Lions: Mikel Leshoure and explosive runs

INDIANAPOLIS -- Based on your feedback, many of you want to use the occasion of the NFL scouting combine to discuss the Detroit Lions' offensive backfield. You want to know how, when and with what frequency the Lions will upgrade their running back position.

Based on what coach Jim Schwartz said Thursday, improving the running game is one of the Lions' offseason priorities. More than anything, Schwartz wants more explosive runs -- defined as 12 yards or more. To be fair, it's difficult to project that coming from incumbent Mikel Leshoure.

Does that mean the Lions are on the prowl for a new everydown back? Not necessarily. Schwartz made clear the Lions haven't given up on Leshoure for 2013, and in fact, it's quite possible the Lions could achieve their goals with a speedy back to complement Leshoure.

But here are the facts: The Lions ranked last in the NFL last season in explosive rushing plays. Leshoure didn't have a run longer than 16 yards on 215 carries, and none of his 34 receptions went for longer than 15 yards. That's 249 offensive touches without a single 20-yard gain. For context, consider that 116 NFL players had at least one 20-plus yard run in 2012, and the league leader -- Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings -- had 27.

So we arrive at this big question: Did Leshoure not make it all the way back from his torn Achilles tendon, an injury that once ended careers for players at his position? I asked Schwartz if he thought that was the case or if Leshoure's skill set simply didn't let itself to explosive runs. Here's what he said:

"He battled through a rookie year. I think that's probably the best way to evaluate him, because he got hurt so early in training camp as a rookie [in 2011]. Even though he was around and getting treatment and going to meetings, as a rookie, that would have served him a lot better for a four or five year veteran … He would have experienced all of the things that have gone along with being in the NFL. He didn't.

"And then he missed the first two games [of 2012] and then coming back and having a good first game and getting banged up and missing some practice time and having some highs and lows during the season. He flashed enough highs that give us optimism that he can [be explosive], but he also had enough inconsistencies to say that he's not there yet.

"But we still have high hopes for him, and we expect him to make a big jump, a common thing from players Year 1 and Year 2. He's a little bit in that mode."

In essence, Schwartz acknowledged what was apparent to the naked eye last season. At the same time, he suggested that what we saw isn't necessarily a conclusive judgment on Leshoure's long-term future.

That's a fair position. Leshoure was a second-round draft choice two years ago. Injury or not, the Lions can't give up on him so quickly.

At the same time, let's not forget how favorable the conditions are for running in the Lions' offense. Last season, no team faced fewer stacked boxes than them.

The best-case scenario is if Leshoure regains a measure of explosiveness with another year's distance from the injury. Generally speaking, however, what the Lions are looking for is something he did not provide last season. In the NFL, the good teams hope for the best and plan for the worst. To me, that makes running back a significant priority this offseason.