With training camp officially over for the Detroit Lions, it’s time to take a look at where the team is in terms of their training camp battles. A lot has happened over the past three weeks and players have seen their stock both shoot up and plummet to unforeseen lows. There’s still a lot of football to be played before the Lions have to cut their roster down to 53 men, but let’s see where the team stands now.
Camp battle: Jake Rudock vs. A roster spot
As Jim Caldwell said after Tuesday’s practice: “He’s got a long way to go, but you can see that he’s coming along.” Rudock will not be the team’s backup in 2016; he’s just too far away from learning the offense to really challenge Dan Orlovsky. While Rudock had a great game statistically in his preseason opener, he was not given much to do:
Rudock threw 11 passes in his debut. Only 1 traveled 5 yards beyond of the line of scrimmage (incomplete). 4 were behind the LOS.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) August 14, 2016
Rudock did a great job handling what the Lions coaches gave him, and that bodes well for his chances to make the final roster as the team’s No. 3 quarterback. But don’t read anything else into his performance against the Steelers: he’s just not part of the team’s backup plan this year.
Leader right now: Only two quarterbacks on the roster. While Rudock played well in his debut, he’ll need to show he can handle more than dump-offs and screens. At this point, Rudock looks like a firm practice squad candidate.
Camp battle: No. 2 rushing running back
While Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick have their roles on the team on lock, Detroit is still searching for the back that will take over Joique Bell’s role with the team. Riddick has not proven his value as a runner and played poorly when given the ball to be a rusher in the game against the Steelers.
That leaves an intense battle between Zach Zenner, Stevan Ridley and George Winn to occupy that role. While two of those three are likely to make the team — unless Dwayne Washington continues to impress — the Lions would probably prefer that one of the three takes over as the secondary rusher while the other takes on more of a special teams role.
Zenner impressed again during the preseason opener and was the first of the three to enter the game against Pittsburgh. Ridley, on the other hand, seems to be heading in the opposite direction. He didn’t enter the first preseason game until midway into the second half and he didn’t do all that much to impress. George Winn was quiet, too, but he has proven over the long term to have the most special teams value.
Leader right now: Zach Zenner, then Stevan Ridley. Winn still looks like the odd man out, but Ridley has not done himself any favors lately.
Camp battle: Backup slot position: Jeremy Kerley vs. TJ Jones vs. Andre Roberts vs. Jace Billingsley
TJ Jones was the assumed lock at this position as the Lions’ fourth receiver on the roster, but the former sixth-round pick has strung together a bad week. He was virtually invisible during the Lions’ opening preseason game despite seeing nearly a third of offensive snaps.
Jeremy Kerley had an up-and-down preseason debut, first dropping a beautifully thrown ball from Orlovsky, but eventually leading the team with five catches. He picked up 36 yards receiving, including an impressive 13-yard pickup on a key third-and-11.
Andre Roberts also shined in the first preseason game. Although he too dropped a pass, he ended up hauling in the most passing yards — 57 — and was one of two receivers to reach the end zone. Additionally, he showed great special teams value with a couple of nice kick returns.
Finally, there’s Jace Billingsley. Billingsley remains a long shot to make the roster, but he also deserves serious consideration after his preseason debut. Not only did Billingsley show the kind of speed and agility that would be valuable in the slot position, but he was also the team’s best punt returner of the day, taking two punts back for a collective 41 yards.
Leader right now: I still think it’s TJ Jones’ job to lose, but the position is truly up for grabs right now.
Camp battle: No. 5 receiver: Jay Lee vs. Quinshad Davis
This is a trick battle because the Lions could end up selecting two players from the above camp battle and leaving both of these players behind. Still, Jay Lee was coming into the first preseason game with a lot of hype. Unfortunately for him, he did not match it in his game against Pittsburgh. Lee played 22 snaps and failed to tally a single target over that time.
Quinshad Davis, on the other hand, not only saw more time on the field — 30 snaps — but he made the most of them. Davis had two receptions for 14 yards, not including a nice catch on a two-point conversion slant.
But Davis has not just impressed in the preseason, he’s also turning heads at camp. So much so that beat writers are putting him ahead of Lee in their roster predictions.
