Detroit Lions Roster 2012: Latest News, Cuts, Preseason Predictions

Dean HoldenAnalyst IAugust 2, 2012

Detroit Lions Roster 2012: Latest News, Cuts, Preseason Predictions

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    Training camp is an overblown spectacle, and preseason games are meaningless. Right?

    Well, yes and no. People pay attention to training camp because it signals the beginning of the NFL season, and it's the first real appearance of the changes each team has made during the offseason.

    People watch the preseason because...well, it's football. It's actual NFL football between two teams. It's meaningless in the standings, and in the outcome, but there's a reason for playing them regardless.

    What is that purpose? The entire preseason is really about the roster. It's about getting everybody up to game speed and worked back into football shape, sure. Sometimes, it's about installing new plays.

    But training camp and preseason is largely a final tryout for guys trying to make the roster.

    With that in mind, the roster is the thing we should all be paying attention to over the next month, and therefore, the roster is what I am going to go to great pains to preview here.

    So sit back and enjoy.

    Here's the entire roster by position, as it stands now, and as it will likely stand a month from now.

     

    UDPATE 8/27:

    - New slide for August 27 roster cuts/moves.

    - All positional slides updated to reflect current roster.

    - Roster predictions updated. Any players already cut have been given a strikethrough (rather than just changed), because I'm a big advocate of standing by my predictions and calling myself out when I'm wrong.

August 31 (Final) Roster Cuts

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    The 2012 preseason is in the books, and roster cuts are happening all over the league as teams are required to get down to the 53-man limit by 9 p.m. this evening.

    I am going to attempt to keep this thing updated throughout the day, so the order of cuts is more chronological than it is empirical.

    But even still, today's list of cuts starts with a reasonable surprise.

     

    P Ryan Donahue

    Ben Graham is still the Detroit Lions' starting punter, and this time he earned it on skill, not injury. Coming into the preseason, Graham had to be considered an underdog to win the starting punting job. It even seemed like the Lions signing him was a mere afterthought.

    Donahue was, after all, the man who beat out veteran Nick Harris last season for the starting punting job. But Graham did fantastic work for the Lions while Donahue was hurt last season, and he carried that solid play into this preseason, capping his work with a particularly good game against Buffalo which might have tipped the scales in his favor.

    So one of the biggest surprises out of preseason is the Lions going with a new punter for the second time in as many seasons, and it's the 38-year-old rugby-style punter over the 24-year-old Donahue. Somebody try telling Donahue right now that the fourth preseason game is meaningless.

     

    OG Pat Boyle

    The other cut announced at the same time as Donahue's was the cut of Boyle, and this one is far less surprising. The Lions have had surprising performances from a couple of interior linemen this preseason. Boyle wasn't one of them, but as an undrafted rookie, he is eligible for the practice squad, where he might be a decent fit.

     

    CB Alphonso Smith

    Alphonso Smith has been cut, according to Pro Football Talk:

     

    Lions waive CB Alphonso Smith, per source with knowledge of situation.

    — ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 31, 2012

     

    This is a little bit surprising considering Smith has been with the team for a couple of years now, but it's less surprising when you take into account his awful preseason performance.

    Still, the Lions are extremely thin at cornerback, so this might be the last cut they make at the position (Ross Weaver might be another). If anything, the Lions are probably watching the waiver wire very closely for CBs at this point.

     

    UPDATE: 4:00 PM

    Chris McCosky of the Detroit News has tweeted a torrent of new cuts:

     

    So far, Smith is only surprise. Others cut TEs Gottlieb and Wells, DEs Cinasa, McClam, DT Robertson

    — Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) August 31, 2012

     

     

    Also cut CB Weaver, WR Miles, Hughes, LB Messina

    — Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) August 31, 2012

     

    In this group, the only real surprise is LB Carmen Messina, who was one of the more productive linebackers for the Lions in the second half of most preseason games. But he imploded on special teams last night and likely cost himself a roster spot at that moment. Look for him as a practice squad target, though.

    One of the most notable things about this list is the players they haven't cut yet. Players like DE Everette Brown, QB Kellen Moore, WRs Lance Long, Maurice Stovall and Patrick Edwards, and DBs Kevin Barnes and Reshard Langford could theoretically have been in with those cuts, but they weren't.

    Stay tuned, as the roster is now down to 63 players. We're more than halfway there.

     

    UPDATE: 53-Player Limit Reached

    Okay, so it wasn't exactly up to the minute. But regardless, here are the rest of roster cuts that got the Lions to a final 53-man roster. The biggest news is that Kellen Moore is not one of them.

     

    WRs Lance Long, Maurice Stovall, Patrick Edwards

    This is surprising, as I expected at least one of these guys to make the roster for special teams alone.

    Against Buffalo, Long had a great day receiving, Edwards had a big punt return, and Stovall... well, Stovall had a drop or two and wasn't notable on special teams.

    But Stovall was the only man of the three that had experience with the team. Instead of these three, the Lions opted to keep newcomer Kassim Osgood, who apparently made enough of an impact in his short time on the team to justify earning the fifth of five receiver slots.

     

    OG Rodney Austin

    The word was that Austin was having a decent camp. Clearly it wasn't good enough, though that might be more attributed to the Lions opting to keep five offensive tackles, many of them with multi-position versatility.

