Dwayne Washington makes Detroit Lions roster; returns in his future?

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Lions running back Dwayne Washington runs for a 58-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills during an exhibition game at Ford Field on Sept. 1, 2016.

A few hours after Dwayne Washington scored on a 58-yard touchdown run in Thursday night's preseason-ending win over the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell told the rookie running back he made the 53-man roster.

Washington was one of the Lions' standout performers this preseason, so their decision to keep him comes as no huge surprise.

He led the team with 104 yards rushing on 18 carries and saw plenty of time on special teams, where he returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown in the Lions' exhibition opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Ameer Abdullah is expected to start at running back for the Lions this fall, and Theo Riddick is his primary backup. But Washington could have a bigger role than anyone expected when the Lions took him in the seventh round of April's draft.

Washington started Thursday against the Bills, when Abdullah and Riddick were held out for precautionary reasons, and at 230 pounds, he could push Zach Zenner for a role in certain packages.

Beyond that, Washington is vying to end up as the Lions' primary kick-returner depending on how else they situate their roster.

Lions special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano told the Free Press last week that incumbent return men Abdullah (kicks) and Golden Tate (punts) might not hold those spots full-time this year, and two of the players who shared kick-return duties with Washington this summer, receivers TJ Jones and Jace Billingsley, were waived today.

"It’s still open," Marciano said last week. "I think we’ll pick and choose when to use Ameer and Golden. Situation, game-wise, maybe we’ve got a gadget-type return that we need to make a play."

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Abdullah underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in January, and the Lions have brought him back slowly this summer. The kid gloves will come off in next week's season-opener against the Indianapolis Colts, but if the Lions want to keep Abdullah fresh for their backfield, Washington, Zenner and receiver Andre Roberts are their next best options on returns.

No matter what Washington's role is this fall, his future looks bright with the Lions.

He showed a toughness and play-making ability that some thought he lacked coming out of school, and made the Lions' decision to keep him an easy choice.

"He’s got some ability and (he showed) that once he gets a crack he can do something," Caldwell said Thursday. "He’s not only a big back, but he’s got speed."

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Contact Dave Birkett: dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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