Detroit Lions: Predicting Winners of the 5 Biggest Position Battles
In 2011, Ricardo Silva became a training camp phenomenon for the Detroit Lions. He made monster hits in camp and big plays during preseason games. Many fans and experts predicted that he'd win the starting strong safety position.
It wasn't meant to be, though, and Silva ended up on the practice squad for most of the regular season.
There will be no shortage of excitement either. According to MLive.com, Martin Mayhew has said this is the most talented group he's assembled so far. That means that regardless of how many starters the Lions returned, players vying for their positions are better than ever before.
Who will be this year's Silva and could that player actually make the starting lineup? The answer will play out in training camp of course, but for now let's get out our crystal ball.
Here's five position battles to watch for and the player from each one that will emerge victorious.
Gosder Cherilus vs. Riley Reiff
When the Lions drafted Riley Reiff with their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, it was clear he would be the heir apparent to Jeff Backus at left tackle. Few thought that transition would happen this year though.
After OTAs, it's still safe to assume Backus' job is secure.
Left tackle is arguably the most important position on the field and the Lions want a veteran protecting Matthew Stafford's blind side. Assuming Backus is healthy and plays up to his usual standards.
All indications are he will.
That doesn't mean Reiff won't be on the field. The question is: will he start? He's a versatile athlete and has the ability to play all over the line.
In early June, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan admitted as much. He told the Detroit Free Press, in this article, that the Lions weren't sure where Reiff would play but he would play early and often
Gosder Cherilus is a five-year veteran, but if Reiff is going to take over a starting position, it makes sense it would be right tackle. Cherilus has been disappointing overall, although he did have a solid second half last season.
Stephen Peterman isn't a lock either. The right side of the line has been the Lions' weak link and he's a big part of that. Reiff has the potential to be far better than either of them so there's no reason to hold him back.
Training camp will clarify where Reiff will play but it's pretty clear he'll start for somebody.
Winner: Riley Reiff
Aaron Berry vs. Jacob Lacey
This idea was supported during OTAs when, according to MLive.com, he got most of his reps with the first team and coaches praised the great shape he was in.
Even the signing of Jacob Lacey did little to change the popular opinion.
That was before Berry joined the Lions' group of offseason offenders. While his transgression in Pennsylvania doesn't have anything to do with his play on the field, it does speak to his judgment and maturity; two things the Lions must improve on this season.
Berry might have been No. 1 on the depth chart, but confidence in him has been shaken. This opens the door for someone like Lacey to make a move.
Lacey was a solid player for the Indianapolis Colts and started 27 games for them over three years. He's got the NFL experience to really challenge Berry. He's already tabbed as the starting nickleback, which was Berry's job last year.
It wouldn't take much for the Lions to move Berry back and insert Lacey into the starting role.
There are other players competing, but most of them are rookies and we all know Gunther Cunningham's love for starting rookies. It won't happen.
The job is Berry's to lose and on the field he's been impressive so far. He'll stay clean the rest of the way, meet expectations and fend off Lacey during training camp too.
Winner: Aaron Berry
Corey Williams vs. Nick Fairley
Lions fans have been waiting for a lot of things over the years: a 1,000 yard rusher, a playoff win and a Superbowl berth for example.
Since the 2011 draft, they've been waiting for something else with even more anticipation. Fans have been dying to see Nick Fairley start alongside Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line.
Last season, a prolonged foot injury prevented Fairley from playing at full strength. He appeared in 10 games, but his impact and his time with Suh was limited.
Corey Williams has been the starter opposite Suh for the past two seasons. He's solid but not spectacular and he's on the downside of his eight-year career.
There's been a growing sentiment that—if healthy—Fairley should be the starter. He's got more potential for bringing down the quarterback than Williams, and when paired with Suh they would make a devastating team.
In this article from Mlive.com, the Detroit Lions talk about moving Suh around the line this season. This opens the door for him and Fairley to share the field more often.
If the Lions serious about doing that, then why not just start them side by side from day one? Despite Fairley's well-documented offseason troubles, he's been a monster at OTAs. Martin Mayhew singled him out as one to watch for a break-out year.
Although he'll probably face a multi-game suspension to start the year, as long as he's healthy Fairley will continue to impress on the field and outplay Williams during training camp. Williams is a veteran but can't match Fairley's big play potential.
Winner: Nick Fairley
Pat Edwards vs. Titus Young vs. Ryan Broyles
All three of these young players are receivers but only one, Titus Young, has a legitimate shot to be a starter. He started nine games for the Lions as a rookie last season.
Ryan Broyles will be used in the slot and Patrick Edwards' involvement in the offense will be minimal.
However, all three have a great shot to become the Lions' new return man. The writing is on the wall for Stefan Logan. This is the first year he will be challenged for his job and with these three talented youngsters, he should start packing his bags now.
Barring an injury to one or more of the challengers, Logan will be looking for a new home.
But which one will win the job? All three of them have return experience from college and are all burners. Broyles might be one step below them in that department after his knee injury, but he demonstrated plenty of speed at his pro day last April.
According to ESPN, only five months after tearing his ACL, he ran a 4.57 40-yard dash. It's reasonable to expect that his speed would improve even more after his knee is completely healed.
Young might be the favorite. He's already said he'd love to return punts for the Lions this season and has returned 56 kickoffs for 1,449 yards and three touchdowns at Boise State.
Why risk the wear and tear on such an integral part of the offense though? The same goes for Broyles, who the Lions will likely ease into active duty.
It might be a reach, but Edwards would be the smart choice. He's impressed so far in practice and his stats from the University of Houston prove that he's no fluke. He was simply overlooked and undervalued coming out of college.
Giving Edwards the job allows the hungry and undrafted free agent a chance to make a name for himself. The Lions would benefit from that motivation. If he doesn't pan out, they always have Young and Broyles to fall back on.
C'mon Lions, give the kid a chance.
Winner: Pat Edwards.
Amari Speivey vs. Ricardo Silva vs. Eric Coleman vs. Sean Jones
2011 was his first full season as the starting strong safety and the reviews were mixed. The Detroit Lions coaching staff was concerned about his inconsistent play and the position needed to be shored up.
So the Lions signed veteran Sean Jones to a one-year contract last week as insurance. He's a seven-year veteran who's started 85 games at strong safety over his career. Last season, he amassed 71 tackles; his highest total since 2006.
Jones is a strong candidate to start on day one and his signing will intensify an already red-hot position battle.
The Lions also resigned Eric Coleman during the free agency period. The eight-year veteran is returning from injury and can't be counted out. With that said, he hasn't been a starter his last two seasons so his chances are slim.
I already mentioned Ricardo Silva in the intro. He'll return from the practice squad to turn heads during training camp for the second year in row. If he's improved his technique to match his outstanding athleticism he'll have a great chance to make the final roster. The starting job is probably out of his reach though.
It will come down to Jones and Spievey.
It's do or die time for Spievey and he needs to prove that he's finally comfortable as a safety. The Lions have a lot invested in him and would prefer that he wins the job. He's their future at the position and he's got the potential to be much better than Jones.
He battled post-concussion symptoms during minicamp and OTAs but he'll be healthy by the time training camp comes around and he'll show enough for the Lions to give him another chance as the starter.
How long that lasts remains to be seen.
Winner: Amari Spievey