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The mane man Lions rookie Kevin Jones has been running wild
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been looking for a running back since Barry Sanders suddenly retired five years ago.
Their search may have ended when they drafted Kevin Jones.
The rookie running back has been the lone bright spot on offense for the reeling Lions, who have lost six of seven games since their 4-2 start.
Jones, who was chosen with the 30th pick of last April's draft after starring at Virginia Tech, has run for an NFL-best 551 yards over the past four games, including 156 and 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns the past two weeks -- even against defenses with eight-man fronts.
"That's a testament to his running and the offensive line blocking," guard Damien Woody said. "The encouraging thing is we're still running the ball effectively against eight in the box."
Despite being slowed by a sprained right ankle and limited playing time early in the season, Jones ranks fifth among NFC running backs -- first among all rookies -- with 859 yards rushing.
He won't match Sanders' rookie total of 1,470 yards rushing. But he has surpassed Sanders' best single-game performance in 1989 and has become the first Lions rookie with back-to-back 150-yard rushing games. Still, he doesn't even think about comparing himself to Sanders.
"I take pride in that, but I don't know that for sure until they say it and they haven't said it," Jones said of any comparisons to the Hall of Famer. "I'm not sure if they're confident in me or not. All I can do is run."
If he runs for 150 yards Sunday at home against Minnesota, he will be just the ninth player in NFL history, and the first rookie, to do it at least three games in a row.
He has produced since coach Steve Mariucci decided to get Jones the ball more after he shared time with Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson early in the season. In the last five games, Jones has averaged about 22 carries after getting no more than 15 carries or 65 yards in any of the first eight games.
"We've been stubborn with it," Mariucci said. "I was telling you all along that we were going to make the run game go one way or another even when we were rushing for 35 yards a game.
"We seem to have made some real good progress in that area. Now I want to make the same kind of progress in the passing game."
That's a phase of the game clearly in need of work. Though teams are using schemes to stop the run, the Lions still can't pass effectively. In the last five games, Joey Harrington has 611 yards passing and Jones has 632 yards rushing.
"I can't explain that," Jones said.
It's also difficult to describe Jones' running style because he has a rare blend of speed, power and juke moves.
"It's hard to tag me because I try to be a versatile runner," he said. "You can't be only a power guy because sometimes you have to outrun somebody. Sometimes, you have to make people miss."
It looks like some teams might have missed out on the running back they needed in April.
Detroit traded up into the first round to draft him after St. Louis took Steven Jackson 24th overall. Cincinnati picked Chris Perry at No. 26, and Dallas traded out of the first round and landed Julius Jones.
Some scouts didn't think Kevin Jones was fast enough for the NFL, but he's proven those skeptics wrong. He has nine runs of 20-plus yards -- a total that trails only Seattle's Shaun Alexander -- including a 74-yard gain.
"I thought I was the best running back coming out, but obviously some teams didn't think so," Jones said. "I was upset before, but not anymore. I'm in a good situation because I'm on a team that needed me to play right away."