8 Detroit Lions No One Is Talking About, but Should Be
In workplaces across the state of Michigan, people have been gathering around the proverbial water cooler to gab about the offseason exploits of their favorite football team: the Detroit Lions.
Detroit's free agency, draft prognostications, Cliff Avril's contract, the Ryan Broyles pick and the running back situation have all been the focus of discussion at one time or another.
With the regular season inching closer and closer, talk has turned to training camp and the Lions' chances of improving on their 10-6 record from last year.
In fact, anticipation for the regular season is at an all-time high, and with fan and media attention focused elsewhere, a handful of Lions players have avoided the spotlight.
I've chosen eight players who have taken a backseat this offseason. They weren't in the news much, but each one of them could be a key piece to the Lions' success in 2012.
8. Everette Brown, DE
In March, Everette Brown signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions hoping for a fresh start.
He needs one. He's failed to live up to the expectations that came with being the 43rd overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft.
His situation reminds me of another under-performing high draft pick that Martin Mayhew snatched away from a frustrated team: Lawrence Jackson.
Like Jackson, Brown has a chance for redemption and a productive career with Detroit.
The Lions will certainly give him every chance to succeed, and if he plays up to his potential we could see a healthy dose of Brown on Sundays.
7. James Bryant, FB
I suppose no one is talking about James Bryant for two reasons:
1. There is very little use for a fullback in the Lions' offense. Last season, Will Heller, who is primarily a tight end, filled in at the position when needed.
2. Bryant is a long shot to make the active roster. Why talk about someone who probably won't be here when the season starts?
With that said, there hasn't been a more unique road to the NFL as the one Bryant has traveled. MLive.com's Anwar Richardson profiled him back in March, and one thing is certain: His story is a lesson in determination and perseverance.
He is also the type of player the Lions love. He's got the attitude of a true underdog and he loves to "run around and hit people."
If he doesn't make it as a fullback, he could find a home on special teams.
This is Bryant's only shot at making the NFL. So there won't be a shortage of motivation for him to do what it takes to win a spot. Expect him to absolutely go all-out when given the opportunity and potentially make the highlight reel with some bone-crushing hits.
He could surprise a lot of people when it's all said and done.
6. Jonte Green, CB
Jonte Green was drafted by the Lions in the sixth round of this year's draft. He's one of a trio of rookie cornerbacks that will vie for playing time this season in Detroit's depleted secondary.
Of those three players, Green has received the least fanfare.
It's understandable. Bill Bentley was drafted higher, and Chris Greenwood, a former Division III player, has a great story.
Don't sleep on Green, though. He has the size and the speed—4.40 40-time—to be an impactful player. It's early, but he's shown he can adjust to the speed of NFL practices, and Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was already impressed by his aggressive tackling.
If he can continue to progress in practice and carry that into the preseason, he could contribute more than just on special teams.
Aaron Berry is the favorite to lock down the vacant starting cornerback position, but I think Green and Bill Bentley will battle for the nickelback spot.
It could be one of the more interesting position battles this offseason, so watch for Green to make an impression.
5. Joique Bell, RB
The Lions' running back situation is a well-documented mess. Injury concerns have resulted in a massive anxiety attack among fans who don't want to see another season of paltry rushing numbers.
I'm sure the Lions are hoping for more production out of the backfield as well.
Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith are the leaders on the depth chart, and everyone is praying that prolonged health be bestowed upon each of them this season.
If that happens, then the Lions will be fine. If not there could be big trouble.
Perhaps Joique Bell can be the savior, though. He was signed last December from the New Orleans Saints' practice squad and he really hasn't gotten much attention.
There is, however, a small number of Lions faithful—myself included—who love his potential and are hoping he gets a chance to prove himself.
He put up incredible numbers in four years at Wayne State and won the Harlon Hill Trophy for Division II player of the year his senior year. He also impressed scouts at the 2010 NFL combine and head coach Jim Schwartz at the Senior Bowl.
The Benton Harbor native is surely one to watch this offseason as he strives to make a name for himself in a crowded Detroit backfield.
