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
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.
Mike: It might be the most interesting competition of camp, and the most difficult to predict.
Among the young players, rookie
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.
Mike: That's just one of three positions on the line that will have new starters from last year.
It's too close to call a winner. No matter who starts on the offensive line,
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
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.
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.