     

    DE Everette Brown

    Brown started and finished the preseason strong. In the middle part he disappeared. Brown played well enough to earn a spot with some team this year, but it won't be the Lions.

    Blame a strong rotation and rookie Ronnell Lewis for making it prohibitively difficult to make the roster at the DE position.

     

    DT Andre Fluellen

    Finally, the Free Fluellen movement has succeeded.

    I'm joking, there was no movement. Just me predicting year after year that Fluellen would go find a 3-4 team to play DE in as a 5-technique, which is more suited to his size and skill set than any position in a 4-3.

    I don't know if that will actually happen, and I'm sure that Fluellen would rather have his job today than a theoretical chance to flourish in a different system. But Fluellen's career shouldn't be over. There's no shame in failing to beat out Sammie Lee Hill and Nick Fairley for a roster spot.

     

    CB Justin Miller

    After the Lions released Ross Weaver and Alphonso Smith, Miller was probably feeling pretty good about himself as the Lions' sixth cornerback.

    Unfortunately for him, the Lions opted to only keep five. It wasn't a bad run for a guy who hasn't been on an active roster since 2009, though. Even if the Lions had kept him, I wouldn't guess the Lions are done making moves in the secondary, anyway.


    S Reshard Langford

    What's shocking here isn't that Langford was cut, it's that he was the only safety who was cut. Ricardo Silva and Amari Spievey both made the roster, despite shaky camps and preseasons.

    Langford was actually pretty solid on special teams, but clearly it wasn't enough, probably because he was a non-factor in the defense.

     

    RB Mikel Leshoure (NOT cut, but doesn't count against 53-man requirement while suspended)

    Technically, this is a roster move the Lions are just putting off for a couple of weeks.

    While Leshoure serves his two-game suspension, he doesn't count as one of the players on the 53-man roster. So when they go to activate him in two weeks, the Lions will need to make their final cut.

August 28 Roster Cuts

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    The Lions' first round of cuts is in as of Monday, August 27, and here is the first round of casualties (via DetroitLions.com) as the Lions trim the roster to 75.

    But first, here are the moves the Lions made to trim the roster without technically cutting anybody.

     

    RB Jahvid Best and CB Chris Greenwood placed on PUP to start season

    The writing has been on the wall for a couple of weeks where Best is concerned, this just confirms it.

    So the bad news is this concussion business is extremely scary, and there can be little doubt that his career is at risk. The good news is that while Best will need to remain inactive for the first six weeks of the season, head coach Jim Schwartz has alluded to the possibility that Best's doctors could clear him at the end of those six weeks.

    If that's the case, the Lions could have a fully healthy Best available for the second half of the season, which could be a massive boost.

    Greenwood continues to recover from abdominal surgery, and while he would be nice to have as the Lions' secondary becomes less healthy by the day, Greenwood is not going to be an impact player anytime soon. He's physically imposing, but a project in every sense. This doesn't affect the Lions, just Greenwood's development.

     

    G Bill Nagy and T Jonathan Scott placed on Reserve/Injured list

    Both of these players were picked up off waivers from other teams, and neither was expected to be a major contributor this season. In fact, the Cowboys already did this with Nagy, and the Lions decided to put a claim in on him. His injury is one that will take time to clear, so that was always more of a move for the future.

    Scott's absence won't be too traumatic, either. The Lions, suddenly, somehow, have more talent than they know what to do with at tackle.

     

    Now for the real roster cuts, i.e. the guys who aren't coming back.

    RB James Bryant

    It's a sad day for the man often considered a dark horse to make the roster. Bryant, a pure fullback, didn't even make it to the final round of cuts, after seemingly being a valuable piece as lead blocker.

    Ultimately, there was one thing that Bryant did irreparably wrong: he pigeon-holed himself, purposely, on a team that champions versatility. It sounded like Bryant was just taking an old-school, unselfish approach to his position, but it exposed his limited skill set, which made him expendable.

     

    WR Dominique Curry

    Curry, a former Ram, had almost zero shot at the roster in the first place, since the Lions are loaded at wide receiver. Curry may have had more drops in preseason action than he had catches (two for 20 yards, if you were wondering), and being a non-factor against Oakland probably contributed to make this an easy decision.

     

    WR Jarrett Dillard

    Another young receiver whose tires the Lions deemed worth kicking, Dillard came to the Lions via Jacksonville, and posted a generally up-and-down training camp period. He was underwhelming in preseason, with only two catches, both against Baltimore. The battle for the Lions' final receiver spots is a tight one, but it never truly included Dillard.

     

    K Derek Dimke

    Dimke was a fine kicker, but as long as Jason Hanson has gas in the tank, any kicker brought to training camp is a formality. End of story.

     

    RB Stephfon Green

    This is one of the more surprising cuts in this round, if only because of the timing. Green looked like a relatively solid option at running back, especially after his long touchdown run late in the game against Baltimore. He was always a long shot to make the roster, but he seemed like he would at least make the first round of cuts.

    This might be bad news for either Keiland Williams or Joique Bell. One of them is probably playing for his roster spot against the Bills.

     

    S Sean Jones

    Considering Jones' reputation as a career starter, it's a bit disappointing that Jones didn't even make the first cut in Detroit. I'd love to say that has more to do with the quality of the Lions' roster than Jones himself. But that's only half of it. The other half is that Jones was awful all preseason.


