Bubble Watch for Detroit Lions' Training Camp
The most compelling thing in any NFL training camp isn't seeing the starters, the coaches or the highly-drafted rookies.
The most compelling thing is the players who may be in their final month of being Detroit Lions. These players are on the bubble, fighting for their careers (or at least their careers in Detroit), trying to avoid "the Turk" on a daily basis.
Some of them will grow to be impact players. Some will be asked to bring their playbooks to the coach's office. After that, some will find new teams, and some will never see an NFL field again.
But regardless of what their future holds, every one of these players is going to be a subject of interest and intrigue throughout the training camp and preseason period, as they fight to sustain their NFL lives.
For many players, the preseason is just a time to get warmed up and get prepared for the regular season. For these guys, it's their only chance to ensure they get to the regular season.
Kellen Moore, QB
The only thing Kellen Moore did to secure a roster spot in 2012 was be slightly better than an unheralded training camp invite from the Arena League.
The Lions wanted three quarterbacks, especially with Matthew Stafford's injury history forcing them to go to their third quarterback in recent years. Moore was the third-best quarterback with relatively little competition, so he got a roster spot and some time to figure things out.
Now he has former Browns quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to contend with. While Lewis isn't exactly the stiffest competition the Lions could have mustered, he does have a lot of things Moore doesn't, not the least of which are NFL experience and arm strength.
In this sense, I suppose Lewis is also "on the bubble," so to speak. The Lions might not even take three quarterbacks on the roster, much less four. Both quarterbacks will need to show that they can be effective in the short term and can grow in the long term.
Luckily for them, with Shaun Hill reportedly recovering from a foot injury, as reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, they'll have some extra reps to show off.
Amari Spievey, CB
It has been an interesting ride for Amari Spievey, but it is abundantly clear that the Lions are no longer looking at him as a starting option.
Spievey got more benefit of the doubt than most former third-round picks would have, primarily because the Lions drafted him as a corner and immediately moved him to safety. Essentially, they drafted a safety with zero experience at the position.
So Spievey got a pass as he learned his position. Then he got a pass because of injuries and injuries to Louis Delmas throwing him off. He's gotten a lot of passes, and they've most likely run out at this point.
If the Lions were still believers in Spievey, the safety position would look a lot different. They wouldn't have spent money to bring in veteran safeties Glover Quin and (more recently) Chris Hope. Don Carey wouldn't be taking first-team reps as Louis Delmas continues to recover from his knee problems.
Spievey isn't on his way out yet, as long as he can move past the issues that have plagued him to this point in his career. The Lions are still in need of depth at safety, but he's now in direct competition with Hope, Carey and Ricardo Silva, and he may need to beat at least two of them to make the roster, even as a reserve.
Kris Durham, WR
Kris Durham is an interesting case.
A young player entering his third year in the league, Durham was Matthew Stafford's roommate at the University of Georgia and was a fourth-round pick for the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, cut after just one season.
The Lions picked Durham up late last season after Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Titus Young were all deactivated for the season. Basically, he was signed into the Lions' No. 2 receiver role and started playing with almost no adjustment period.
In his first game as a Lion, he did what you see in the attached video clip, as if to say, "hey, I actually have some talent, you know." Of course, that was one of only eight receptions for Durham in the Lions' final four games of the season, but he joined the team midseason, so it would have been too much to expect instant stardom out of him.
It will be interesting to see how much Durham benefits from an offseason with the Lions. At 6'6" and with decent straight-line speed, he's an intriguing player for a Lions team desperate to couple a downfield threat with Calvin Johnson. He has the benefit of working with the team in the regular season last year, which should give him a jump start over the rookies.
If Durham shows progression from last year during training camp, he could potentially become a big part of the Lions offense. If he doesn't, he likely won't even be part of the team.
Every Kicking Specialist
There are going to be battles in Lions training camp for every football position that actually involves a foot.
David Akers and Håvard Rugland will battle it out for placekicking duties, while Sam Martin and Blake Clingan will fight for punting duties.
The only specialist not fearing for his job is Pro Bowl long-snapper Don Muhlbach, who has been with the Lions for nearly a decade and is at the very peak of his admittedly esoteric craft.
The thing about kicking positions in the NFL is that unless your team is run by a raving lunatic, it only needs one kicker and one punter.
Doing the math, if the Lions have two kickers, two punters, and one spot for each, that means all four players are on the bubble. The Lions will have two starters, and two roster casualties.
The best part about these battles is that they're wide open. None of the four players have any history with the Lions, and the Lions will be most invested in Martin, whom they selected with a fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Akers would seem to have an edge over Rugland simply because of his NFL experience, but Akers is currently recovering from a nagging groin injury, and Rugland used the opportunity to kick his way into the battle in minicamps, according to Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
Kicking isn't generally an exciting thing, particularly in training camp, but there are plenty of interesting characters and storylines to pay attention to in the Lions' special teams unit this year.
Brandon Hepburn, LB
The only one of the Lions' 2013 draft picks likely in danger to miss the roster (maybe also sixth-round pick, WR Corey Fuller, but not enough to warrant discussion here) is their last pick, seventh-round compensatory pick Brandon Hepburn.
Largely, this is a function of roster space. Most likely, the Lions won't take more than six linebackers into the regular season, and five are all but set in stone.
Starters Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy are obviously in no danger of being cut from the roster. Tahir Whitehead, Ashlee Palmer and Travis Lewis are all in contention for the third starting spot, so the two of them that lose out will just become valuable reserves and special teamers.
That leaves Hepburn, Carmen Messina (a practice squad player who had a big 2012 preseason) and anyone else the Lions decide to invite to camp, all vying for a single linebacker spot.
The best thing Hepburn can do to help ensure his spot on the roster is brush up on his special teams coverage skills. If he makes the roster, that's likely all he'll be up to anyway.
Dylan Gandy, G/C
Dylan Gandy seems to be a perennial backup for the Lions, and sometimes it seems no amount of youth will supplant him from there.
Of course, the Lions haven't generally made a habit of adding a lot of talented youth to the interior line.
The Lions have finally invested a bit into their interior line in the last year, and players like Larry Warford, Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin could represent the talent the Lions have needed to push the decent-but-not-great Gandy off the roster.
That said, Gandy is nothing if not dependable, and he might stick around for that reason alone. Warford is a rookie, Nagy is battling a foot injury, and Austin' capabilities last season were just good enough for the practice squad. None of them exactly represent a model of consistency.
Gandy does, but he is average in nearly every respect, and is 31 years old. The Lions have to pick between proven consistency and upside here.
Patrick Edwards, WR
To hear receiver Nate Burleson tell it, as reported by Anwar Richardson of MLive.com, Patrick Edwards is the next big thing in Detroit.
Edwards, for those who forgot, was an undrafted player out of Houston last season who looked great in camp, stumbled a bit in the preseason and wound up on the practice squad.
Late in the 2012 season, when the Lions were decimated by injury, it could have been a perfect time to bring Edwards up, but he was out with a hamstring injury.
Now he's back healthy, and according to Burleson, is "playing helluva ball right now."
Burleson goes on to compare Edwards' skill set to that of former Lions receiver Titus Young, and so far there are no signs of similar mental issues.
The key for Edwards will be doing the two things he didn't do last season: playing well in preseason games and staying healthy. If he can do those two things while maintaining his current level of play, earning a roster spot might be the least of his 2013 accomplishments.