Five years ago, back when Duce Staley was coaching for the Eagles, he got word from the team's longtime chief of security about a special running back at nearby St. Joseph's Prep. A kid by the name of D'Andre Swift.
The security officer, 'Big Dom,' was close with Swift's dad. But he wasn't just talking up a family friend. Big Dom drove Staley out to a game so he could see Swift for himself, a former NFL running back watching a future one.
"He was awesome," Staley said Wednesday. "He was able to do what special players do on that level, which is make everybody miss -- even referees."
Staley has admired Swift ever since. Now he'll get to mold him in Detroit as the Lions' new assistant head coach and running backs coach.
"I’m just happy to be a part of his growth and development for the next couple of years or so," Staley said. "Excited about that. I studied him at Georgia and getting a chance to see him at the combine, he’s got some special traits. I can’t wait to get him in the room and have a conversation with him, that’s where it starts. And then we’ll start building what we’re going to do with him."
It will be more than what the Lions did with Swift in 2020. A lot more. If Staley's vision comes to life, it sounds like Swift will get a bigger workload next season than almost any running back in the NFL. Staley said Wednesday a lead back should be getting 25 touches per game, or double the 12.3 touches -- on 8.8 carries and 3.5 receptions -- that Swift got last year.
"I’m about touches," Staley said. "A lot of people think you gotta have 20 carries (per game) as a running back to be successful, and sometimes you do. But when you have a good back, an electrifying back, touches are definitely more important. You can get 18 carries and seven receptions and you have 25 touches, which is what you want from your star back. When I look at D’Andre, I do think he’s a three-down back."
Know how many running backs got 25 touches per game last year? One. Dalvin Cook of the Vikings, and that included 22.3 carries. That's not what Staley wants for Swift. A better comparison, albeit on a smaller scale, would be Alvin Kamara's workload with the Saints: 18 touches on 15.5 carries and 5.5 receptions. Or Austin Ekeler's workload with the Chargers: 17 touches on 11.6 carries and 5.4 receptions.
Ultimately, Swift's workload won't be Staley's decision. That will be up to Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Worth nothing that Campbell spent the past four seasons designing game plans for Kamara as assistant head coach of the Saints, and Lynn spent the past four seasons designing game plans for Ekeler as head coach of the Chargers.
Worth noting, too, what Lynn said on Wednesday:
"I think D’Andre can be a three-down back. I like his versatility. I think there’s some things we can do with him in the passing game to get him a little more involved in that."
Swift finished 13th among running backs in both receptions (46) and targets (57) last season. (Kamara paced the pack in both with 83 receptions and 107 targets.) You can see why Lynn and Staley want to use him more. The only game in which Swift got 20 touches -- Week 10 versus Washington -- he went off for 149 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against a defense that finished second in the NFL.
Then his season was halted for five games by a concussion. His workload increased when he returned under interim head coach Darrell Bevell, but really only on the ground. Swift never got the ball enough in space given his ability to do what he did against Washington, what he did at Georiga, and what he did that day in front of Staley: make people miss.
"Like I said, he has some special traits I can’t wait to get my hands on," said Staley. "I’m excited about that."