    S Isaac Madison

    Madison was just signed a week ago to no fanfare, and it seems it only took a week of practice and one preseason game to decide it wasn't going to work out. No surprises on this one.


    G Jacques McClendon

    The Lions claimed McClendon off waivers last season just to see what he was capable of. Almost a year later, they put him right back on waivers. 

    Considering McClendon was the only one of four reserve guards in camp that spent last year with the Lions, it's surprising to see him cut before guys like Rodney Austin and Pat Boyle. Disappointing too, considering the Lions are paper-thin at guard, but this just proves it isn't always so easy to pick offensive linemen out of the trash can, dust them off, and use them like new.

     

    G J.C. Oram

    Even with the limited depth at guard, Oram never distinguished himself from the pack in Detroit. Of course, neither has anyone else, but the rest of "anyone else" will likely be gone by Friday as well.


    DT Bobby Skinner

    I'm not going to lie to you guys. I didn't see Skinner once, in camp or preseason. I don't know what he's capable of. I never bothered, because there was nobody—nobody—who was going to crack the Lions' DT rotation. They're already five deep with quality players at a position they may only take four players at. Skinner was the seventh.


    WR Terrence Toliver

    This may surprise some (I heard some of you in comment boxes talking about him), but Toliver simply never showed anything worth keeping around. The Lions are already set with their top four receiver positions (Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles), and the last one or two spots are most likely between Maurice Stovall, Patrick Edwards, and perhaps special teams ace Kassim Osgood.

    The guys in the lead for the Lions final WR slots are up for debate. What is not up for debate is the fact that Toliver was not in that discussion.

Latest Roster Moves

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    This is simply a timeline of Lions transactions in the time surrounding training camp. If you want a full rundown of the Lions' offseason, there's another place you can look for that.

    EDIT 8/27: if you're looking for major roster cuts as the preseason wraps up, you won't find them here. Check the slides prior to this one.

     

    8/30/12: OT Jonathan Scott waived. This doesn't really count against the roster count, since Scott was already on IR. This just means the Lions weren't interested enough to keep him on file until next season. Not surprising considering the young talent the Lions have at tackle right now.

    8/27/12: Washington trades CB Kevin Barnes to Detroit for conditional draft pick (exact terms unknown). This is exactly the sort of low-risk, moderate-reward move the Lions are known for. Barnes was inconsistent and likely to get cut in Washington, but with injuries galore in an already thin CB unit in Detroit, Barnes may quietly be an upgrade.

    8/23/12: QB R.J. Archer cut, WR Kassim Osgood signed. Osgood makes the team in the wake of a string of poor performances by the Lions' special teams. If he makes the team, it will be in a similar capacity to Maurice Stovall last season.

    Despite the hype, Archer getting cut is not good news for Kellen Moore. Moore's competition was never Archer, it was—and continues to be—the perception that extra depth at other positions is more valuable than a project third-string QB.

    8/21/12: DT Bobby Skinner claimed off waivers, CB Isaac Madison signed. The corresponding moves to the previous cuts, these are still no more than procedural moves. Neither of these guys is going to crack the roster, but the Lions need people to take reps at DT and CB for the rest of the preseason.

    8/20/12: S Don Carey and TE Nathan Overbay waived/injured. More standard preseason stuff. Lots of these guys are only in training camp to take reps from the more important players, so when they get injured, they are no longer useful. It's insensitive, but that's the NFL for you.

    8/16/12: C Bill Nagy claimed off waivers, CB Drew Coleman placed on IR. Nagy is a former seventh-round pick who is currently suffering through his second ankle injury on the same foot. However, before his injury, he was talented enough to be a rookie starter at center for the Cowboys.

    If Nagy can play, the Lions may have stealthily solved their post-Raiola center problem. If not, the Lions put him on IR and see if he progresses in time. It's win-win.

    8/11/12: CB Reshard Langford signed, LB Korey Bosworth cut. It only took a week for Bosworth to fall victim to the Lions' cut list. How long does Langford have?

    8/4/12: LB Korey Bosworth signed, LB Ronnie Sneed waived/injured. There's a certain human element that gets ignored when an unproven player like Sneed shows up to training camp and works his tail off to get noticed, only to be dumped out the back door when he gets injured.

    But that's what happened here, and all we see is an NFL team shuffling camp bodies. That's the NFL for you. Best of luck to Sneed, and also Bosworth whenever he inevitably gets cut.

    8/1/12: LS Matt Camilli and DT Michael Cosgrove cut (DetroitLions.com). The two were cut to make room for two other undrafted players with no shot at the roster, G Pat Boyle of Temple (who himself has already been cut from the Lions once this offseason), and DT Tracy Robertson of Baylor.

    There was basically zero chance of Camilli supplanting Don Muhlbach or Cosgrove cracking the ultra-talented DT rotation, so this is basically a non-issue.

    7/31/12: The Lions cut CB Dontrell Johnson (via tweet, Tim Twentyman, Detroitlions.com) to make room for CB Ross Weaver, who was himself cut only five days earlier. The Lions are shuffling cornerbacks like crazy since dumping Aaron Berry, and it's almost impossible to tell where it all ends up.

    7/26/12: CB Ross Weaver cut. Not sure why it took place on a different day, but this is obviously to clear more space and reps for Coleman and Miller. Regardless, to say the former Cowboys practice-squad player was a long shot to make the team is a kind understatement.

