A year ago at this time, the Lions were coming off their best season in recent memory, and Matthew Stafford, in his first full season, became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards in a season. Fast forward to today. Stafford recorded nearly 5,000 passing yards for the second season in a row, but needed an NFL record 727 passing attempts to do so, and the Lions finished the season a with a disappointing 4-12 record, including an 8-game losing streak to cap off the season. Despite critics who cite Stafford’s mechanics, as well as Detroit’s seemingly one-dimensional offense as reasons that Stafford perhaps may not be a franchise quarterback, he will be the starter in Detroit during the 2013 campaign.
Shaun Hill has proved to be a capable backup in both 2010 and 2011 when Stafford went down with shoulder injuries. He also threw for two touchdowns last season in an overtime loss against the Tennessee Titans. Hill is expected to remain the backup in Detroit and will be the number two quarterback on the depth chart this season.
Last year following the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions wasted little time signing former Boise State Bronco Kellen Moore to a contract. Moore was able to beat out R.J. Archer for the third spot on the depth chart behind Stafford and Hill. Though a proven winner at Boise, Moore does not have ideal size nor arm strength. He failed to impress many during the preseason last season, but reports from OTAs this summer have been nothing but positive.
The Lions did make one addition to their quarterback group this offseason, signing Thaddeus Lewis, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, to compete with Moore for the third quarterback spot. Lewis played collegiately at Duke and has made one career start during week 17 last season, where he threw for 204 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception.
While Lewis has more NFL experience than Moore, Moore has spent a full season in Scott Linehan’s system and understands the role he is expected to play as the third string quarterback. Expect the Lions to give Lewis every chance during the preseason to beat out Moore, but in the end I believe Kellen Moore makes the final cut.
The Detroit Lions found themselves to be players in the running back free agent market this offseason after it became official that Jahvid Best’s NFL career is all but over. Reggie Bush was arguably the top halfback available and Martin Mayhew and company made it priority to bring him to Detroit. The Lions enter training camp with eight backs on the roster: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best, Theo Riddick, Montell Owens, Steven Miller, and fullback Shaun Chapas.
Reggie Bush spent the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins after spending his first five seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Bush has seemingly been brought in to play the role formerly owned by Jahvid Best of speed back with the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
Joique Bell made a name for himself last season after going undrafted out of Wayne State and bouncing around on NFL rosters for two seasons. He proved to be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield in addition to his running abilities. He finished the season with 52 receptions out of the backfield, good for third on the team.
Mikel Leshoure will enter his third year in the NFL but will see playing time for just the second as he spent his entire first season recovering from an Achilles injury. Leshoure was drafted out of Illinois to be a bruiser, complementing the running style of Jahvid Best and now Reggie Bush. While Leshoure did not show great vision last season (his longest run of the season was just 16 yards), he managed to score nine touchdowns and rush for 798 yards.
Theo Riddick was drafted in the sixth round after finishing out his collegiate career at Notre Dame. Riddick’s potential lies in his versatility. At Notre Dame Riddick was called upon to play slot receiver in addition to his duties as running back. He also spent some time on special teams returning kicks.
The Detroit Lions signed Montell Owens, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars, as a free agent this offseason. Owens was brought in primarily to play special teams, where he is known around the league as one of the top coverage men in the game. He essentially replaces Kassim Osgood in the role after the Lions failed to resign him to a deal. While Owens does show more potential as a runner than Osgood did as a receiver, I don’t expect to see Owens much out of the backfield.
Steven Miller signed with the Lions after going undrafted out of Appalachian State. Miller is all of 5’ 7” with good quickness. He will compete in camp as a running back, but his real chance in making the team lies in his ability to play special teams and potentially return punts.
Shaun Chapas, a second year fullback out of Georgia, comes into camp as the only fullback on the Lions roster. The Lions did not carry a fullback on the active roster for most of last season, and I expect that to occur again this year with the addition of Michael Williams who will play H-back.
Your starter week one, barring any injuries, will be Reggie Bush. I believe Joique Bell beats out Mikel Leshoure as the second string running back, although Leshoure will likely get most of the carries in short yardage situations. Montell Owens will make the team primarily as a special teamer and as the fourth running back. Unless Riddick or Miller impresses enough to earn a spot as a returner, I see the Lions keeping only four running backs on the active roster.