Detroit Lions Players Facing Make-or-Break Training Camps
Training camp is often the last thing an NFL player sees in his career.
After weeks of early mornings, two-a-day practices, playbook study sessions and preseason games, 37 players will be purged from the Detroit Lions roster. The 90-man training-camp roster will be pared down to the 53-man regular-season roster, and some of those 37 players will have experienced their final moments on an NFL squad.
Of course, undrafted rookies are faced with this reality every single year. They at least have the solace of making it on to practice squads.
For these players, there is no such safety net. They have played for long enough now that the practice squad is no longer an option, and the issue of "upside" is nowhere near as enticing as it once was. Now the only options for these guys are to play well enough to earn a roster spot or go home and wait for a phone call from a different team.
These players can all absolutely play well enough to make the roster, but they're facing competition, and what they do in the month of August will largely determine whether they're even able to do more in September.
Amari Spievey, S
It is fitting that perhaps the most memorable image of Amari Spievey in a Lions uniform is this one, in which he receives what might be described as a "good talkin' to" by head coach Jim Schwartz.
Spievey is a player whose career has been marred by excuses. The Lions switched his position from corner to safety in his first year, so a lack of production was blamed on the learning curve. Shortly thereafter, it was injury.
Spievey has had no trouble sticking to the roster because he was highly drafted (third round, 66th overall) and shows flashes of talent, and more importantly because the Lions have been barren in terms of safety depth.
Now the Lions have Louis Delmas, Glover Quin and Don Carey, all of whom are worth first-string consideration. Behind them are Spievey, veteran Chris Hope, former practice-squad man Ricardo Silva, and special teamer John Wendling.
The odds of the Lions taking six safeties is roughly zero, so Spievey is going to finally have to put it all together, because he will probably need to beat out at least two other safety prospects to keep his career alive in Detroit.
Ricardo Silva, S
Ricardo Silva's situation is much like Amari Spievey's, except that Silva was never actually drafted.
Still, Silva and Spievey are both in competition for a roster spot (with each other, no less), because both have stuck to the roster because of a lack of depth, and now the team has quality depth.
Silva and Spievey both have huge amounts of potential, but the thing about potential is that it's all projected. Many players never reach theirs, never get as good as they could.
Silva may be one of those guys. He's quick and a decent tackler but lacks high-end speed, an area that he is reportedly working on, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
If Silva can make progress in that area, he has a shot at sticking around. Still, he has to be considered a longshot for the position, given the depth at safety.
Dylan Gandy, G/C
You'll notice a trend with many of these players: they've been on the roster because of a lack of depth, and now they're in danger because the team has depth.
Dylan Gandy earned a roster spot as a reserve last season almost by default. He's a decent player, but the Lions hadn't made any attempts to infuse talent into the interior line, so on Gandy went.
Now Gandy is facing competition from rookie Larry Warford, second-year practice-squad player Rodney Austin, and former Dallas Cowboys starter Bill Nagy.
Gandy has more than five years of seniority over each of those guys, but they all show almost equal amounts of overall ability. The only question is whether the 31-year-old Gandy can leverage his extensive experience to overcome a wave of youth on the line's interior.
Gandy's entire career has been as a backup, and if he can't earn his roster spot this year, it's hard to say whether he ever will again.
Ron Bartell, CB
Ron Bartell made it to the Lions last season after being cut by one of the only teams worse than Detroit in 2012: the Oakland Raiders.
That's a bad start already, but he played well enough for the Lions to earn consideration in training camp this year.
Of course, there's a big difference between this year and last. Bartell played in 2012 because Chris Greenwood and Bill Bentley were injured, and Darius Slay wasn't yet on the team. The cornerback position was completely barren.
Now, Greenwood and Bentley are back, and Slay is also ready to compete for a starting position. On top of that, even Jonte Green should be a tough competitor after gaining a year of experience (and taking some tough rookie knocks in the process).
There may not be enough depth on the roster to knock Bartell off it entirely, but it's hard to say. Did he earn playing time last year because of his own talent, or a lack thereof on the roster? If it's the latter, the veteran may have a tough time sticking around this year.
Kellen Moore, QB
In 2012, Kellen Moore's only real competition was the possibility of the Lions only carrying two quarterbacks on the roster.
In 2013, he still has that to worry about, but he also faces a player who has something he doesn't: actual NFL game experience. Thaddeus Lewis started the final game of the season for the Cleveland Browns in 2012, and with modestly promising results (22-of-32, 204 yards, one touchdown, one interception).
Lewis isn't exactly a once-in-a-generation talent, but he can obviously play a little bit of football. Moore was a long shot to make the roster in 2012, and he likely only did so to give the Lions an "emergency backup" while they wait for him to develop.
Moore was never activated for a game in 2012, so you have to assume that unless he has shown considerable development in his first year in the NFL, the Lions may be ready to move on from him.
If the Lions weren't looking to push Moore, they would never have signed Lewis in the first place.
Jason Fox, OT
Jason Fox has been sort of stashed away on the roster for a few years now.
Never really seeing the field because of some combination of injuries and team depth, Fox has just hung around, patiently waiting for his chance to shine.
Now, with the departure of both starters at tackle (Gosder Cherilus to free agency and Jeff Backus to retirement), Fox has his moment. It has been three years on the roster for Fox, and with relatively little contribution, but the Lions have obviously kept him around for a reason.
That being said, Fox is in Detroit on a one-year restricted free-agent tender. It's very unlikely that he'd be cut if he doesn't beat out Corey Hilliard for the starting right tackle job, but it is likely that this will be his last season in Detroit if that happens.
The fact is, Hilliard is a solid player but not terribly impressive. If Fox doesn't outperform him now that he has the chance (or worse, if his dreaded injury woes return), it will probably mean it's time to move on. The Lions didn't wait this long on Fox just so he could lose out to a career backup.