Detroit’s 3 Biggest Positional Battles
By Matt Urben
The Detroit Lions created depth and competition using both the NFL Draft and free agency. We are still a ways away from actual football, but let’s examine the three biggest positional battles going into next season.
Position Battle #3: Strong Safety
Players in the mix:
Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew
Strong safety is going to be one of the most interesting battles of any position on the team. Free safety Glover Quin has even taken to studying each of his new teammates, knowing it could legitimately be any one of the three aforementioned players starting next to him, Quin is at his best when he is able to roam the field and make plays on the ball. He is best suited playing next to a hard-hitting strong safety.
Free agent signee Rafael Bush is the slight favorite, having the most starting experience of the three. He’s a good player when healthy, however, he’s been somewhat injury-prone during his time in New Orleans. Tavon Wilson is a good, young player who’s viewed as a special-teams ace, with starting potential in the right system. We will see how well he adjusts to Teryl Austin’s defense or if he’s strictly a special-teams player. Lions’ 4th-round pick Miles Killebrew is the dark horse candidate to steal this job. He lacks experience but has the perfect complementary skillset to play next to Quin. He’s a heavy-hitter who needs to improve overall as a true safety.
MY GUESS: Bush wins the job initially but Killebrew is the starter by season’s end.
Position Battle #2: Defensive Tackle
Players in the mix: A’Shawn Robinson, Tyrunn Walker, Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright
This battle is really for the second starting defensive tackle spot, assuming Haloti Ngata is a lock for one of the two spots. All have a legitimate chance to take the other spot, except Gabe Wright most likely. A’Shawn Robinson would be the fan-favorite, being a 1st-round talent, with the most upside of any of these four players. Tyrunn Walker was beginning to gain momentum as a pass-rusher before an injury derailed his 2015 season.
Caraun Reid is a sleeper to win this battle, having three years in the system and making significant strides in his first two seasons. Gabe Wright was traded up for in the fourth-round of last year’s draft, costing the team a 3rd-round pick in this past month’s draft. Despite a large investment, Wright didn’t do much as a rookie and doesn’t have the upside of Robinson. Still, he can’t be completely discounted so early in his career. Walker, Reid and Robinson are likely to battle it out deep into the preseason before one emerges as the starter.
MY GUESS: Walker gets the nod heading into the season, with Reid and Robinson getting significant rotational reps behind the two starters.
Position Battle #1: Center
Players in the mix: Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow
This is no question the battle everyone will be watching. Can the rookie center out of Michigan beat the incumbent starter in Swanson? Both are versatile players that will either start or serve a valuable backup role to both the center and guard positions. Swanson has struggled since taking over for Dominic Raiola in 2015. Struggles should have been expected, but without a viable backup, Swanson was never challenged as the starter when he probably should have been.
Graham Glasgow at 6-foot-6, is rather large for the position and played under head coach Jim Harbaugh in his final season at Michigan. Glasgow wasn’t quite a standout on Michigan’s average offensive line, but he improved dramatically as the season went on. He would likely have many of the same struggles as Swanson, if he wins the job as a rookie. However, Swanson didn’t do enough to assure himself another year starting. They will have to battle it out all through training camp. Bob Quinn said he wanted to create depth and competition at all positions and no other battle exemplifies that more than the starting center competition between Swanson and Glasgow.
MY GUESS: It’s a tough call, but I think Glasgow earns the job by week three of the preseason.