Utah running backs coach talks about Sione Vaki's transition to the position

  • Sione Vaki has barely played running back, but looks natural playing the position
  • The RB coach at Utah talked about his position switch

When he became a Detroit Lion in the fourth round of April's draft, general manager Brad Holmes made it clear Sione Vaki was viewed first as a running back. He had primarily been a safety at the University of Utah, save for a couple games last season when he was pressed into duty.

It was quite a couple games though. On Oct. 14, 2023 against Cal, Vaki had 15 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The following week against USC, he had nine carries for 68 yards and five catches for 149 yards with two receiving touchdowns. He got a little bit of work at running back over the rest of the season, including 68 yards on seven carries in the regular season finale against Colorado.

Reports from OTAs and minicamp were positive about Vaki's work as a running back. Whatever his role looks like (the Lions' RB3/RB4 who plays all four special teams units?), he is a lock to make the 53-man roster.

Utah's running backs coach explains Sione Vaki's position switch

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (subscription required) talked to the running backs coach at Utah, Quinton Ganther, about Vaki's move to running back.

"The crazy thing is how effortlessly he caught the football,” Ganther said. “So I knew that he could catch the ball, then the next thing is I knew that he was a tough kid because we’d do blitz pickup with him versus the running backs (in practice). I knew that he had really good twitch, I knew that he was really, really explosive, and I knew he wasn’t scared, he wasn’t soft. A lot of times when you get guys that’s making that transition, you got to see if they have the mentality to be able to play the position.”

Vaki sold Lions' running backs coach Scottie Montgomery with his attention to details during a pre-draft visit, including learning parts of Detroit's offense after an initial meeting at the NFL Combine. He sold the Utah coaching staff, when they were struggling for options to play running back last year, that he could make the switch from safety seamlessly.

When it comes down to it, Holmes' post-draft comments to Birkett about Vaki still ring true to prove how good a fit he is for the Lions.

"He’s a football player that plays football like how we like it," Holmes said.


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