    7/25/12: Veteran CBs Justin Miller and Drew Coleman signed, WR Marcus Harris cut. Miller and Coleman are bargain-bin signings to compensate for the loss of Aaron Berry, and Harris was apparently the 91st player on the 90-man roster. Still, don't expect Miller or Coleman to compete for a starting job. Think veteran depth and special teams.

    7/24/12: OT Johnny Culbreath cut, OT Jonathan Scott signed. Just when you thought you had things figured out, the Lions waive a seventh-round Martin Mayhew pick and add a fifth-round Matt Millen pick. Not much to read into here, though.

    Culbreath was simply not that good, and Scott has developed into a decent player. The Lions are suddenly extremely deep at offensive tackle.

    7/23/12: CB Aaron Berry cut, WR Dominique Curry signed. Not exactly an even trade in terms of talent, but the writing was on the wall for Berry even before he opted to bring a gun to a word fight.

    Berry being cut for his behavioral issues was a necessary and expected disciplinary move after he became the third, and easily most egregious, Lions player to be arrested twice this offseason.

Full Team Roster and Projected Depth Chart

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    EDIT 9/1: With roster cuts complete, this page is now updated. Players with lines through their names (like this) are ones I predicted to make the team, and didn't. Players in bold font are players that made the team but I didn't predict.

     

    QB

    Matthew Stafford

    Shaun Hill 

    Kellen Moore

     

    RB

    Jahvid Best (PUP, eligible to rejoin team in Week Seven)

    Mikel Leshoure (suspension, will rejoin team in Week Three)

    Kevin Smith

    Joique Bell

    Keiland Williams

    Stefan Logan

     

    WR

    Calvin Johnson

    Titus Young

    Nate Burleson

    Ryan Broyles

    Maurice Stovall

    Patrick Edwards

    Kassim Osgood

     

    TE

    Brandon Pettigrew

    Tony Scheffler

    Will Heller

     

    OT

    Jeff Backus (LT)

    Gosder Cherilus (RT)

    Riley Reiff

    Jason Fox

    Corey Hilliard

     

    LG 

    Rob Sims

     

    RG

    Stephen Peterman 

    Jacques McClendon


    C

    Dominic Raiola

    Dylan Gandy

     

    LE 

    Cliff Avril

    Willie Young

     

    RE

    Kyle Vanden Bosch

    Lawrence Jackson

    Ronnell Lewis

     

    DT

    Ndamukong Suh

    Nick Fairley

    Corey Williams

    Sammie Hill

     

    MLB (MIKE)

    Stephen Tulloch

    Doug Hogue

     

    LOLB (SAM)

    Justin Durant

    Travis Lewis

     

    ROLB (WILL)

    DeAndre Levy

    Tahir Whitehead

     

    CB

    Chris Houston (LCB)

    Bill Bentley (RCB)

    Jacob Lacey (Nickel)

    Alphonso Smith

    Jonte Green

    Chris Greenwood (PUP, eligible to rejoin team in Week Seven)

    Kevin Barnes

     

    S

    Louis Delmas (FS)

    Amari Spievey (SS)

    Sean Jones

    John Wendling 

    Erik Coleman

    Ricardo Silva

     

    K

    Jason Hanson

     

    P

    Ryan Donahue

    Ben Graham

     

    LS

    Don Muhlbach

Last 5 In

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    Any training camp is going to have roster battles and bubble players. These are the five guys most likely to just barely slip onto the 53-man roster.

     

    RB Joique Bell is looking like a better idea with each second Jahvid Best spends on the PUP list.

    Bell doesn't have the same explosiveness or top-end speed as Best (that's the difference between a first-round pick and an undrafted player), but Bell brings many of the same skills as Best, just at a lower impact. Since nobody knows quite when Best will be ready, it makes sense.

    LB Travis Lewis was a seventh-round pick, but he was rated much higher in the draft and finds himself competing at linebacker, where the Lions are exceptionally shorthanded. What he needs to do to make the team is effectively just outperform the unremarkable undrafted linebackers in camp, show up on special teams and have more upside than Ashlee Palmer.

    CB Jonte Green was likely going to be one of the last guys out and a shoo-in for the practice squad. But that was before Berry was cut. Now his stiffest competition is Drew Coleman and Justin Miller, and that doesn't make him a shoo-in or anything, but it is going to make it a lot easier for him to compete.

    QB Kellen Moore's biggest enemy in camp is not going to be another quarterback, but the rest of the roster. The Lions have yet to decide whether taking three quarterbacks is worthwhile to them, and Moore has been inconsistent enough thus far to make it a serious question.

    WR Patrick Edwards needs to show value on special teams to justify a roster spot, but he'll get his shot. He has been far and away the most valuable undrafted player the Lions have looked at this season as a receiver, and he has kick return ability in his repertoire.

Last 5 Out

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    A breakdown of the recently cut players who seemed to have the best shot of making the roster.

    8/27/12: FB James Bryant was cut in the first wave of roster moves, presumably because a pure blocking fullback simply doesn't fit into the Lions' offense. He seemed at first to give the Lions a new dimension in the power running game, but his impact fizzled in the second and third preseason games.

