Monday, May 14, 2012

Let the (2012 Camp) Battles Begin!!!

I have just recently finished updating my Detroit Lions Salary Cap and Estimated Depth Charts, both of which are available for your review ... links to which are on my website, and in doing so I noted a number of interesting camp battles about to begin.

There are so many in fact that it is difficult to know where to start. Guess I'll start with the completely unknown. That is to say, the Lions have room on their roster for at least 1 more body. Whoever gets signed will be competing against someone on the roster for a job and a chance to make the final 53. In addition to that, at any given moment the Lions could sign someone else and cut a body to make room for him, creating even more competition. Needless to say, being the last guy (#90) on the roster is not a safe place to be! All the undrafted guys need to make sure they are not that 90th (or as the case may be right now, the 89th) guy or their NFL career could be over before the next set of OTA's if not sooner. The most expendable guy will always be competing against every player available in free agency, the rest of the unsigned undrafted ranks, and any player cut at any time by any other team. Like I said though, the Lions still have one spot available so unless they go ahead and sign two new names, the last guy on the roster (that is to say, the last guy on the non-existent depth chart) may get just a little more time to move up ahead of someone else.

Leaving off the mystery guy for now, what other hiccups are there? Well, Avril hasn't signed his franchise tag or a long term deal yet but his tag counts against the salary cap so I'm including him in my analysis. Riley Reiff hasn't signed his contract yet but he counts against the 90 maximum players a team can have in preseason so he's also being included. In fact, as the Lions first round pick this year he's guaranteed a roster spot already, it's just a matter of which roster spot. More on this in a little bit.

Now to switch gears and look at the least complicated position group. The Lions typically keep 3 quarterbacks on their 53 man roster. Obviously Matt Stafford isn't going anywhere, they re-signed veteran Shaun Hill to be his backup, and Drew Stanton who left for greener pastures (that's another story) was apparently replaced by Kellen Moore, an undrafted free agent. At this point, the Lions have no other guys who play quarterback under contract so unless something happens, these 3 players make the team and are in that order on the depth chart.

The next least complicated position group is the dedicated special teams players. 3 of the 5 will make the final roster and 2 of those 3 are practically a given. As the only long snapper on the team (that I know of) the newly re-signed Lions veteran Don Muhlbach makes the final cut. One kicker makes the team, between Jason Hanson and Derek Dimke, my money is on Jason Hanson... no matter what anyone says, as long as he can do the job he is the Kicker for the Lions. I didn't see any sign of age catching up to him and the only struggles came from having to switch place holders 3 times during the early part of the season. As for the place holder/punter, it's between Ryan Donahue who beat out Harris last year (only to get injured) and his replacement who finished the season for him, veteran Ben Graham. I prefer Ben Graham myself, I'm just not so sure the Lions do.

Since we have the quarterback situation settled let's finish up the offense.

Running back is complicated because of injury concerns with all the probable starters and the unfinished products of their backups. I think I'm looking at the RB situation a little differently then most though, I don't see it as 7 or 8 guys fighting for 3 or 4 (or even 5) spots. I see two burners in Jahvid Best and Stephfon Greene with Best making the team unless his concussions end his career. Stephfon Greene wasn't drafted and might survive the waiver wire after cuts to make the practice squad. I see two, shall we call them tanks?, in Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. If (and this is a mighty big if) Mikel Leshoure is completely healed up and can play at the level he was drafted for he will make the final team as the ying to Best/Greene's yang. If he isn't able to go, then Bell takes the ying. Then there's the 3rd RB, the utility guy who can do some of this, some of that, yet not quite a burner or a tank, but can catch the ball and run somewhat as well. Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams and Jerome Harrison will be fighting it out for that spot with Smith being my "most likely to make the team" pick. Could they keep more then 3 running backs? Sure, but then the guy is no longer competing against his own position group but a player from another position group as well (what I mean will become clearer further on).

