Rookie RB Smith out to prove he's a good fit in Detroit

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kevin Smith knows most of what he knows about Barry Sanders from YouTube. The Detroit Lions are hoping he's a quick study.

Smith and the rest of the team's 2008 draft class took part in their first professional workouts Friday, and he got the most attention.

Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus and linebacker Jordon Dizon also figure to be starters this fall but Smith, who was 12 when Hall of Famer Sanders took his last snap in 1998, could get an early call to help revive a running game that lost most of its depth from last season.

"A couple of times he took off and showed some real quickness," Coach Rod Marinelli said after Friday's early practice session.

"He likes to get the ball. You can see every down is important to him."

After cutting Kevin Jones and losing T.J. Duckett in free agency, the Lions have just three veteran tailbacks on the roster who had carries last season. Tatum Bell, out of uniform more than he was in it last season, and the oft-injured Brian Calhoun and Aveion Cason gained a combined 255 yards in 2007.

Enter Smith, who ended his junior season 61 yards shy of Sanders' NCAA record 2,628 yards but broke Marcus Allen's single-season carries record with 450.

"It's a great opportunity," Smith said. "Whatever a rookie has to do to play, that's what I'm going to do."

He said he was willing to play special teams, but that seems unlikely. Smith gained 2,567 yards and scored 29 rushing touchdowns last fall playing a zone-rush scheme that matches the system new Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto hopes to use in the coming season.

"(Zone rushing) is all we had at Central Florida," Smith said. "I proved what I could do in college and now I'm in a place where everyone is as good as me.

"I'm going to work hard to be all that I can be."

Cherilus, the Lions' first pick from Boston College in last month's draft, also should get plenty of chances to shine as the Lions hope to make the running game a reliable part of the offense.

Cherilus was a right tackle for most of his career at Boston College but switched to the left side before his senior season. He'll likely start his professional career back on the right side as Detroit seeks to replace Damien Woody, who went to the New York Jets in free agency and created the only vacancy on the line.

The Lions will take all the help they can get. Detroit surrendered 54 sacks last season and has given up an NFL-worst 117 in the last two years.

"It feels great," Cherilus said after Friday's workout. "Right now you're just running around and learning the plays, but I know if I get up and go full-speed, everything will take care of itself."

More than 50 players, most of them undrafted free agents, took part in the early sessions. Few, if any, of the non-draftees can hope for more than a chance to make the Lions' practice squad this fall.

Marinelli said most of this season's nine-man draft class will stay with the team if their special teams performances are up to snuff. That's likely true for linebacker Caleb Campbell, an Army cadet. Marinelli, an armed-forces veteran, said Campbell's pedigree won't play into his decision.

"I like guys who can run, hit and tackle," the coach said. "You don't put anything else into it with me."

Campbell and West Point classmate Mike Viti, who signed a free-agent contract with Buffalo, have garnered national attention since the draft because they avoided likely overseas commissions by joining an NFL team. Instead of accepting commissions, they'll fulfill their commitments to Uncle Sam by serving in the reserves and as recruiters.

The Lions' veterans will be in town later this month when the team begins a mandatory minicamp May 22. Training camp starts in late July and Detroit's preseason opener is Aug. 7 against the visiting New York Giants.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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