Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers boost backfield

Experienced NFL ball carrier gunning for running back job

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Former Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith (30) is expected to challenge veteran ball carrier Will Ford for the starting job with the Bombers.

CARLOS OSORIO / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Former Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith (30) is expected to challenge veteran ball carrier Will Ford for the starting job with the Bombers.

His NFL credentials are solid -- five seasons, 54 games, 31 starts, 3,428 all-purpose yards and 22 TDs.

So why, with numbers like those, did former Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith sign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Tuesday?

Well, because it's been awhile now since Smith put up those numbers in the NFL. After a promising early career -- he was drafted by the Lions as the first pick in the third round in 2008 and was Detroit's feature tailback for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, coming within 24 rushing yards of a 1,000-yard season in his rookie campaign -- a combination of injuries and a struggling Detroit team saw Smith's star slowly fade in Motown.

The beginning of the end came in 2012. After starting the first two games of the season and scoring a pair of TDs, including the game-winner in an opening week game against St. Louis, Smith's name slowly dropped down the depth chart as the Lions searched for answers in what proved to be a 4-12 season. The final ignominy came on the Lions' last day of the season when Smith was informed a half hour before game time he was a healthy scratch.

'And at the end of the day, it's all just football. I should be OK...

I believe in myself, that's what fans can expect. They can expect a confident football player, still very young. I will let my play on the field do the talking. I've been working really hard and I'm excited to get to display it'

-- Kevin Smith

To no one's surprise, the Lions didn't invite Smith back for 2013. He says he got a couple of NFL workouts last year, but nothing came of them. So he spent the year at home in Miami working, working out and looking after his two kids, a four-year-old son and a 19-month-old daughter.

That's kind of where things were with Smith until Winnipeg came calling this spring.

"I really wanted the opportunity to continue to play and get back out on the field. And so my manager and Winnipeg got together and I got a workout and ended up signing," Smith said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

What does he know about Winnipeg? Well, nothing until he Googled it the other day. Guess what the first thing that popped up was?

"I guess it gets pretty cold up there. That's about all I know," the 27-year-old said with a laugh.

Where does Smith fit into Winnipeg's plans in 2014?

He will be expected to challenge for a job against incumbent running back Will Ford, who looked good last season in relief of oft-injured tailback Chad Simpson. Ford re-signed with the Bombers in February after briefly testing the free agent waters.

Smith says he is fit, healthy, injury-free and ready for a chance to reinvent himself in Canada.

"As of right now, I'm playing for Winnipeg and that's what I'm focused on," said Smith. "I've got some good friends in the CFL (including Edmonton Eskimos cornerback Joe Burnett) and it seems pretty similar, just some different pieces.

"And at the end of the day, it's all just football. I should be OK... I believe in myself, that's what fans can expect. They can expect a confident football player, still very young. I will let my play on the field do the talking. I've been working really hard and I'm excited to get to display it."

YARDSTICKS -- The Bombers also announced Tuesday they have signed import defensive end Louis Nzegwu, who spent parts of the last three seasons with NFL teams in Carolina, Miami and Atlanta after a standout career with the University of Wisconsin. To make room, the Bombers released import defensive end J.D. Griggs.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2014 D4

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