5 Detroit Lions Training Camp Battles You Can't Miss
We're done with the draft, we're (mostly) done with free agency (still waiting on that fat Ryan Grant contract) and we can now look towards training camp.
With camp, of course, comes the inevitable push and pull between vets and rookies, older players and younger. Battles, we call them, and they are, as players will fight tooth and nail to keep their jobs another year, month, day.
RILEY REIFF vs. GOSDER CHERILUS
Perhaps this could be Reiff vs. left tackle Jeff Backus, but the Lions just signed Backus to a two-year deal, and despite being hurt last year he rarely misses even practice time.
Eventually the plan will be for Reiff to take over, but for this year I don't see it.
Especially when you can plug him in elsewhere and not miss a beat. Elsewhere as in, say, Gosder Cherilus' spot. Cherilus is entering the last year of his contract and while he's been OK, he's not irreplaceable.
It's possible the team starts Reiff at guard (Stephen Peterman had issues last season), but that's likely a move if Reiff fails to win a tackle job, which would not be a good sign.
No, Cherilus' spot is the one they'll aim for. He has the experience and slightly longer arms, while Reiff is the more athletic possibility.
The Lions need to continue working on that offensive line because the more time Matthew Stafford has, the better the chance he can hit Calvin Johnson for paydirt.
WINNER: Riley Reiff
The fact is that while Cherilus is fine, Reiff has the potential to be much better. Plus, if he can't work at right tackle, he's sure as heck not making it at left tackle. And with Backus potentially gone in a year or two, the Lions need to know what they have.
Reiff should be able to unseat Cherilus, who might be able to move on to replace Peterman at guard which would, again, be an instant improvement on the line.
TITUS YOUNG vs. RYAN BROYLES
Not to beat a dead horse, but there are several aspects of the Ryan Broyles pick which still confuse many folks, including me.
Why pick up a wide receiver in the second when you are already deep there and just picked up one last season in the same spot?
The one they picked up was Titus Young, by the way, and now the two players will vie for the No. 3 spot this summer.
Young came on a bit late in the year and was a fiery player throughout his rookie season. He looked like he could be the heir apparent to Nate Burleson, until Broyles was picked.
Broyles is a good player who was hurt late in the 2011 season—a torn ACL which certainly hurt his draft stock despite his efforts to recover quickly (he did) and fully (check out his pro day), although there is still concern that he wasn't 100 percent and might not be until July.
Assuming he's fully recovered (I do), he and Young will lock horns this summer in camp.
WINNER: Titus Young
I like Broyles overall, but Young is a little more dynamic and can do more with the ball after the catch. That isn't to say Broyles can't have a role or isn't going to be good. Just that this year the Lions will find Young more useful.
I will say that once Nate Burleson moves on, the trio of Calvin Johnson, Young and Broyles will be very potent, especially as tight end Brandon Pettigrew continues to get better and better.
SAMMIE LEE HILL vs. NICK FAIRLEY
This battle assumes that, as a first-time (to our knowledge) offender, Fairley will not face suspension for his arrest on possession of marijuana this winter.
Sammie Lee Hill has done alright in his time as a defensive tackle behind Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams, but he's never been that impressive. Fairley was hurt to start last season and seemed to get his feet near the end of the year, though it was clear he was still a work in progress.
When Fairley is on, he is an outstanding defensive lineman and would be a great addition to the defensive tackle rotation. However, he still seems to need some maturing both on and off the field.
This will be an intriguing battle this summer. Hill seems ripe to lose his spot, but Fairley will need to make up for some boneheadedness this offseason and prove he's ready to take the next step in his career.
So who wins the No. 3 defensive tackle spot?
WINNER: Nick Fairley
Given the offseason this team has had, one thinks that the Lions' organization will have its version of scared straight happening, if it hasn't already. Fairley is a talented player—on that alone he should take Hill's spot—who makes some stupid decisions.
I believe he can keep his head on straight and avoid trouble. If he can, there's nothing to hold him back.
JACOB LACEY vs. DWIGHT BENTLEY
Bentley is a bit of a project—his technique is rough, he needs to improve his tackling (though he is a willing participant against the run) and while he isn't afraid of contact, he isn't the most physical corner you'll meet.
On the other hand, Lacey is a solid corner who, while not exceptional in any one area, is reliable and consistent in his play. He's not a ball hawk nor is he going to win any awards for defensive player of the year, but he gets the job done most of the time.
WINNER: Jacob Lacey
Long term, this is probably Bentley's job, but not this year. His tackling issues are what hurt him the most. Meanwhile, Lacey is a reliable tackler who is not afraid of contact and not afraid to cause contact. And he can tackle.
All it will take is one bad whiff by Bentley and he'll see the bench again.
Like I said, he will take that job one day—just not this year.
JAHVID BEST vs MIKEL LESHOURE
He's a concussion-prone running back from Northern California.
He's a pot-eating player and former Fighting Illini.
Together, they're the new Odd Couple, coming Thursdays on Fox!
Kidding aside, the Lions' backfield continues to be a mess, and the dark horse in all this remains Ryan Grant, who was offered a contract on Thursday according to SI.com.
Leshoure could be facing suspension. He's a first-time offender, but was arrested twice in two months (and tried to swallow the evidence the second time for good measure). Meanwhile, Best should be cleared for full practice in June, but it's hard to know if the two concussions in two months during the start of the 2011 season will cause more issues down the road.
The fact is that the Lions bet that both backs will be here all year—we know this because the draft happened and they didn't draft anyone, and Kevin Smith is still the third running back on the roster.
The offer to Grant could mean they don't feel that confident, but it's a little late to be worrying, right?
Leshoure has to prove that he didn't lose any of his explosion and bust due to his injury, while Best just has to stay healthy in general and hopefully make it through the summer with no more head trauma.
The truth is that neither back is likely the complete answer this year, and no matter what happens in camp, they will probably split carries.
Splitting carries will ease Best into the game again and help keep him healthy, while it will also hedge the Lions' bets about Leshoure's legs. On top of it, the two of them are different enough backs to where they will complement each other in the same backfield.
It behooves the Lions to use both and not lean on one this year.
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