Appreciative Detroit Lions' Nick Bawden finally ready for NFL debut

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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This day was supposed to come a year ago. That’s when the rest of Detroit Lions fullback Nick Bawden’s rookie classmates made their NFL debut, at least.

Kerryon Johnson, the running back for which he was supposed to block. Frank Ragnow, the offensive lineman he was supposed to run behind.

Bawden should have been on the field with them last August – would have been if not for the torn ACL he suffered two months earlier.

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Instead, he was back home rehabbing, waiting for and dreaming of this moment right here.

Bawden, a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft, will make his preseason debut Thursday when the Lions host the New England Patriots in their exhibition opener at Ford Field.

Lions fullback Nick Bawden walks off the field after practice during training camp on Friday, July 26, 2019, in Allen Park.

He’s the only fullback on the Lions’ roster, and if the first two weeks of training camp are any indication, will see a heavy dose of action in his first game.

“Huge,” Bawden said this week when asked what Thursday’s game will mean to him. “So huge. I’m incredibly excited. It was great to be on the field (for last week’s intrasquad scrimmage) and kind of see what it was like and kind of go into the motions a little bit in that sense. But I’m really, really excited.”

Bawden injured his right knee at minicamp last June when he sprinted down the field to cover a punt. As he crumpled to the ground in pain, he let out a scream that was audible more than 100 yards away.

Bawden said this week that he knew immediately something bad had happened – “Something felt different,” he said – but he insists he only let himself wallow in self-pity for a day.

“I think everybody goes through that,” Bawden said. “But I think it’s really important to get over that as quick as you can stop feeling sorry for yourself and just start attacking the things you need to one thing at a time.

Detroit Lions running back Nick Bawden (46) adjusts his helmet during practice at the Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

“I was, (for) a day. I was, (for) a day and I was out of (that state). It was a complete bummer, but it is what it is. There’s nothing you can do to change it so all you can do is take a step forward.”

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After undergoing surgery, Bawden stayed in town last fall to be with his team.

He treated the regular season like a redshirt year in college, attending meetings, working out in the weight room and studying for games. And as he looks back at it now, Bawden said the time off gave him “a jump” on the mental side of the game.

“It’s the biggest thing when you’re a rookie and you come in from college and all the responsibilities you have in college, and then you go to the professional level, it’s just different, everything is different,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “For us it was just, he’s here, he loves to work, he loves the game, he wants to be around the game, and an easy start for us was like, ‘OK, well, here’s the routine,’ and then how do you make yourself a better player and prepare that way even though unfortunately he didn’t have an opportunity to go play on the weekends.”

Since returning to the field, Bawden, who began his college career as a quarterback before changing positions his sophomore year, has looked every bit like he belongs.

He’s a fearless blocker opening holes for his running backs, a diligent player who contributes on most special teams, and a better-than-advertised receiver whose versatility fits well with new coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense.

San Diego State fullback Nick Bawden runs the ball during the third quarter against Boise State at SDCCU Stadium on Oct. 14, 2017.

“I think Nick’s unbelievable,” Patricia said. “He loves this game. He’s passionate about it, and when you go through something like that, it’s definitely a reminder of how difficult this is. And he appreciates that every day. So he’s just got to keep working to get better and grind it out, but it’s certainly good to see him out on the football field.”

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Bawden said being back on the field feels good, too, and he’ll cherish every minute of Thursday’s game.

“We’re all incredibly blessed to be here, so me personally, I just thank God for putting me here and helping me out through getting here first, and through this past year,” Bawden said. “It felt like a long time even though a year’s not that long. But I’m just incredibly happy to be back out here with my teammates.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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