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Kevin Smith on path to start for Lions in Week 1

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP)

(Eds: Updates with details, quotes. With AP Photos.)By LARRY LAGEAP Sports Writer

Kevin Smith was lifting weights, running sprints and waiting for another chance to be an NFL player a year ago.

He ended up having to wait until November, when the Detroit Lions were desperate for help at running back and offered him a shot. Smith took full advantage by running for 140 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a win over Carolina - both career highs.

''He gave us a big boost last year,'' Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Friday. ''He scored a lot of touchdowns for us. Unfortunately, he also got hurt and he wasn't able to finish the same way that he started.''

Smith ended the season second on the team in rushing, behind Jahvid Best, and showed enough to get a one-year contract to return. Smith, who has lined up with the Matthew Stafford-led first-string offense in training camp, seems to be set up to start in the season-opening game against St. Louis next month.

''I don't get into projecting who's going to do what, but right now Kevin runs with the first team,'' running backs coach Sam Gash said. ''He knows what he's doing.''

And, the Lions don't know when Best will be back. He is ''weeks'' away from being cleared after having two concussions last year. Mikel Leshoure, who is days away from returning from a hamstring injury, will be serving a two-game suspension for off-field conduct before the season.

''Whether I start or not, I'm confident that I'm going to play,'' Smith said. ''Really, I'm just glad to be back here and playing football with a smile on my face.''

Detroit is glad to have him on the roster because Best's condition has ''disappointed and surprised'' general manager Martin Mayhew and Leshoure hasn't shown he can stay healthy yet in his brief career.

When the Lions couldn't count on Best and Leshoure last season, they extended an opportunity to Smith, one of their former draft picks. Detroit took the Central Florida star in the third round of the 2008 draft and he ran for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie.

Injuries stunted his chances to have success in his second and third seasons, leading the Lions to draft Best in the first round two years ago and Leshoure in the second round last year. Best, because of concussions, and Leshoure, with a torn left Achilles tendon a year ago, have restored Smith's spot on the depth chart.

''Kevin has earned his place back in this locker room and on the field as the guy in the backfield at least for Week 1,'' center Dominic Raiola said. ''He's worked so hard to come back from injuries and from being out of the game with a work ethic that has gone to another level to change his body.''

The 6-foot-1, 217-pound Smith said he weighs approximately what he did as a rookie, but with more muscle and less fat thanks to working out even when his body aches for a break.

''When I'm sore after a practice like we did this week in pads, I still go squat four plates (405 pounds) in the weight room,'' he said. ''In the past, I would just do the workout and get out of here.

''Now, I'm doing everything I can to take care of my body - including prehab, rehab and extra dips in the cold tub - because the whole key for me is staying healthy. If that happens, I'm confident everything else will take care of itself.''

Notes: WR Ryan Broyles, S Louis Delmas, LB Stephen Tulloch and DT Corey Williams were among players that missed at least part of Friday's practice with ''camp knees,'' according to Schwartz. ... LB Ronnell Lewis walked off the field before practice was over because he was dehydrated, Schwartz said. ... Michigan coach Brady Hoke and his staff watched practice, taking notes to take home to perhaps use when the Wolverines start camp on Monday. Hoke, though, promised he wouldn't be share any thoughts on the Lions with his brother, Jon Hoke, who coaches the Chicago Bears' secondary.

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

Tagged: Lions, Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure

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