Did I forget fullback James Bryant in my running back analysis? Nope, actually, I consider his primary competition to be Will Heller, Nathan Overbay, Alez Gottleib, and Austin Wells. The Tight Ends. Brandon Pettigrew makes the team and I just don't see any of these guys beating out Tony Schefler for the #2 spot. However, blocking TE, the 3rd string TE, could easily be a full back. So while Heller has the inside track of making the team, I would put James Bryant as his primary competition for the job, then stick in Overbay, Gottleib and Wells after that. One of these guys could easily be the 90th dude that no one wants to be as well (see previous discussion above on that topic). Overbay, Gottleib and Wells all need to prove very quickly why the brass needs to look at them more.

The Lions have 12 wide receivers under contract. They typically carry 5 into the season but could go to six if someone beats out a player from another position group. I'm going to assume 5 for now. Calvin Johnson has the new contract extension, the Madden curse target on his back, and a guaranteed roster spot. Nate Burleson is a favorite of the OC, a leader on the team, still very productive, and will make the final roster. Titus Young was drafted last year and shown tremendous talent when most rookies do not at wide receiver, so he'll make the team. Ryan Broyles was drafted by the Lions in round 2, was just paid a signing bonus of around $1.1 million and is going to make the team (and if he heals up, he may be the kick returner this year as well). That leaves WR#5. While Stefan Logan held this spot for 2 years running he hasn't shown much versatility in the run or passing game so it's very very possible someone else takes the spot from him this year. I'd say, at this point in time, the two most likely suspects are undrafted free agent Patrick Edwards (who can return punts too) and Nate Hughes (the Lions keep him around every year giving him chance after chance). That still leaves 5 guys fighting it out against Logan, Edwards and Hughes (and potential injured player who goes on IR and/or a possible 6th spot). In order of my most likely we got Lance Long, Marcus Harris, Terrence Toliver, Jared Karsteffer, and Troy Burell. Also note, to date Rashied Davis hasn't signed with a team and is available in free agency.

The last of the offensive roster belongs to the offensive line. Either 8 or 9 guys will make the team. The only three I guarantee will make the final roster is guard Rob Sims, center Dominic Raiola and this year's first round draft pick Riley Reiff. Where or if Reiff starts is what makes this position group so hard to guesstimate. If Reiff starts at Left Tackle it likely means that Jeff Backus is finally unable to start in which case he probably retires. If Backus is healthy and hasn't succumbed to age, then no one will be taking his job from him this year. I see it playing out that way so I'm putting Jeff Backus in as the left tackle barring further developments. Unless Rob Sims gets moved to right guard so that Reiff plays left guard I say that Sims makes the team as the starting left guard. If Sims starts at right guard then I think Peterman fails to make the team. If Reiff ends up the starting right tackle it could mean the end of Gosder Cherilus as a Lion, or Goz could move over to right guard challenging Peterman for the starting job and for a spot on the final roster. The likelihood of Reiff taking Petermans' job outright appears to me to be remote. If Reiff doesn't take a starting job away from someone, he will definitely take a backup job away from someone, and probably at left tackle as he learns from Jeff Backus. The next most likely player to make the final roster is Corey Hilliard, due to his experience and his versatility. It is likely either Jason Fox or Johnny Culbreath makes the final roster as depth at the tackle position if not both of them. That leaves 1, 2 or maybe 3 spots for Jacques McClendon, Dylan Gandy, Dan Gerberry, Quinn Barham, Patrick Boyle, Rodney Austin and JC Oram to fight for. This position group is far and away the most in flux on the offense and the training camp battle for the OLine jobs should prove to be most formidable. Who would've thought just one draft pick could cause this much turmoil.

On to the defense.

At defensive end Cliff Avril has been franchise tagged and the Lions will probably try to work out a long term contract with him sometime in July. He'll make the team one way or the other, I can't believe he wouldn't sign the tag and play the one year for $10.6 million at the very least. KVB bookmarks the DE position unless age kicks his butt this off season. Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson rotate in a lot and both will make the team. The Lions' 4th round draft pick Ronnell Lewis will also make the team and likely push Andre Fluellen off the roster. I don't see much hope for Ugo Chinasa, or Everette Brown or Slade Norris making the team unless someone retires or gets injured, but any of them might make the practice squad.

