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2016 Detroit Lions training camp battles: Who will win the backup quarterback job?

Will the Lions go with youth or experience to back up Matthew Stafford?

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For the first time in seven years, the Detroit Lions drafted a quarterback in the NFL Draft. Former Wolverine Jake Rudock was selected with the Lions’ first of three sixth-round picks. The move was hardly a surprise as general manager Bob Quinn teased a quarterback selection several times leading up to the draft.

However, before Rudock was selected, the Lions did their due diligence by re-signing Dan Orlovsky — the backup quarterback from 2015 — to a one-year deal. The Lions now face a conundrum: Which of these two quarterbacks do the Lion rely upon to back up starter Matthew Stafford? Do they choose the aging Orlovsky, who has a career completion percentage under 60 percent and a lowly 2-10 record as a starter? Or do the Lions go with Rudock, whose talent is still in question and his learning curve for the NFL appears to be steep?

The case for Orlovsky

By all means, Orlovsky is the safe pick to win the backup job. He has been with the team in both years under head coach Jim Caldwell, and even has experience with Caldwell back in 2011 when both were with the Indianapolis Colts.

Though Orlovsky’s play has left much to be desired, one thing is clear: he knows the system. When Orlovsky comes on the field the Lions can be sure that they have someone on the field who understands the offense and can run the gameplan with moderate success.

Putting Rudock one injury away from the starting position in his rookie year is a huge, unnecessary risk. Rudock was not considered a very high prospect and while he improved in his senior year at Michigan, his level of play was still not considered by most "NFL-ready" by the season’s end.

The case for Rudock

If Matthew Stafford goes down, the entire offense goes down with it. Dan Orlovsky has proven to be an inadequate backup quarterback, having notched just two wins in his 11-year career.

Why not move on already? Jake Rudock could use the experience, both in getting second-team reps in practice and gameday experience as part of the active roster. Rudock could really gain valuable experience going over plays on the sidelines with Stafford and learning in-game strategy. If Orlovsky is that guy, it only stunts Rudock’s development. The sooner the Lions can get Rudock into NFL-shape, the sooner the Lions can move on from Orlovsky for good and hope to have a backup quarterback they can rely on to keep the team competitive.

Who has the edge going into camp?

This job is absolutely Orlovsky’s to lose. By pretty much all media accounts, Rudock is way too far away for the Lions to rely on him as the primary backup. Even though he hasn’t shown it on the field, the Lions (and Caldwell) appear to be perfectly fine with Orlovsky holding the clipboard on gameday.

Of course, that narrative could completely change if Rudock heads into camp looking like a completely different quarterback. The Lions invested a draft pick in him, so they aren’t going to take cutting him lightly. If the former Michigan quarterback goes out and really impresses, Orlovsky could potentially be on the cutting block.

However, it would have to take a superhuman effort for Rudock for that to happen. It would just be too risky of a move for the Lions to rely on the youngster over the experienced Orlovsky. While it’s unlikely Rudock could win the backup job in camp, he could convince the Lions staff to keep a third quarterback on the roster and prevent himself from spending the year on a practice squad.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.