Leader right now: Quinshad Davis. I know we tend to overreact to one preseason game, but Davis has been quietly impressing throughout camp. This guy is for real.
Camp battle: Anyone not named Eric Ebron who can contribute: Cole Wick vs. Matthew Mulligan vs. Andrew Quarless
The Lions are desperate for someone who can play tight end while Eric Ebron continues to heal from his ankle injury. Cole Wick was the leading candidate after standing out in practice day after day. The Cole Wick hype train pumped the brakes a little after a disappointing game against the Steelers, but he still appears to be the player with the most receiving skills at the position.
Matthew Mulligan has been labeled as the team’s best blocking tight end since camp opened. He had mixed results in the preseason, but he’s still the most experienced guy at the position, and that means something.
However, Andrew Quarless is the wild card in this camp battle. The Lions — rightfully so — were under a lot of heat for this signing on Monday. Quarless is facing a two-game suspension for a gun-related incident, which puts into question general manager Bob Quinn’s conviction on his zero-tolerance stance on gun crimes. Considering Quinn and the staff decided to sign this guy despite his off-the-field issue shows that Quarless has a good chance to make this team. We’ll see how he performs in his first preseason game with the team.
Leader right now: The Lions are likely to keep two of these players on the team. Cole Wick seems the most safe since he brings his receiving skills. Mulligan may be in trouble after suffering an injury this week, which opens up the opportunity for Quarless. Right now, I have Wick and Quarless in, Mulligan out.
Camp battle: Backups: Michael Ola vs. Cornelius Lucas vs. Corey Robinson
Michael Ola was the assumed No. 1 backup to Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff, but he suffered an injury of unknown severity in Monday’s practice. If it is a short-term injury, Ola is nearly a lock to win the backup role. If it’s more serious, this opens up the opportunity for others to step up.
The others in this equation are Cornelius Lucas and Corey Robinson. Lucas has a good amount of experience in the right tackle position with the team, but it hasn’t exactly been positive experience. Robinson brings a little more potential, as the second-year tackle is still an unknown commodity.
Leader right now: Michael Ola. As long as he’s healthy, he’s the guy. The question is whether the Lions will keep another tackle, or decide to keep interior guards who can also backup the tackles in an emergency — see: Geoff Schwartz. If the Lions are planning on keeping another pure tackle, I’d give the slight edge to Robinson.
Camp battle: Fourth guard or not? Geoff Schwartz vs. Joe Dahl vs. Both
Both Geoff Schwartz and Joe Dahl bring versatility as guys who can play both guard and tackle. Schwartz has years of starting experience at both positions, but has failed to stick out in camp or the preseason. Dahl, on the other hand, brings youth and promise. Dahl had his growing pains in the preseason opener, but he settled in nicely and reportedly has developed nice chemistry with second-string center Graham Glasgow.
Leader right now: Both. For an offensive line bereft of any veteran experience, I think Schwartz is a necessary commodity for the offensive line. Similarly, I think Dahl has already shown enough that he’s worthy of a roster spot. The Lions’ starting guards, Larry Warford and Laken Tomlinson, have been very shaky as starters, so keeping an extra body at guard would be an easily rationalized decision.
Camp battle: Backup center: Graham Glasgow vs. Gabe Ikard
For now, Travis Swanson continues to have the starting job on lock. A lot can change as players grow more comfortable with their roles, but right now this isn’t a discussion.
However, Graham Glasgow and Gabe Ikard could very well be fighting for a roster spot as the team’s backup center. Ikard entered training camp with a distinct advantage over Glasgow. Ikard was receiving both first and second-team snaps. But as of a few practices ago, Glasgow has taken over the second-team offense with Ikard falling all the way to the third team.
Leader right now: Glasgow by a mile. Not only does it appear Glasgow has already jumped Ikard on the depth chart — again, not officially — but with the third-round investment the Lions placed on Glasgow, it’s only a matter of time before he starts challenging Swanson for the starting job. Ikard’s best chance to make the roster is to convince the team he can be a versatile backup at other positions along the line.