At defensive tackle the Lions likely keep 4 and they will be Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley, and Sammie Lee Hill. Like I said above, Fluellen probably lost his spot to Lewis. Michael Cosgrove and Eddie McClam are also practice squad candidates. I do believe Cory Williams is 32 this year, so it's possible someone younger can steal a roster spot but boy that rookie would have to be very good to do it (and that wouldn't be a bad thing for the team anyway so go for it guys!). There's always a possibility the Lions could keep 10 dlineman instead of 9 this year, but once again, the player would be competing against all the other position groups as well as his own.

The starting linebackers will likely remain the same, at least to start the preseason. DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant are the guys to beat to earn a starting job. It sounds as though Travis Lewis the Lions 7th round draft pick may end up a backup at MLB behind Tulloch. It's also likely that Tahir Whitehead the 5th round draft pick also makes the final roster. That leaves 1 or maybe 2 spots available for (vets) Ashlee Palmer, Doug Hogue, (and undrafted free agents) Carmen Messina and Ronnie Snead. Special Teams could determine who wins the day.

At Safety the Lions are entering the preseason a little thin unless one or more of the cornerbacks moves to safety. Presently the Lions have Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey starting with Erik Coleman and John Wendling backing up. The depth from there consists of two names; Alonzo Lawrence and Ricardo Silva. Other then Louis Delmas, I'd say that not only is the backup jobs but one starting job available for competition. The Lions may keep 4 or 5 safeties this year. The 5th safety would be competing against the potential 6th cornerback first and for the much coveted position group battle spot second.

With Eric Wright leaving in free agency, the only starting job that is guaranteed to be manned by someone new is at cornerback. Presently it appears as though Chris Houston and Aaron Berry are the starters. The Nickel and Dime positions are open for battle as is a potential 5th and 6th position group roster spot. Fighting for these jobs are Jacob Lacey late of the Colts, 3rd round draft pick Dwight Bentley, 5th round draft pick Chris Greenwood, 6th round draft pick Jonte Green, vets Alphonso Smith, Don Carey, and undrafted player Ross Weaver. If Jonte Green is too "green" as a rookie he would make a good practice squad candidate. The other two draft picks likely make the roster. That leaves only 1 or 2 spots for the rest of the group.

The above makes for 22 offense, 24 defense, 3 special teams, and 4 spots that could be any position fighting against each other and not just their position group for a roster spot. If none of the final roster winners can return kicks and/or punts then Logan makes the team. I am fairly confident that the final roster will consist of at least 3 QB's, 5 WR's, 3 RB's, 3 TE's, 8 OL (total of 22) along with 9 DL, 6 LB's, 9 DB's (total of 24). Last year the roster consisted of 24 O and 26 D for most of the year with brief periods of 23 O and 27 D. My best guess is two spots will go to offense with 1 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE/FB, and 1 OL fighting for those 2 spots. On defense the two spots could be Dline, LB, CB or Safety (obviously)... but if a 3rd guy is better then all the Offensive options they will keep a heavier defensive lopsided roster. Special teams will help determine those last 4 spots.

Of course, even when the Lions cut it back to 53 the bottom of the roster is now susceptible to being replaced by any player cut by any other team. The competition doesn't end on the final cut down day.

As I stated before in my blog, going to my website and selecting depth chart from the menu then clicking on the link to the spreadsheet for my estimated depth chart will bring up the often updated page (assuming you can open excel spreadsheets) at which point you can save a copy to your own computer for your own editing. It is much easier to see the scenarios available in the layout I use (once you get used to it). Please though, do not post your version online without permission from yours truly.

Good luck to the roughly 37 current Lions who are in the 2012 camp battle with the 53 who will make the team, whoever you may be.