4. Jason Fox, LT
It was April 2010 and Jason Fox was giddy with anticipation. Rightfully so. He had just been drafted by the Detroit Lions. A team that was on the rise. He had a bright future in the NFL and it was possible he would one day take over for Jeff Backus as the starting left tackle.
Obviously, I'm just guessing about Fox's mind-set when he entered the league and donned his first Lions jersey, but it can't be far from the truth.
It was a great situation for him.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans. In two years, he's only been active in four games. Injuries have robbed him of valuable NFL experience and he's become an afterthought.
Especially since the Lions used their first-round pick on left tackle Riley Reiff. He'll likely see a lot of action this season and has been dubbed the new successor to Backus.
I wouldn't count out Fox just yet, though. There is still a spot for him on this team if he can stay healthy.
In this article from MLive.com, Fox says he is healthy and wants to help out anyway he can. That's good news, because even with Reiff the Lions' offensive line can use all the help it can get.
He will surely have the motivation to put forth maximum effort. This is a critical year for him if he wants to continue to play football.
In training camp, look for him to push the linemen in front of him on the depth chart. He has to make an impact if he hopes to stick around.
The two tackle spots are probably out of his reach, but Stephen Peterman is ripe to have his starting position hijacked.
Even if he doesn't win a job outright, the season is long and treacherous. Injuries happen and backups have to be ready to step in. Fox could make a name for himself filling in if a starter goes down.
Lions fans have been waiting for it. This could be the year they finally see what kind of player Jason Fox is.
3. Amari Spievey, S
Amari Spievey had a solid, but at times inconsistent year in 2011. The second-year safety was pressed into more playing time than the Lions had anticipated when veteran Erik Coleman was lost for the year in Week 4.
Spievey performed admirably. His numbers weren't spectacular but the Lions could have done worse than 70 tackles and three interceptions.
With that said, this is an important year for Spievey. He has to show improvement. Coleman is completely recovered from his injury and could still be a very productive player. He will battle for the starting job. Even if Spievey wins that battle, with Coleman waiting in the wings, he'll have a short leash.
The Lions need to determine if he is the long-term answer at strong safety. He'll be a free agent in 2013 (restricted) and this season will go a long way toward determining his future in Detroit.
If he regresses, look for him to take up residence in Jim Schwartz's doghouse. If he excels and improves his consistency, he may earn a long-term deal next offseason.
2. Stefan Logan, WR
This is a contract year for Stefan Logan. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013. After an underwhelming performance last season, he really needs to put together a good year in order to keep his job.
He had no competition for returns last year—maybe that was the problem—but this year is a different story. There are a number of players that could potentially challenge him. Rookie Ryan Broyles, as this article suggests, is front and center.
Broyles was Oklahoma's primary return man, and he brings something to the table that Logan does not: He's a legitimate receiver as well as a skilled returner.
Logan's strength is limited to the return game. When he's not firing on all cylinders there, his usefulness is minimal.
It will be interesting to watch how Logan responds to the challenge. Will we see the dynamic return man from 2010, or the pedestrian fair-catch machine from 2011?
If he hopes to stay in the Motor City, he better start channeling his inner Mel Gray and pull off some spectacular returns.
1. Corey Williams, DT
Not many people are talking about him this offseason. If anyone is discussing the defensive line, the conversation usually focuses on either Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley. In fact, many are hoping that Fairley gets the bulk of playing time this season if he's healthy.
The pairing of Fairley and Suh could be a game-changer, but it would mean Williams wouldn't see as much playing time.
In a contract year, that is the last thing he wants.
In two years with Detroit he has been a very solid, but not spectacular, addition to the Lions' front four. He's not getting any younger, though. The 2012 season will be his ninth year in the league, and likely his last chance for a sizable contract offer. That offer will obviously depend on his performance.
I expect to see an improved version of Williams this season, regardless if he hopes to stay with Detroit or not. Look for him to pull out all the stops in order to stay on the field and earn his next deal.
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