    8/27/12: Undrafted rookie RB Stephfon Green was also a victim of the Lions' first wave of cuts. Green wasn't necessarily a roster favorite, but he showed flashes, none more notable than a 76-yard touchdown romp (admittedly in garbage time) against the Ravens. Perhaps more surprising still is the fact that Green was cut with Stefan Logan and Kevin Smith nursing injuries, and on the same day Jahvid Best was placed on PUP to start the season.

    7/24/12: In one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, the Lions cut OT Johnny Culbreath in order to claim veteran Johnathan Scott off waivers. Culbreath wasn't exactly pegged as a breakout player, but it's always a little surprising to see the Lions cut ties with a draft pick (even a seventh) given their recent success in that area.

    7/23/12: CB Aaron Berry was a lock for the final roster and a favorite to start. His career could have kicked off this season. Instead, he decided booze and guns were more important, and that decision got him cut. Neither the Lions nor Berry are happy about the way this turned out, but neither has anyone to blame but Berry himself.

    6/25/12: S Sam Proctor was the fourth Oklahoma Sooner to join the team in 2012 after the Lions took three in the draft. He attended a rookie minicamp/tryout and got himself noticed enough to get signed to a one-year deal. From that it seemed like the Lions were interested in him, but when the Lions got a shot at Sean Jones, Proctor became expendable.

Quarterbacks

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    QBs on roster:

    R.J. Archer

    Shaun Hill 

    Kellen Moore

    Matthew Stafford

    Projected starter: Stafford

    Offseason additions: Moore, Archer

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Matthew Stafford

    Shaun Hill 

    Kellen Moore

     

    The most intriguing thing here is whether Moore makes the roster.

    Stafford is already, after just one full season, the best quarterback the Lions have had since at least Greg Landry—and more likely since Bobby Layne. That's not saying much given the Lions' quarterback history, but the point here is that Stafford is the unquestioned starter. No controversy there.

    Hill is just about equally secure as the backup, with unproven and undrafted Kellen Moore his only competition.

    Archer is not really dangerous competition for Moore; the bigger risk is that the Lions decide they want to keep another player enough to go with only three quarterbacks on the roster.

Running Backs

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    RBs on roster:

    Joique Bell

    Jahvid Best (PUP)

    James Bryant (FB)

    Stephfon Green

    Mikel Leshoure

    Stefan Logan

    Kevin Smith


    Projected starters: Best/Leshoure

    Offseason additions: Bryant, Green

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Jahvid Best (still on the roster, but won't technically be part of the opening day 53-man roster on PUP)

    Mikel Leshoure

    Kevin Smith

    Joique Bell

     

    Stop me if you've heard this one before: Best and Leshoure are out with injuries.

    That's the bad news. The good news is that Leshoure's is a relatively mild hamstring pull. That Best is still waiting to be cleared for a concussion suffered nine months ago is concerning, but as long as he doesn't miss actual game action, it's too early to panic.

    With Best and Leshoure out, Smith is taking first-team reps and looking sharp. Of course, Smith's physical ability has never been the question, it has always been his ability to stay off the shelf. He's doing OK in that regard so far, but it's the first week of training camp. Let's not throw a party.

    Bell, theoretically, has speed to spare, and that means he makes a lot of sense with Best out. But he's not really making much noise in camp so far, and the Lions don't have anything invested in him, so he's a question mark at this point.

    The name that isn't showing up here is Stefan Logan, and that's primarily because I expect Best to be cleared by the end of training camp. But the word is Logan is starting to take reps at running back, and the results are not bad.

    If the 5'6" Logan can bring a Darren Sproles-like element to the offense, combined with his return skills, he just might make it for a third Lions season.

Wide Receivers

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    WRs on roster:

    Ryan Broyles

    Nate Burleson

    Dominique Curry

    Jarett Dillard

    Patrick Edwards

    Nate Hughes

    Calvin Johnson

    Lance Long

    Wallace Miles

    Kassim Osgood

    Maurice Stovall

    Terrence Toliver

    Titus Young

     

    Projected starters: Johnson/Young/Burleson

    Offseason additions: Broyles, Curry, Dillard, Edwards, Long, Osgood

    Roster cuts: Marcus Harris, Jared Karstetter, Troy Burrell

    Projected final roster:

    Calvin Johnson

    Titus Young

    Nate Burleson

    Ryan Broyles

    Maurice Stovall

    Patrick Edwards

     

    The top four on that depth chart are indisputable. The order might change, but they're all making the roster without question.

    Young and Broyles are interesting at this stage. Young is looking like a budding star so far during this offseason, and Broyles is coming off an ACL injury. The preseason will be an exciting chance to gauge how far along these guys are, as they both have exceptionally high ceilings.

    Stovall and Edwards are the question marks. Stovall was a valuable special teamer for the Lions last year and is the only receiver with a frame (though not athleticism) comparable to Calvin Johnson.

    Edwards is a sharp UDFA out of Houston who has turned some heads early, but if he proves himself as a viable return option, he will greatly increase his chances.

    Lance Long is putting together some solid practices in training camp, but the Lions are so logjammed at the top of the depth chart, Long's performance might not do much more than making him the front-runner for the 2012 Randy Phillips Award for Preseason Excellence.

Tight Ends

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    TEs on roster:

    Brandon Pettigrew

    Tony Scheffler

    Will Heller

    Nathan Overbay

    Alex Gottlieb

    Austin Wells

     

    Projected starters: Pettigrew/Scheffler

    Offseason additions: Gottlieb, Wells

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Brandon Pettigrew

    Tony Scheffler

    Will Heller

     

    There's not likely to be much intrigue here. Pettigrew and Scheffler are immovable fixtures.

