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Spring is the season for optimism. Several young players have sprung up impressively in this offseason so far.
The third-year linebacker from Temple hasn't made much of an impact in his first two NFL seasons. Other than his award-winning special teams work, Whitehead has not been on the field during the regular season yet.
That appears as if it could change. Whitehead got some first-team reps at middle linebacker, a departure from his outside position under former coach Jim Schwartz.
From that linked piece on the Lions' official website, Twentyman quotes Coach Caldwell talking up Whitehead:
“He’s got punch and can run. Certainly, he can direct traffic in there. He’s got a real good feel for things. He’s a good football player. You see him close ground out there on the field. The guy can make plays. Obviously, Tully’s (Tulloch) a little bit bigger than he is in terms of weight and girth, not in terms of height. Nevertheless, I still think that he can function in there.”
At minimum, Whitehead has solidified his grasp on a roster spot. He could wind up being the fourth linebacker, as fellow reserves Ashlee Palmer, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford and Cory Greenwood should only strike fear in the hearts of Lions faithful, not other teams' fanbases.
The wide receiver and return specialist already has one outstanding performance in the books for the Lions. He starred against the team that cut him, the Green Bay Packers, in Detroit's Thanksgiving massacre of its NFC North rivals.
He's building upon that one shining moment this spring. I recently detailed his strong workout season here.
If the season started today, Ross would likely be the third receiver. That's a role that isn't as meaty as in years past with the strength at tight end and diversity of Lombardi's offense, but an important role still.
The second-year running back has also garnered all sorts of buzz for his spring football.
As Kyle Meinke of MLive reported, Coach Caldwell has been impressed with his fine offseason:
He's eager, he's hungry, he's tough, he can run. He's a very, very fine route-runner. He can catch the ball. He's had a real fine spring, so I hope he continues to develop. We think he will.
With the third running back seeing an increased role in the offense, Riddick could very well break out in his second season in Motown. Given that Reggie Bush has been hampered with minor injuries here and there throughout his career, Riddick's relative skill redundancy with Bush makes him even more of an asset.
Of course, it's worth noting a quote from the late Chuck Daly. The Detroit Pistons icon once famously said, "A pessimist is an optimist with experience."
Blossoms from springs past—Patrick Edwards last year is a good example—often wilt in the heat of summer, as the intensity of competition warms up as well. Even so, it's still nice to think that at least one of these spring studs can carry over the impressive play into the regular season.
All salary cap info is from Spotrac unless otherwise indicated.
You can ask Jeff questions for this Friday's mailbag segment in the comment section.