ALLEN PARK >> Despite last season’s inept rushing game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has remained confident for this season.
The coach has two good reasons for his belief in a revitalization of a run game that was ranked 30th in the league averaging 81.9 yards per game in 2016.
It’s a whole new ball game with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both healthy.
It all starts with the opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Ford Field. Game time is 1 p.m.
Abdullah missed the final 14 games last season due to foot surgery and Riddick played in just 10 games with a variety of injuries.
“Explosive. Both those backs, he and (Theo) Riddick, they can hit a home run on every play and you got to have them up. Ameer, one missed tackle and he can take it to the house, and same thing with Riddick,’’ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in a conference call this week. “In pass coverage, you better know where you’re going.”
No one is more excited to take the field than Abdullah who worked so hard to reach this point.
“It means a lot. I worked really hard. … That’s something I’ve always done. I’m the youngest of nine so I’ve always had to work to be noticed in my family because I have a lot of successful people. That’s something I pride myself on. I want people to know i’ve worked my tail off this offseason to be in the position and I don’t expect anything but good things for myself and this team moving forward,’’ Abdullah said.
He looked strong in OTAs and that carried on through training camp and his limited time in preseason games.
“Ameer creates big plays in the run game at a pretty high clip, and that’s exciting. Also creates big plays in the pass game. He’s an explosive player. Looks good running around out there, looks healthy, and he’s excited to get going this year,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said on Thursday.
Abdullah looks forward to getting back on the field with Riddick.
In the opener in 2016 — the only game they both played four quarters — they combined for 228 yards of offense. Abdullah ran up 63 rushing yards with 57 receiving yards and a score while Riddick rushed for 45 yards and had 63 receiving yards with one receiving and one rushing touchdown.
“That’s cool, but that’s in the past really. This is 2017. What we did in 2016 when we were together it was good to watch on film to learn from but we don’t expect to be the same players as we were in 2016 even though it was a positive note we left on,’’ Abdullah said. “We want to be better and I feel like we are better. Just watching Theo I think he’s 10 times better. Anytime he’s out I’m definitely competing with him trying to keep that level of play.’’
The two have grown to be close friends, helping each other on and off the field.
“We always talk about it. It’s good to have a friend much more than just a teammate in Theo. A guy who wants to see you do well,’’ Abdullah said. “… That’s such a dream connection. We understand we’re only as good as when we’re on the field together both healthy.’’