    Heller has a chance of being moved, but he's invaluable in blocking situations and also provides two different positions as the Lions' H-back.

    Perhaps most importantly, none of the other three tight ends in camp appear to be much more than camp bodies, and Heller isn't making enough money to justify cutting him for salary cap purposes.

Offensive Tackles

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    OTs on roster:

    Jeff Backus

    Gosder Cherilus

    Jason Fox

    Corey Hilliard

    Riley Reiff

    Jonathan Scott (IR)

     

    Projected starters: Backus/Cherilus

    Offseason additions: Reiff, Scott

    Roster cuts: Johnny Culbreath

    Projected final roster:

    Jeff Backus (LT)

    Gosder Cherilus (RT)

    Riley Reiff

    Jason Fox

     

    There's plenty to think about here.

    Will Backus recover from his thumb injury? Will Fox refrain from suffering another injury? Is Scott notably better than Culbreath? Where (and when) in the world does Reiff play? Is Cherilus worth keeping or not? 

    Somehow, the Lions have amassed a great deal of depth at the offensive tackle position. There's lots of youth and uncertainty, but before anybody realized it, the Lions found potential future starters at both tackle positions.

    That makes this a very dangerous year for Cherilus. Last year, the biggest threat to his starting job was Hilliard, who is a good, versatile player, but not starting-quality. Now, he has to fend off Hilliard, Fox, Scott and Reiff, and it's fully possible that any one of them beat him out.

    Interestingly, Fox and Hilliard have been getting most of the work at first-team left tackle in Backus' absence. Reiff continues to toil away at right tackle with the second and third teams, so it seems Cherilus isn't being pushed just yet.

    It's the first week of training camp, though, so the amount of stock to put in who plays where and when is minimal.

    Still, we'll watch for even the most minimal changes, because more so than any other position on the team, the offensive tackle position is loaded down with players who could not only make the roster, but also push for a starting job.

Offensive Guards

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    OGs on roster:

    Rodney Austin

    Pat Boyle

    Jacques McClendon

    J.C. Oram

    Stephen Peterman 

    Rob Sims


    Projected starters: Sims(LG)/Peterman(RG)

    Offseason additions: Austin, Oram

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Stephen Peterman 

    Rob Sims

    Jacques McClendon

     

    Nothing to see here, folks. While the Lions practically have an embarrassment of riches on the ends of the offensive line, the middle looks pretty much the same.

    While there's not too much to complain about with Sims, Peterman hasn't been very good throughout his career in Detroit (and elsewhere, really). Still, the Lions are seemingly opting to stick with him for another year, since there isn't anyone on the roster within light-years of pushing him.

    McClendon is an interesting prospect. The Lions signed him off waivers from Indianapolis, and he's the type of raw, big-bodied lineman the Lions have had success with in the past (albeit mostly on the defensive side). But he spent most of last year on the practice squad and seems far from making an impact.

    Still, I give McClendon the nod to stay on the roster, because seriously, where else is there natural guard depth on the team?

    Guard is perhaps the least important position in football, and the Lions seem to be living by that creed by effectively ignoring the position for the last three years.

Centers

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    Cs on roster:

    Dylan Gandy

    Dan Gerberry

    Dominic Raiola

     

    Projected starter: Raiola

    Offseason additions: N/A

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Dominic Raiola

    Dylan Gandy

     

    This is how little interest the Lions currently have in upgrading the center position: They didn't even sign a UDFA center to take reps in training camp.

    Of course, the Lions love guys who can play multiple positions on the line, which is why they carried Gandy and Gerberry (both with C/G ability) through last season. It's possible that they plan on trying out one of the UDFA guards with experience at center.

    Still, don't expect much movement here. Raiola is entrenched as starter, and unlike Backus, his linemate of 11 years, he doesn't have a stable of young players nipping at his heels.

    Gandy is a solid, if unspectacular, backup player, though, it's hard to say how much since he never gets to play.

    Still, the Lions thought enough of him to sign him to a two-year contract last offseason, and in an age where almost no Lions free agent gets more than a one-year deal, that's notable.

Defensive Ends

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    DEs on roster:

    Cliff Avril

    Everette Brown

    Ugo Chinasa

    Lawrence Jackson

    Ronnell Lewis

    Edmon McClam

    Kyle Vanden Bosch

    Willie Young


    Projected starters: Avril/Vanden Bosch

    Offseason additions: Brown, Chinasa, Lewis, McClam

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Cliff Avril

    Kyle Vanden Bosch

    Lawrence Jacson

    Willie Young

    Ronnell Lewis

     

    So Avril isn't in camp yet. Does that concern you? Well, stop it. If it doesn't concern Martin Mayhew, there's no reason it should concern you. He'll show, he'll be in shape, and we can commence arguing about whether he's worth his impending contract in another seven-eight months.

    There are some intriguing prospects to watch here. Brown is, perhaps, chief among them. By all accounts, he has a great deal of talent but hasn't yet found a scheme that suits him. That's one theory, anyway. It could also be that he has a lot of potential and will simply never realize it.

    Either way, Brown will have to have a very strong camp and productive preseason to crack what is a very solid rotation, because none of the guys on it are going anywhere.

