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Fist bumps and chicken wings help Lions RB Bo Scarbrough's rise

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough is big on fist bumps.

He's giving them out before every practice at the team’s facility and before every drive in every game. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Five of them, at least, right on down the line to his teammates up front. It's a way for the Lions running back to show that not only is he paying attention but also that he has their back.

“I wanted the guys to know that I trust them and I believe in them,” Scarbrough said. “Get the energy going. If I give you a fist bump, you’re going to be like, ‘Hell yeah.’ So when I fist bump, I think that sends a message to let them know, ‘Let’s go. I believe in you. I trust you to get this block. I trust you to do this.’"

It’s a small thing -- one that might go unnoticed. To the offensive linemen, it means everything.

If they miss a block, he tells them not to worry about it -- because he knows how many blocks they’ve hit to give him room. If they create a nice hole, he’s the first one to find them after a play to essentially say thanks.

He’s also taken an effort to try to learn as much as he can about the linemen through individual conversations.

“Just little things here and there,” guard Joe Dahl said. “Just coming up to us and telling us that he really wants to run hard for us. That first game we had him out there, he would come up and we could just tell he had so much passion to play in the games and all that.

“And it connected with us.”

It’s understandable why that passion was there for Scarbrough. In a month, he’s gone from NFL castoff to a starting running back who is potentially carving out a longer-term future, an ascent that he even called “fascinating.”

In April 2018, Scarbrough was drafted in the seventh round out of Alabama by the Dallas Cowboys. With Ezekiel Elliott around, opportunities were scarce with the Cowboys, and he was cut the following Sept. 1. By the end of last season, he had moved from Dallas to Jacksonville to Seattle without taking a snap.

Two months ago, Scarbrough was training daily by himself at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, hoping for one more call. He ran through drills solo, with only the help of an equipment manager who taped every session so he could watch and study it later. Did his footwork improve? Did he bounce off bags easier? Was he faster?

A little over a month ago, Scarbrough was in the Lions’ facility on a Tuesday morning, getting fitted for gear. The next day, he’d be announced as the newest member of Detroit’s practice squad with no guarantee of staying around more than a week.

But instead of a release, Scarbrough got a promotion 10 days later to the active roster and something he craved bouncing through four teams in less than two years: an opportunity.

His NFL debut, 14 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown against Dallas, left him feeling “good” but not “happy.” He knew he had more. A week later, he ran for 98 yards in a loss to Washington and would have topped 100 had a long run not been nullified by a penalty. Four days after that, on national television against Chicago, he gained 83 yards.

He has learned more and more by the week.

“I just, I know how to watch film a little bit better, know how to break down players,” Scarbrough said. “I’m in the backfield with the quarterback, so I want to see what the quarterback sees. I see a lot more stuff now than I used to, back at Alabama, but I knew enough back then at Alabama to play and be successful. But you can always learn.”

It led to this: In four games, he has gained 301 yards -- 7 yards shy of the team lead. What had maybe been a one-off has turned into something more tangible.

Two months ago, he was an unknown as a pro -- just another top high school recruit and college player who didn’t pan out. Now, Scarbrough could be part of the future in the running backs room for the Lions, a complement to starter Kerryon Johnson and perhaps even more than that.

“It builds confidence in us with them,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “Everything going into the offseason is all about building a roster, and when you’ve got guys on the roster that are performing at a level of ‘We want to keep this guy and we want to work with him some more,’ it does lend to easier decisions in the spring when guys are putting rosters together.

“It’s good that he’s doing that.”

Other running backs get to know the line, too. The way Scarbrough has done it -- in part because of how late he joined the team -- caught notice and led to some funny moments.

Scarbrough bounded up to the offensive line as a group last week in practice and tried to guess how old each player was. It didn’t go all that well. Guard Kenny Wiggins said Scarbrough guessed that Tyrell Crosby was an eight-year veteran (he’s not, this is season No. 2) and that Wiggins was in his third year (he’s in Year 6).

Conversations like that matter. The line always wants to block well, but when someone takes the time to learn about them as people, it only makes them want to block harder for that back.

Scarbrough recognizes it, too, and wants them to feel appreciated. Which is why he told the offensive line something else last week: This Thursday, he would take them out to dinner at Detroit Wing Company. After which, more fist bumps are likely to ensue.