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Updating Detroit Lions' Key Position Battles in Training Camp

J.P. ScottSenior Analyst IJuly 21, 2016

Updating Detroit Lions' Key Position Battles in Training Camp

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    With one full preseason game out of the way, Detroit fans should have a little bit better of an idea as to how some key position battles are shaping up.

    We saw some guys distinguish themselves against a Cleveland squad looking for its own identity. Others looked good filling in for what are assumed to be regular-season starters.

    We should know much more following Friday night's matchup in Baltimore. 

    The Ravens have the talent on both sides of the ball to challenge the Lions and push them to the limits of their abilities. As a result, you can bet that some of the players involved in Detroit's key position battles will separate themselves from their competition.

    Here is an update on the Lions' key position battles following the first preseason game and heading into the second test of camp. 

Free Safety

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    This was not a position at the beginning of camp where anyone would have thought there was going to be any type of battle.

    That was until Louis Delmas underwent knee surgery.

    This situation is particularly troubling, given the time Delmas missed last season. It doesn't sound like he plans on missing much time this year, but we are starting to see a pattern where durability may become an issue.

    According to renowned scouting service Ourlads.com, Delmas' backup on the depth chart is listed as being Erik Coleman.

    That said, it was Sean Jones, who is capable of playing either safety position, who stood out against the Browns with nine total tackles.

    With no real timetable for Delmas' return, the Lions signed third-year veteran Reshard Langford the day after the Cleveland game.

    Suffice to say, it does not appear the Lions have had anyone distinguish themselves as a solid replacement for Delmas.

    Let's hope that changes on Friday night.

Cornerback

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    It looked like a three-man logjam in the battle to start opposite of Chris Houston at corner heading into the Cleveland game.

    As it turns out, it was Bill Bentley who separated himself in the game, as Alphonso Smith was simply serviceable and Jacob Lacey was M.I.A.

    Bentley had one pick and missed a second. Overall, for a rookie, he looked promising outside of getting beat deep once.

    I'd like to think he has the inside track on the job, but coach Jim Schwartz has remained critical of Bentley, going so far as to insinuate Bentley didn't put forth his best effort against the Browns.

    I have a pretty good idea that this is just a showing of tough love by Schwartz, intended to keep the young and talented rookie's head out of the clouds.

    Should he start and play relatively mistake-free ball against the Ravens, the starting job will likely be Bentley's.

No. 2 Wide Receiver

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    Some have been quick to assume that Titus Young will unseat veteran Nate Burleson at the No. 2 receiver spot opposite of Calvin Johnson in 2012.

    To borrow a quote from the great Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!"

    Young will eventually be the No. 2 guy in Detroit, but for now, his place is in the slot and returning kicks.

    You want a guy like Burleson on the field, someone who knows where he needs to be and has great field and clock awareness.

    You want a guy like Young wreaking havoc between the numbers, either streaking downfield or turning four-and-outs into 50-yard gains.

    Obviously the "old man" of the corps, Burleson still has the skills to be effective in the league, as evident in his ability to beat what should be a starting corner on his own team.

    The time will come for Titus Young to be the Robin to Megatron's Batman, it just won't be in 2012 unless Burleson goes down with a season-ending injury. 

Punter

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    Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham combined for seven total punts in the Cleveland game.

    Donahue bested Graham in average distance by two-tenths of a yard (38.7 vs. 38.5) as well as longest punt of the night (48 yards vs. 46 yards).

    That said, Graham was able to land one of his four tries inside the 20-yard line.

    Donahue would appear to have the upper hand, as he was the starter in 2011 before missing a good chunk of the season to a quad injury. That said, Graham did not disappoint as his replacement.

    This will continue to be an underrated, yet heated battle for the top spot. 

    We'll see if either of the two are able to separate themselves Friday night.

Running Back

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    All signs point to Kevin Smith being the man until Mikel Leshoure can return in Week 3.

    With doubts about Jahvid Best's status, it appears two other backs are making a solid push to tote the rock in what could end up being a committee-style running game for the first couple weeks of the season.

    Joique Bell and Keiland Williams accounted for the bulk of Detroit's 198 rushing yards against the Browns.

    Bell had 16 carries for 89 yards while Williams logged nine carries for 71 yards and a touchdown.

    That is optimal productivity if you're a Lions fan who is worried about the running back situation.

    The problem is, Cleveland is not exactly known to be stout against the run. Given that, the Ravens will be a much better barometer as to how this Detroit running game will function without its top two backs.

    With Smith's spot presumably safe, look for coach Jim Schwartz to again load up Bell and Williams with carries in an effort to get a larger sample size of what each is capable of.

Offensive Tackle

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    In a perfect world, rookie tackle Riley Reiff establishes himself as the best tackle on the roster and assumes his place protecting Matthew Stafford's blind side for the next decade.

    In Jeff Backus' world, he's still the man and Reiff is just the new guy.

    Sure, Reiff will more than likely be the starting left tackle one day, but unless something happens to Backus this season, it won't be in 2012.

    Reiff has been playing all over the line in camp, leaving open the possibility of beating out Gosder Cherilus at some point in the season for the right tackle spot.

    For now, he'll soak up as many reps as he can in the preseason, as he did with the second team against Cleveland while Backus and Cherilus assume the starting bookend roles.

    I would not be surprised to see Reiff get some serious first-team work Friday night against the Ravens. Head coach Jim Schwartz would surely relish the opportunity to get his young buck some reps against the likes of Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata, and whoever else Baltimore lines up in its vaunted front seven across from Detroit's offensive line.

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