    Ronnell Lewis is certainly the weak link of the guys projected to make the roster, but he's also a fourth-round pick, a stud special teamer, and currently, undergoing a transition from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end. He needs time, and he'll get it.

    Nobody knows exactly how long Avril will be out of camp, though, most speculate he will show before camp breaks completely. In the meantime, watch Jackson and Young eat up his reps on the first team. Both look improved over last season.

Defensive Tackles

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    DTs on roster:

    Nick Fairley

    Andre Fluellen

    Sammie Hill

    Tracy Robertson

    Bobby Skinner

    Ndamukong Suh

    Corey Williams


    Projected starters: Suh/Williams

    Offseason additions: N/A

    Roster cuts: Michael Cosgrove

    Projected final roster:

    Ndamukong Suh

    Corey Williams

    Nick Fairley

    Sammie Hill

     

    Well, this is a pleasantly familiar bunch. After drafting a defensive tackle in the first round for two straight years, the Lions apparently decided that was enough and left the position alone entirely.

    If possible, I would list Suh, Fairley and Williams all as starters, as I expect their playing time to be about equal. But when it comes to who they start with, I have to assume they start the aggressive Suh with the space-eating Williams in the base formation.

    Teams had a lot of success using Suh's explosiveness and aggressiveness against him. Imagine if they did the same to Fairley, who exhibits a similar playing style. It might take four blockers to trap the two of them effectively, but it also opens up the entire middle of the field.

    That's not to say Suh and Fairley should never be in formation together. They should be particularly effective on passing downs, and the Lions newfound commitment to moving Suh around the formation will create some new opportunities as well.

    I've been saying this for about three years now, and every year, the Lions prove me wrong. But with the strong rotation the Lions have at defensive tackle, this may finally be the year Fluellen doesn't make the cut.

    I suspect he only made it last year because of Fairley's injury. Now that Fairley is healthy (physically, if not legally), Fluellen might finally get to find a scheme that suits him.

Outside Linebackers

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    OLBs on roster:

    Justin Durant

    DeAndre Levy

    Travis Lewis

    Carmen Messina

    Slade Norris

    Ronnie Sneed

    Tahir Whitehead

     

    Projected starters: Levy/Durant

    Offseason additions: Messina, Sneed, Whitehead, Lewis

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Justin Durant (SAM)

    DeAndre Levy (WILL)

    Travis Lewis

    Tahir Whitehead

     

    This is a little messy, because the Lions barely differentiate between middle and outside linebackers, especially among their depth players.

    Much like on the offensive line, the Lions place a premium on versatility in their linebackers. That means that, theoretically, any of the linebackers they have on the roster could play any linebacker position.

    Durant and Levy are likely starters on the outside, but Levy is also most likely the primary backup for middle linebacker. Promising rookies Lewis and Whitehead seem likely to make the roster, but Lewis can already play all three positions at linebacker, so he's just as likely to be on the middle linebacker page as this one.

    Lewis and Whitehead are fortunate to play the position they do for the Lions right now. Not only is the linebacker position extremely thin for the Lions (and the UDFAs they signed are nothing special), but both starters are set to be free agents in 2013.

    It's not unreasonable to think that after they play themselves onto the roster, they could be competing for a starting job in the very near future.

Middle Linebackers

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    MLBs on roster:

    Doug Hogue

    Ashlee Palmer

    Stephen Tulloch

    Projected starter: Tulloch

    Offseason additions: N/A

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Stephen Tulloch

    Doug Hogue

     

    Again, this is messy. To clear it all up, Durant and Levy will start on the outsides, with Tulloch in the middle. Hogue, Whitehead and Lewis will make the roster...in some capacity. That's the projection here.

    I'm putting Hogue in the middle here because he has a year more experience than Lewis or Whitehead, but if Tulloch were to go down with injury, the most likely scenario is that Levy plays in the middle with Hogue playing on the outside.

    But depth charts don't work that way, so you'll have to work with me.

    The Lions have a lot of questions about their young linebacker corps, but they also have lots of upside and special teams skill, especially in Hogue. Palmer is a quality special teamer but lacks the same upside in the defense, which is why he gets cut here.

    Palmer be one of the last cuts made, though, and with a strong camp, he could get in just under the wire. He'll need to show value in the defense, though.

    I doubt the Lions are excited about taking three reserve linebackers with a combined one year of experience, so they might actually prefer if Palmer gives them a reason to keep him around.

Cornerbacks

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    CBs on roster:

    Kevin Barnes

    Bill Bentley

    Drew Coleman

    Jonte Green

    Chris Greenwood (PUP)

    Chris Houston

    Jacob Lacey

    Justin Miller

    Alphonso Smith

    Ross Weaver


    Projected starters: Houston/Lacey

    Offseason additions: Everyone except Houston, Smith and Weaver (practice squad in 2011)

    Roster cuts: Dontrell Johnson, Aaron Berry

    Projected final roster:

    Chris Houston (LCB)

    Jacob Lacey (RCB)

    Bill Bentley (Nickel)

    Alphonso Smith

    Jonte Green

    Chris Greenwood (Like Best, won't be on final 53 because of PUP, but could rejoin team later)

     

    The cornerback position is as much up in the air as any position on the team right now. It was already unstable before the Berry issue, and now, it seems the Lions shake things up every couple of days.

