The Detroit Lions got more talented over the offseason but much of that talent lacks experience. Will the youthful talent help the Lions to regain their 2011 playoff form or set the Lions back another season with rookie mistakes? The position battles at cornerback, right offensive guard, outside linebacker and right tackle will likely determine how the Lions’ season turns out.
Let’s take a look at how I believe the position battles will shape up.
Cornerback: The best way to describe the Lions corners on the roster is inexperienced and talented. In two years the Lions’ secondary might be viewed as one of the best bunches in the NFL, certainly the most talented with mega-talented players like Chris Greenwood and Darius Slay, who I believe are the future of the Lions secondary at cornerback. The only problem is the Lions likely won’t have two seasons with the current coaching staff if the Lions don’t win now. With that said, when the Lions drafted Darius Slay in the second round this past drafted that all, but insured he will be the starter at corner this season assuming he stays healthy. So far, it’s looking like drafting Slay was a good move as he has picked off multiple passes this offseason, something the defense didn’t do well in 2012.
Prediction: Darius Slay
Offensive Guard: Last season the Lions drafted for the future. After a 4-12 finish last season the Lions changed their philosophy a bit and drafted to win now. Third round pick Larry Warford is a great example of the front office’s desire to win now and maintain their jobs for another season and Warford’s presence should be felt immediately in the run game. Rodney Austin and Jake Scott should provide good competition for Warford, but in the end it’s Warford’s position to lose.
Prediction: Larry Warford
Tight End: Who would’ve thought that Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler were going to have such poor seasons after the way they performed in 2012? Last season Pettigrew defined the words “dropped ball” and Scheffler looked like he was sleeping when he was running his routes last season. Pettigrew’s job is safe. He’s still got a shot at redemption thanks to his all around game, not to mention the Lions invested a first round pick in him, but the same can’t be said about Scheffler. The Lions brought in undrafted free agent Joseph Fauria, a 6’7, 225 lb redzone threat from UCLA, who has caught the coach’s attention with his ability to go up and bring down passes in tight coverage, something Scheffler failed to do last season. If Fauria continues to dominant in training camp Scheffler could be released due to his higher salary cap hit and the fact the the Lions likely don’t want to carry four tight ends on the roster. It doesn’t make sense to keep two players with the same skill set on the roster and seventh round pick Michael Williams is the only tight end on the roster that fills the H-back role that the Lions like to use in certain situations.
Prediction: Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams make the cut.
Linebacker: Of the starting positions that are available on the Lions’ roster the vacant linebacker spot is the hardest to predict. One week we hear that Ashlee Palmer is the favorite and the next it’s Travis Lewis. Even Tahir Whitehead looks like a good player to predict at this point as he looks like the best cover linebacker of the trio.
With that said I believe it will be a two man race for the starting spot between Palmer and Lewis. Palmer has gotten better each season and has consistently performed well on special teams. If there is one thing the Lions are looking for it’s consistency and Palmer should be able to provide that headed into the season. Then there’s Travis Lewis. At OU Lewis was a playmaker and a reliable tackler registering 446 tackles, 7.0 sacks, and nine interceptions. Lewis has also made an impression on coaches with his great understanding of the defensive schemes.
The Lions coaching staff will likely have to decide between the veteran Palmer who has worked his way up the depth chart with his consistent play, or the young seventh round pick in the 2012 draft with a lot of upside.
Prediction: This spot will likely come down to how each player performs in training camp and preseason, but I expect Travis Lewis to be the Lions’ day one starter.
Right Tackle: It’s a two man race between 6’6, 300 lbs Corey Hillard and 6’7, 300 lbs Jason Fox. Both players are about the same speed with the same amount of quickness. Physically there isn’t much difference in the players and there isn’t enough NFL game film to make an analysis on which player has the edge. This positional battle will come down to who wants it more and I think that Fox is hungry to show the Lions what he can do know that he’s finally healthy.
Prediction: Jason Fox wins, but Hillard will likely see playing time as Fox has yet to remain healthy. Winning the starting job and maintaining it for 16 games will be the ultimate test for Fox.