Best enters Lions training camp on PUP list

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Jahvid Best insists he’s not panicking. Neither is his coach, Jim Schwartz.

Not yet.

But there could be cause for serious concern. Best, the Detroit Lions’ concussion-prone running back, wasn’t available for the start of training camp Friday and there’s no indication when he might return.

Best was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. He can be removed at any time, but until he is, he won’t be practicing.

“Jahvid is still not cleared for total contact,” Schwartz said. “He has made tremendous strides in a lot of areas, including being able to work out with the rest of the team and lift hard, do all those things. But there’s still some areas that he’s got some ground to cover.”

Best, who hasn’t played since mid-October last year, was expecting to be cleared for the start of training camp. He said there has been no setback, just not the total clearance required to get back to playing football following a significant head injury.

“I can’t get back out there until I get cleared,” Best said.  “I’m working as hard as I can to get cleared. The second I get cleared, you guys will see me out there.”

Best added, “I’m definitely optimistic about it.”

Best refused to provide any details concerning what has to happen for him to be cleared at this point.

“I’m not going to get into it,” he said. “It’s personal.”

Asked if he is concerned that he might not be able to play this season or that his career could even be over, Best said, “That has not crossed my mind yet.”

The Lions didn’t draft a running back or sign one in free agency, which seemed to be strong indication that they definitely do — or at least did — expect Best to be back at some point this season.

Mikel Leshoure, the other top running back on the roster, is coming off surgery for a torn Achilles tendon that forced him to miss all of 2011. Leshoure also will be suspended for this season’s first two games because of two offseason arrests on marijuana possession charges.

At this point, it appears that Kevin Smith, who also has been injury-prone during his four-year career, will be the starter at running back in the opener.

The only move that’s really been made by the team in response to the situation has been changing the role of 5-foot-6, 180-pound Stefan Logan, who is listed as a receiver.

Schwartz said the versatile Logan will be used “a little more exclusive at running back.”

Considering Best’s uncertain status right now, it will be interesting to see whether the Lions make a move to acquire another running back.

The club reportedly had expressed interest several weeks ago in free agent Ryan Grant, who played the past five seasons with Green Bay, but nothing materialized.

It all apparently will depend on whether the Lions still think Best might be cleared soon or if this latest delay is considered a bad sign.

For now, Schwartz maintains that the team is “very optimistic we’ll get him back.”

“We have a lot of experts that are handling his case,” the coach said. “It’s a little disappointing for Jahvid in that he is in fantastic shape right now. He’s worked very, very hard physically.

“But there’s still a ways to go. Times have changed in the NFL. There’s no more having a concussion and coming back too soon.

“You can never have any real schedule for those kinds of things. We’re going to defer to the people who know the most about those things. They want some more time so we’ll give it to them.”

EXTRA POINTS

• Best is one of five Lions who are not practicing because they’re on an injured list. The others are defensive end Ronnell Lewis (tightness in back), cornerback Chris Greenwood (abdominal surgery), receiver Ryan Broyles (knee surgery) and recently-signed offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (conditioning issues).

• Defensive end Ndamukong Suh said he couldn’t comment on the $1 million lawsuit against him following a car accident, but he did dismiss the notion that it might be a distraction for him. “See a smile on my face?” he said, smiling. “I’m excited to be here for football.”

• Alphonso Smith took snaps at cornerback with the first-team defense in place of Aaron Berry, who was released earlier in the week following a second arrest in less than a month.

• Riley Reiff, the team’s first-round draft pick, lined up as the third-team left tackle. Schwartz warned not to make too much in terms of depth-chart projections so early in camp.