    The only player on the roster who is in any way proven is Houston, and he will be an unchallenged starter.

    Lacey is a fourth-year player who spent three relatively lackluster years with the Indianapolis Colts, but he and Smith were by far the most veteran players in the group aside from Houston.

    This is likely a big reason why the Lions opted to sign Miller and Coleman. While it remains to be seen whether either player brings enough value to make the roster, they are at least veterans with more than a couple years of NFL experience, which is something the Lions sorely lacked.

    Chris Greenwood is currently on the PUP list as he recovers from abdominal surgery, but should be an easy decision to keep in the fold on account of his off-the-chart measurables. Still, if his recovery time takes him into the regular season, it might open the possibility of Drew Coleman (or a big-time camp performer) to sneak onto the roster.

    I mean, the Lions are currently so unsettled at cornerback, they are cutting guys and bringing them back days later to replace yet another cornerback (welcome back, Ross Weaver).

    This could get bumpy before all's said and done.

Safeties

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    CBs on roster:

    Don Carey

    Erik Coleman

    Louis Delmas

    Sean Jones

    Reshard Langford

    Ricardo Silva

    Amari Spievey

    John Wendling 

     

    Projected starters: Delmas/Spievey

    Offseason additions: Jones

    Roster cuts: Alonzo Lawrence

    Projected final roster:

    Louis Delmas (FS)

    Amari Spievey (SS)

    Sean Jones

    John Wendling

     

    Coleman was signed last season to provide steady veteran depth at safety and a challenge to Amari Spievey's starting job.

    Coleman ended up on injured reserve after four games and is already being held out of practice in training camp with a "minor muscle tweak." That's most likely nothing major, but it's concerning for a guy who missed the majority of last season with an injury.

    Meanwhile, Sean Jones has been a starting safety for most of his career and should be able to do basically what Coleman can do. So if Coleman doesn't get healthy quickly, his job could easily go to Jones.

    Of course, health is a primary issue for all of the Lions' safeties last year. All of the Lions' top safeties spent a fair amount of time injured last season, which is why we saw the embarrassing tandem of Chris Harris and Wendling take the field at times in 2011.

    Because of health concerns, it would not be surprising to see the Lions take a fifth safety into the season as insurance, but I'm not calling for it just yet.

    Wendling isn't much of a safety when his number is called in the defense, but he is an All-Pro-caliber special teamer, and that justifies his roster spot, but his presence on the roster further suggests the need for an extra safety.

Kicking Specialists

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    Ks, Ps on roster:

    Jason Hanson (K)

    Derek Dimke (K)

    Ryan Donahue (P)

    Ben Graham (P)

     

    Projected starters: Hanson (K), Donahue (P)

    Offseason additions: Dimke

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Jason Hanson (K)

    Ryan Donahue (P)

     

    First things first. If I must explain to you why Hanson makes the roster, you haven't been watching the Lions for the last 20 years.

    The punting battle is a little more complex. Donahue was doing fine before he went down for the season. In came Ben Graham, who didn't tend to kick the ball as high or as far, but who placed it perfectly and whose end-over-end delivery caused a fair number of muffs and favorable rolls.

    Because of his age and leg strength, Donahue has the edge in this battle, but it's one to keep an eye on. It would be a mistake to assume this isn't a battle at all. Graham has a reasonable shot at sticking around this year.

    It's worth noting here that Don Muhlbach, the Lions' long-time long snapper, is running unopposed for his roster spot. So he's in, too.

Return Specialists

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    KR/PRs on roster:

    Stefan Logan

    Titus Young

    Ryan Broyles

    Patrick Edwards

     

    Projected starters: Edwards (KR), Broyles (PR)

    Offseason additions: Broyles, Edwards

    Roster cuts: N/A

    Projected final roster:

    Ryan Broyles

    Patrick Edwards

    Titus Young

     

    To this point, only Logan, Broyles and Young have been put to task returning kicks, but Edwards has return ability in his toolbox and should get his chance soon enough.

    I wouldn't expect Young to get a very serious look as a kick returner, especially since he's having such a strong offseason as a receiver. The last thing the Lions want is to put him on kick returns and get him hurt. Most likely, he's getting a look as a reserve return man, and perhaps, just make sure he's not the next Devin Hester (but with receiving ability).

    Similarly, the Lions may not be excited about putting a guy on kickoff return duty who just recovered from ACL surgery, especially when he, too, is expected to play a major role in the offense, however eventually.

    So Broyles may be out of that running, but returning punts (which tend to be a little lower impact, since the ball doesn't travel as far or as fast, and neither does the coverage team) might still be viable for him.

    Edwards won't make the roster if he doesn't bring some kind of value to special teams, and kick returns seem the perfect place for him, given his stature and quickness.

    Of course, this is all assuming the Lions make these decisions based partially on who they're afraid of seeing injured. The Lions aren't really the type of team to do that, especially to the point of deciding kick returners vs. punt returners. I still have doubts that they want to use Young as a return man, though.

    The wild card here is Logan. I have long said that a mediocre return man is not worth a roster spot if he brings no value to the offense, and that was indeed Logan in 2011. But now, it seems he's taking reps with the running backs in camp, and actually playing quite well. So well, in fact, that Logan might actually become a viable part of the offense.

    If that continues throughout camp, Logan is very much on the team, and the Lions' primary return man for a third season, perhaps, at the expense of Edwards.