Former Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah’s 2017 season didn’t go exactly as planned. After starting the season as the Detroit Lions’ No. 1 back, he finished the season No. 3 in a backfield by committee. On top of it, Detroit fired coach Jim Caldwell in early January, which only added to the uncertainty of Abdullah’s future with the Lions.
Yet, Abdullah is nothing short of confident in himself and his future. He has one season left on his rookie contract with Detroit, but he knows that’s not a guarantee. Regardless, he’s experienced so much in the last couple of years that has left him ready for whatever happens next.
Part of what built that confidence for Abdullah was the Lisfranc tear in his left foot he suffered in Week 2 of the 2016 season. The time frame for his return was up in the air, but it only pushed him to work harder.
“[The injury] taught me a couple of things,” Abdullah told Land of 10. “Coming into this year, it taught me that I’m tough as hell. I came back from an injury where they pretty much said I would be ready by next year, Game 6. I was ready for [organized team activities]. I came back ready for OTAs. Less than a year later, I was ready to practice all through OTAs and all of training camp, with no restrictions. That was huge because that was the first big surgery I’ve ever had in my life and first time I’d ever missed a game in my life.
“Coming back and hitting the ground running like I did taught me that I was tough. Learning that I was tough put it in my mind that there is nothing I can’t defeat.”
As the 2017 season began, things were looking up for Abdullah. He felt good about where he was with both his recovery and his spot on the team. However, things changed about midway through the season that tested Abdullah once again.
“Things only got harder,” Abdullah said. “The season started off and I was hot early. Things kind of fizzled a little bit, my play went down a little bit, and it’s just one of those things I won’t discuss about Detroit and the running game. Long story short, though, we ran the ball well up until the midpoint of the year and they decided to make a change in the personnel.
“And I know personnel is not the issue, but I learned as a professional that I have to constantly be a professional at all times.”
That means while Abdullah may have specific thoughts on what happened and why, he opts to keep those little things to himself.
Plus, Abdullah doesn’t want to harm his chances with any team down the road. As Detroit looks for its next coach — and one prospect is New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia — Abdullah knows it could mean a number of things for him. The new coach could choose to keep him, or he could choose to part with Abdullah.
That would worry some people, but not Abdullah.
“I’m young and I also know there are 31 other teams, so I don’t really worry about it,” Abdullah said. “I believe in my product. I’ve always been very confident in myself, so when stuff like that happens, I just believe in my product. Even if a new coaching staff came in and said they were going in a different direction, I’d of course think that sucks because I wanted to finish my rookie contract with Detroit, but there are 31 other teams.”
And unlike collegiate football, where a coach inherits talent, the NFL functions just a little differently. Abdullah even uses Nebraska’s new situation with coach Scott Frost as a comparison to what he’s currently facing with Detroit.
“In the NFL, it’s a business and everyone is competing every day for their job and to be good at what they do,” Abdullah said. “When a new coach comes in sometimes, it’s not like he has to keep you there. In college, that’s the thing. Scott Frost is going to Nebraska and inheriting talent. He might bring some recruits he had from Central Florida, but guys that are there are the guys that are going to be there. He has to work with those guys because that’s all he has.
“In the NFL, everyone is replaceable. Even Peyton Manning got cut. Everyone is replaceable, so when you have a new general manager or coach in the NFL, it’s a little scarier because everything is liable to change. They’re probably not going to keep things the same if they’re coming to a situation that was losing before.”
Abdullah is a big believer in what he can accomplish, which keeps him from growing too concerned about things he is unable to control. He also has started meditating, which he has found to help even more.
However, he understands others may not be in the same position he is yet. He thinks about the younger players on Nebraska’s roster as they start to adjust to Frost and his scheme, but he knows what he’d tell them if they asked for advice.
“You know what, the reason why I don’t worry about schemes too much is because deep down I believe I can fit any scheme,” Abdullah said. “That’s just a level of reassurance you have to build in working hard. For guys like Tre Bryant and some of the other young guys, you just have to make yourself irreplaceable. You just have to work that much harder to show that many more flashes that these coaches have to account for you. They have to say, ‘We know we like to throw the ball upward of 35 to 50 times a game, yet we have Tre Bryant or whoever and we can’t deny that kid. He’s talented and we’re not going to let him sit here when he could help us win.’ That’s what the energy has to be unless someone is thinking about transferring.”
Abdullah also believes players shouldn’t invest too heavily in a coach or a scheme. Instead, he believes the history and what it means to play for a program or organization is much more inspiring.
“You have to be more universal,” Abdullah said. “You have to be more flexible. That’s how life works.”
Despite everything that happened for Abdullah in 2017, he did lead Detroit with 552 rushing yards. He also had 4 touchdowns. Abdullah knows he could have done more if given the chance, but he can’t control that. He simply intends to just keep working hard.
With so much out of his control, his work ethic is one thing he can take ownership over.
And this isn’t the first time Abdullah has faced adversity in his football career. He takes it with a grain of salt, knowing what he’s been through before. It’s the challenging times that inspire him to work even harder, focusing on himself and what he knows he’s capable of — whether that’s with Detroit or somewhere else.
“My whole life, I think what has made me different is that I wasn’t supposed to be there,” Abdullah said. “Every time someone saw me, they’d say I was too small. No way. And then it was, ‘Oh, he’ll never make it to the next level.’
“But I had someone always reinforcing the ‘real’ with me, and I had to work harder to be there.”