, I'm just excited to see everybody in offseason workouts when we don't have to be here. Everybody is working for one common goal."

Though they rarely ran the ball, the Lions were in the middle of the pack with a 4.28-yards per play average on the ground in 2011. Their running game was almost soley predicated on the passing attack, and continuing with that approach could make it difficult for the offense to ever achieve a balanced approach that would lead to more wins in 2012.

Injuries did hit the Lions' running backs hard in 2011, as they lost second-round pick Mikel Leshoure to a torn Achilles in training camp and 2010 first-round pick Jahvid Best to multiple concussions in October. Leshoure and Best were supposed to be a "Thunder and Lightning" combo, with the big-bodied Leshoure complemented by the speedy Best. Losing them both caused the Lions to tun to Smith, whose own shaky injury past had him available as a street free agent in November. In seven games, Smith finished second on the team with 356 rushing yards and had a team-high four rushing touchdowns.

Until the Lions' running backs prove they can stay healthy, quarterback Matthew Stafford can expect to have his shoulder wrapped in ice after each of the team's 16 games this season.

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