Alphonso Smith #27 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a touchdown after a second quarter interception.
Detroit Lions training camp officially begins today. The first practice is set for this afternoon, kicking off several intriguing position battles. There is a pretty good mix of battles for starting jobs and battles simply based on making the team. Here are five that you should especially keep an eye on during training camp and the preseason:
1. Battle for the second starting cornerback job
There wouldn't have really been much of a battle had Aaron Berry not been arrested again last weekend, which resulted in him being released on Monday. Berry was not a lock to win the starting cornerback job across from Chris Houston, but he was the favorite by a wide margin.
With Berry now out of the picture, the race for the only vacant starting job on either side of the ball is wide open. Guys like Jacob Lacey, Alphonso Smith, Bill Bentley and Jonte Green are all in the mix for the starting job, as are guys like Drew Coleman and Chris Greenwood (if he isn't on the PUP list for an extended period of time). It'll really come down to which cornerback emerges during training camp and the preseason, assuming the Lions don't make a major trade to fill this vacancy.
2. Riley Reiff vs. the starters at offensive tackle
Jim Schwartz admitted on Thursday that Riley Reiff will get some time at guard during training camp, but his primary position is tackle. There are no vacancies in the starting lineup at left or right tackle with Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus returning, but that doesn't mean they are both locks to remain in the starting lineup. It seems unlikely that Backus will surrender his starting job, but you never know what could happen during training camp.
Cherilus, on the other hand, is in definite jeopardy of losing his starting spot if Reiff has a good month of practice. Cherilus has been benched in the past over penalty problems, and his play in general has been inconsistent at times as well. It's no stretch to say that Reiff could emerge as the starting right tackle over the course of the next month, so Cherilus will have to step it up to stay at the top of the depth chart.
3. Battle for the fifth spot at wide receiver
This is a very intriguing battle because it will have a direct impact on special teams. If the Lions decide to keep a receiver like Patrick Edwards, it could mean that Stefan Logan is out as the Lions' returner. At the same time, if the Lions opt to go with Logan as the returner, then they may elect to fill this spot on the depth chart with a guy like Maurice Stovall, who earned a spot on the team last year thanks to his play on the special teams coverage units.
The top four at wide receiver is set, but this spot is wide open. In addition to Edwards and Stovall, the Lions also have Nate Hughes, Lance Long, Terrence Toliver, Jarett Dillard, Wallace Miles and Dominique Curry vying to make the team as the fifth wide receiver. (I consider Stefan Logan a running back, although he may be battling with receivers to make the team and continue to be the Lions' returner.) Considering the need for the fifth wide receiver to contribute on special teams, it will be interesting to see how this battle develops in the coming weeks.
In terms of overall impact on the team, this is a very minor, unimportant battle. However, the quarterback position is always worth keeping an eye on, especially in the preseason. The Lions lost Drew Stanton this offseason to free agency, creating a vacancy on the depth chart at quarterback. Initially, Kellen Moore seemed like the clear-cut favorite to fill that spot after he was signed as an undrafted free agent. However, the Lions decided to later sign R.J. Archer, who attended the team's rookie minicamp as a tryout player.
Although the Lions haven't gone into the regular season with only two quarterbacks before, that's a possible scenario this year if neither Moore nor Archer steps it up during training camp. That is another factor that makes this particular battle one worth watching. Not only are Moore and Archer going up against each other, but they're also battling to be in the top 53 on the roster in order to make the team. It would take a disaster at the top of the depth chart for either player to see the field in the regular season, but this is still a battle to keep an eye on nonetheless.
A year ago, Ryan Donahue went into training camp as a newly signed undrafted free agent. In a matter of weeks, he became entrenched in a battle for the starting punter job -- a battle that nobody even thought would exist before training camp began. Donahue performed so well during camp and the preseason that he pushed veteran Nick Harris out of a job, and this year he will once again have to outperform a veteran to make the 53-man roster.
The veteran Donahue is battling this year is Ben Graham, the man who ultimately became Donahue's replacement last season. When Donahue went out with an injury, the Lions ended up choosing Graham to be the starting punter for the remainder of the season. He did a pretty good job, and now the Lions have a battle set up for the starting punter job this year. Will the second-year player emerge again or will the veteran step it up and win the job? Training camp and the preseason will determine which punter will make the team and stick around for the regular season.
- Jahvid Best vs. Mikel Leshoure vs. Kevin Smith for the starting running back job
- Battle for the final spot on the defensive line (based on how many defensive linemen the Lions keep)
- Travis Lewis vs. Tahir Whitehead vs. Doug Hogue vs. Ashlee Palmer to be in the rotation at linebacker
- Erik Coleman vs. Sean Jones for a spot on the roster at safety