Tim and Mike see the starting outside linebacker spot as Ashlee Palmer's to lose

Posted Jul 24, 2013

While neither Tim Twentyman or Mike O'Hara believe Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead should be counted out, both believe Palmer is the front runner

A four-course offering is on the table as we look ahead to the Detroit Lions' first training camp practice Friday afternoon.

Three courses involve position battles – outside linebacker, right cornerback and right tackle on the offensive line. No. 4 is the conditioning test Thursday evening, and the ramifications for any player who doesn't pass it.

Just to load up for camp, we're adding dessert as the fifth and final course. It'll be food for thought.

Starting with outside linebacker, is the job Ashlee Palmer's to win or lose, and will he keep it?

Mike: My vote is for Palmer to keep it. He has an advantage over Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead. He started two games last season. The experience of playing with Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy gives him a big edge.

Palmer is only 27, so it's not like the Lions are trying to squeeze the last drop out of a veteran who's near the end of his career. If Palmer holds up, he can give the Lions good service for a few more seasons.

Tim: Some might not realize that Palmer is now entering his fourth season in the Lions' scheme.

He was the fourth linebacker last year behind Tulloch, Levy and Justin Durant and made two spot starts on the outside against Seattle and Jacksonville when Levy injured a hamstring. He started five games in the middle his first season with the Lions in 2010. The experience gives him the edge.

Don't count out Lewis or Whitehead, both players are physically gifted, but playing linebacker in the NFL is just as much about being a smart player and knowing where to be than it is being fast and strong. It's Palmer's spot to lose.

Veteran Chris Houston will fill one of the starting cornerback spots. Who fills the other?

Mike: It might be the most interesting competition of camp, and the most difficult to predict.

Among the young players, rookie Darius Slay should make a strong run. He was drafted in the second round for a reason. He's my candidate among the young players.

Bill Bentley, a third-round pick last year, was an early-season starter before going down for the year with a shoulder injury. Bentley has good feet and instincts but needs experience to develop consistency and confidence. One usually follows the other.

Chris Greenwood missed all of his rookie season with an injury. His size (6-1, 193) and athletic ability make him an intriguing prospect. Jonte Green, another rookie who got playing time, is in the mix somewhere but probably not as a starter.

And Ron Bartell is a veteran with size and experience who could start the opener.

The Lions finally have young depth at cornerback, and that should benefit them in filling the nickel and dime spots.

Tim: The Lions drafted Slay high in the second round in April for a reason. They love his combination of size (6-0, 192) and speed (4.36) and the way he attacks receivers and easily forgets mistakes. He's got a great chance to win the job and I think it's his to lose.

Bentley is probably his biggest competition. Bentley won the job out of training camp last year and would have been the guy all year if not for a shoulder injury that limited him to four games.

We shouldn't count out Bartell, but he'll really have to be good to win the spot.

My dark horse would be Greenwood. This spring, Bartell called Greenwood the most gifted player in the group.

The only problem is he missed all of training camp last year. That's when Greenwood was supposed to learn what the jump from Division III Albion to the NFL was all about. If he progresses quickly, it might be hard for the Lions to keep him off the field because of his physical talents.

That leads us to the offensive line and the right tackle spot. Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard will duke it out for Gosder Cherilus' old spot. Who wins?

Mike: That's just one of three positions on the line that will have new starters from last year. Riley Reiff is a lock at left tackle. Rookie Larry Warford might win the job at right guard, which leaves Fox and Hilliard in a fight at right tackle.

Jason Fox, Corey HilliardTackles Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard

It's too close to call a winner. No matter who starts on the offensive line, Matthew Stafford can't be the loser. The quarterback needs protection for any offense to function properly.

Is there a long-shot candidate anywhere on the offensive line?

Tim: This is probably the one competition in camp where the two players vying for one spot are very closely matched. Both Fox and Hilliard have a terrific chance to win it and both will be given equal reps and every opportunity to win the spot.

Fox might have a slight edge because he's a little bigger than Hilliard and was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 to be a starter one day.

In terms of long shots, I think Rodney Austin has a good shot to make this team. He was a practice squad player last year, but turned some heads towards the end of the year.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew even made it a point to bring him up to reporters over lunch at the NFL League Meetings. He'll be in the mix as a guard/center swing player.

LaAdrian Waddle could have a shot to make the team at tackle, but the competition for the right spot is really between Fox and Hilliard.

The Lions have a conditioning set test set for Thursday evening. What are the ramifications if a player doesn't pass?

Mike: Not including players who might be limited because of an injury, the ramifications for a healthy player who flunks the conditioning test are that he's starting camp in the crosshairs of the coaching staff. He's making himself a target, and all eyes will be on him.

Once again, this involves a healthy player, and there is no excuse for not being in shape. It's one thing a player can control.

Tim: Injuries aside, there's really no excuse a professional athlete should come to training camp not in shape to pass a conditioning test. Especially coming off a 4-12 season. There should be no complacency after a season like that.

A player who fails won't just be in the cross hairs of the coaches, but also the media and the fans. Sometimes, that can be just as bad.

So what's for desert?

Mike: In this case, it's whatever we want it to be. We've spent the whole offseason rehashing last year's 4-12 record, preparing for the draft and free agency and then analyzing it, and making some basic judgments from the offseason program.

We finally get some real action in training camp. Because of the rules, a lot of the contact has been taken out of training camp, so it isn't as physically demanding as it used to be. But there is real competition with jobs and careers on the line.

It's a seven-week period of building a roster, leading to the start of the regular season. It's really one of the highlights of the year.

Tim: It's a grind, but there are so many story lines, and so much to write about on a daily basis, it's kind of like being a kid in a candy store for a football beat writer.

There's hitting (though there's less of that than in years past), competition and tempers sometimes flare. It's football. The offseason serves its purpose, but it's time to play ball.