You heard it here first folks. Mikel Leshoure carried the ball five times for one yard and had one catch for six yards in Detroit’s preseason loss Saturday night in Oakland. While this stat line looks more like that of a player flirting with being cut from the roster, Leshoure displayed intangibles that were easy to spot if you were looking closely enough.
Leshoure was not the starting tailback in Oakland Saturday night, but Kevin Smith was only in for the first play of the first series before handing the rushing duties over to the Lion’s second-year back, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tear.
Here is a detailed breakdown of Leshoure’s touches from Saturday night:
On Leshoure’s first touch he made Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain look like a fool. McClain had a great bead on Leshoure 4 yards deep in the backfield, but Leshoure sidestepped him and made it back to the line of scrimmage before running out of room and being tackled. There was an offside penalty on Oakland, which gave Detroit a first down.
The very next play McClain made up for his folly and met Leshoure at the line of scrimmage for another play that resulted in no gain. Leshoure had no chance as the Raider defense smelled run the whole way.
Leshoure’s next touch came way of a pass from Stafford on first and ten. On what should have only been a 3-yard gain, Leshoure went head-to-head with linebacker Phillip Wheeler, bowling him over for an extra 3 yards resulting in a 6-yard pick-up.
Leshoure got the carry on the very next play and was met again by Wheeler at the line of scrimmage, dragging him yet again for 2 yards after contact. There was an offensive holding penalty that negated this play, but the bruising mentality of Leshoure is evident and will remain on tape for coaches to see in the film room.
Leshoure’s next touch came on a rush attempt on first and ten. Raiders’ defensive end Lamarr Houston met Leshoure at the line of scrimmage but had no chance of bringing him down. Oakland cornerback Ron Bartell ended up making the tackle but not before Leshoure picked up four yards including 2 after contact.
The very next play on second down and six, Leshoure carried again for no gain. After the first series, Leshoure had four carries for four yards and one catch for six yards.
In Detroit’s second series Leshoure carried just one time for a 3-yard loss on a play where the backfield was blown up by the Raiders defensive line and linebackers. Even though the play resulted in a loss, Leshoure made Raiders cornerback Shawntae Spencer and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy both miss on would-be tackles that should have resulted in a 7-yard loss.
Leshoure’s ability to make defenders miss is unmistakable. He displays a rare quickness and burst that compliments his size very nicely (6’0” / 227). His dreadlocks bouncing off his shoulder pads are also not the only attribute that makes him comparable to a younger Steven Jackson, but also his punishing running style. It would not be unfathomable to predict Leshoure starting in the Lions backfield by week 5, especially when you consider the injury woes that have crippled both Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith their entire careers, not to mention that the depth chart behind these three looks about as stable as Terrell Owens’ emotional state. That prediction may have even been bolder if it weren’t for Leshoure’s imminent suspension that will cost him the first two weeks of the season.
One part of Leshoure’s game that needs polishing is his pass protection. There were three plays in particular that he was called upon to block or “chip” a defender on a pass play. Of those three plays, I did not see one solid block put on by Leshoure. In fact, the injury to Matthew Stafford’s left hand came at the expense of a missed block by Leshoure. Raiders’ defensive end Dave Tollefson avoided Leshoure’s block attempt like a discarded banana peel and had a free crack at the Lions franchise quarterback. That hit took Stafford out of the game prematurely and also put his non-throwing hand in a cast.
The good news is that pass protection can be taught. For someone as talented as Leshoure, it will not be long before he understands his role in the passing game and is Detroit’s featured back.