The 2012 Detroit Lions have played themselves out of playoff contention, but the season is not over and there are crucial roles that need to be filled over the season's last six weeks. In some cases, there are injuries to veterans and young players who have to step into those roles.
It remains to be seen to what extent the Lions will go in looking at their younger players, but this is a team out of the playoffs. The Lions must prepare for the 2013 NFL draft and free agency by evaluating what they have on their roster. These are effectively six weeks of tryouts.
Let's look at the Lions who will play crucial roles over the remaining weeks of the 2012 season.
Detroit Lions starting offensive tackle Jeff Backus injured his left hamstring in the second quarter of the Week 11 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Backus has been remarkably durable, as he has not missed a game in his 12-year career. The hamstring issue might keep him out for some time.
If the injury to Backus is severe enough for him to miss games, the Lions will go to rookie, and first-round draft pick Riley Reiff to play left tackle. Reiff is an athletic, powerful run blocker who will have to step into the role of protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford's blind side.
The development of Reiff is crucial to the Lions' future, but his injection into the starting lineup will be an interesting area to watch over the remainder of the season. Even when Backus returns, it would make sense for the Lions to get Reiff as much playing time as possible, as he is the future of the position for the Lions.
The Lions are tired of the behavior of second-year wide receiver Titus Young's behavior. Per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions have deactivated him for the Week 12 game against the Houston Texans.
Birkett reported that Young lined up in the wrong position at least twice. He also got into an altercation with wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.
Schwartz talked about why the decision was made.
"It's disappointing because this is ground that we've already covered and I thought we would be past this, but we haven't been," Schwartz said. "His behavior on Sunday was unacceptable and it hurt the team, particularly on offense, and it was a distraction and we're going to eliminate that distraction particularly this week."
Titus Young is on a short leash, and there are signals that are alarming. The Lions spent a second-round pick on wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who looks to be the opposite of Young in many ways. In recent weeks, the Lions made a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire Mike Thomas, a veteran wide receiver.
Both moves confused some of those covering the team, but with the news breaking about young, they make sense. This situation bears watching, as Young’s future with this team could get decided over the next six weeks.
The Lions and defensive end Cliff Avril could not come to terms on a long-term deal in the 2012 offseason. Avril is currently playing on a franchise tag and is making $10.6 million for the 2012 season.
The Lions are going to have to decide what they are going to do regarding Avril in the next few months. Are they going to bring him back into the fold for the 2013 season and beyond? It will certainly be a costly move, as Avril is looking for big money, and he might get it from another team.
Through 10 games, Avril is not performing to his 2011 level. He has five-and-a-half sacks to go with 24 total tackles, and that isn’t enough to warrant the huge payday that Avril is looking for. This is another interesting area to watch, as the Avril situation will get determined by his play over the remainder of the season.
The Detroit Lions selected Ryan Broyles in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. The selection caused widespread confusion, as most considered the pick a waste of a pick because the Lions had multiple weapons at the position already.
Broyles is the NCAA all-time reception leader and a very capable player recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in November of 2011. He is an extremely good player, but he is going to get thrown to the wolves with Young being deactivated.
The Lions will line up Broyles in the slot, and he will see a lot more minutes going forward. It will be interesting to see what Broyles can do and how he performs on the field to end his rookie season.
Detroit Lions starting safety Louis Delmas has an enormously positive effect on the defense when he plays. That is the problem, because he is constantly injured and the instability at the position hurts the Lions.
Delmas will return to the lineup soon and his impact will be great, like it always is. However, the Lions have to find a way to keep him healthy and playing, as they are a much better defense when he is on the field. To this point, he has been too injury prone, and he can’t realistically be counted on going forward.
It’s another area of concern, and another position that needs to be evaluated as the Lions move through the rest of their regular season and into the offseason.