DETROIT -- Before the cheers, the first carry, the cut and the praise he would eventually receive, running back Ameer Abdullah stood on the Detroit Lions sideline Thursday night before his NFL debut waiting to play.
It was in that moment where Jordan Thompson, a backup tight end, walked up to Abdullah. Thompson tried to speak with as many rookies as possible before kickoff to relay a message. With Abdullah, it might have stuck even more.
"I said, 'Hey, you belong. Now it’s your time to go show it,'" Thompson said. "That’s one of those things that through the preparation we had this offseason and through OTAs and training camp and all that, he’s the real deal."
Proof Abdullah is potentially the real thing -- a running back who can transform a Lions rushing attack that was one of the worst in the NFL last season -- is still a little ways away. But Thursday night, with seven carries for 67 yards in a 23-3 Lions win against the Jets, was a good beginning for the second-round pick out of Nebraska who will eventually team with returning starter Joique Bell to form Detroit’s running back combo this season.
He was a player even his teammates were intrigued about seeing full speed against opponents. They, like the media and fans, saw the cuts he made in practice and the vision he displayed during training camp. And on the field against the Jets, everything he did in practice translated.
The skills he displayed at Nebraska came through the most on his biggest run of the night, a 45-yard scamper on the right side of the field where he used a head-and-body fake to turn New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis out of the play and create a hole.
It elicited massive cheers from the Ford Field crowd and left Lions players impressed with what the rookie could do.
Some of them saw it the week after the Lions drafted him. The Lions quarterbacks popped in Abdullah’s tape from Nebraska right after Detroit drafted him and liked what they saw. They saw him early in spring workouts and were impressed with his hands as well. Then they saw things in practice leading them to believe that eventually Abdullah would be able to perform like this.
"It’s tough to pinpoint moments, but there are just moments that have transpired," quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. "Not a ton of people on the planet, cut-wise, can make. You either can or you can’t.
"He’s, if he can keep going on the track that he’s going, stay healthy, he has a chance to be a real special player."
The cut caught the attention, but Abdullah doesn’t want comparisons made as to what type of running back he could be. On Thursday, though, he looked a little bit like the last guy to wear No. 21 in Detroit, Reggie Bush. Their games are similar. Their moves are even comparable.
But he doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into a certain type of running back. Not at all.
"What I’m really good at," Abdullah said. "Is specializing in being a running back."
There is a definitive comparison Lions fans -- and, frankly, Abdullah -- would likely take, though. And it came from the man who coached against Abdullah on Thursday night.
Todd Bowles somewhat compared Abdullah, after one game, to Barry Sanders. And if the Lions get a fraction of Sanders’ career out of Abdullah, they would likely take that.
"He looked like he did in college," Bowles said. "He’s quick as a cat. He’s about as quick as Barry Sanders.
"I’m not saying he is Barry, but he’s a good running back."