Despite a controversial and sudden retirement, Barry Sanders is still heavily invested in the Detroit Lions.
The Hall of Fame running back speaks about his former team like any fan would. And he's a big fan of what he sees this season, especially from Detroit's new and exciting running back who might remind people a little bit of Sanders.
Since Sanders retired, Detroit’s starting running backs have included Greg Hill, James Stewart, Shawn Bryson, Kevin Jones and Kevin Smith. Detroit was optimistic about Jahvid Best when he was drafted in 2010, but Best sustained what was likely a career-ending concussion in 2011 and was released prior to this season.
Now the Lions have Reggie Bush, who is off to a great start this season, and Sanders is enthusiastic about his old team's running game again.
“Reggie just adds that extra dimension to our offense,” Sanders told Shutdown Corner. “Last year, we passed for a lot of yards, but we were behind in a lot of games and playing catch up. Having Reggie there kind of brings some stability to the offense and makes it so we’re not so one-dimensional. A guy like Calvin Johnson, you get him into the playoffs and you’re not going to just be able to stop him.
“Certainly, it gives Matthew Stafford another weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. I was excited to hear we were bringing him in, and this is kind of what we were hoping for.”
Bush has exceeded the expectations of many NFL observers by rushing for 254 yards and one touchdown, plus he has 11 receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, Detroit leads the NFC North at 3-1 after a 40-32 victory against Chicago last week.
Detroit’s defensive line, led by Ndamukong Suh, deserves credit, too. However, Suh is probably better known for late hits and dirty play.
Suh was fined $100,000 for an illegal block on Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan in Week 1, and has been fined for his extracurricular actions during Detroit’s past two Thanksgiving Day games. Sanders said he has never reached out to Suh, but believes the defensive tackle is starting to mature.
“I’ve just met him on several occasions, and I think a lot of what he’s dealing with is just having to mature, and I think he’s doing that,” Sanders said. “I think there is a fine line, especially when you are a defensive lineman that came in with his reputation and wanting to come into the NFL and establish himself and gain respect.
"Several times, I think he would admit he overstepped that boundary, overstepped that line, but I think all in all, he’s a very good player who could be a great player for many, many years, and is maturing. Probably had to learn some tough lessons, but I think all in all, he’s one of those guys that is going to be great to have on our team, and I think we’re seeing that this year.”
Sanders was also happy to see the NFL’s $765 million concussion lawsuit settlement with the former players. The Hall of Fame running back said he never sustained a concussion in his career. However, he understands there are long-term effects to being hit on the head.
And while some NFL players are steering their children away from football, Sanders' son Barry Sanders Jr. is a sophomore running back at Stanford.
“My concern was more about how much he was really interested in playing the game and his real motivations behind wanting to play,” the father said. “I am certainly concerned, to some degree, about concussions and other injuries you can sustain playing football, but at the same time, it was something he really wanted to do, and something he exceled at. He loved it, separate and apart for me, and it is something he’s pursued and enjoys. It’s a part of him, like when I was a kid.
“It was a great opportunity for him, and it has put him in a great position. That’s the other side of it. There may be some small reservations, but that’s about it.”
Sanders does not have any reservations concerning the "Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame" exhibit at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. The exhibit, which runs through March 2, brings the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the New York/New Jersey area, and the 5,000 square-foot interactive multimedia exhibit features more than 200 objects, including the Vince Lombardi Trophy, select showings of original Hall of Fame busts, new material from NFL Films, plus a “Hometown Heroes” zone that pays tribute to the New York Giants and New York Jets.
“The exhibit has a lot of great interactive things,” Sanders said. “We’re bringing Canton and the Hall of Fame to that fans that haven’t been able to get out there to Ohio to see it. We believe it’s a great exhibit. It touches on a lot of things, even for kids, to be able to experience the game of football, even from a technology standpoint. All the math and science things that tie into football with the communication devices.”