10 Questions with Twentyman: What are the prime position battles heading into training camp?

Posted Jun 6, 2013

Lions' lead writer Tim Twentyman took to Twitter to answer 10 questions, including which position battle is most intriguing and how many cornerbacks will be on the roster Week 1

Each and every Thursday this offseason, I'll try and answer questions on the minds of Lions fans via my Twitter account @ttwentyman.

I receive a number of great questions throughout the week and it's about time I start addressing them on a regular basis. Feel free to disagree.

Here are 10 for this week:

Q. One position group that needs to step-up for this season to be successful (playoff appearance). Jeremy Stone (@sloney4)

20man: I'll address the offensive line in a later question, so I'm going to go with the defensive end group.

The Lions watched their sack total dip down to 34 last year, which ranked 20th in the NFL. It was the second consecutive year the total dropped from a high of 44 (ranked sixth) in 2010.

Not one defensive end reached double-digit sacks last season, which, quite frankly, shouldn't happen playing alongside defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Ziggy Ansah DE Ziggy Ansah

I think another aspect missing from the defense last year, particularly from the defensive end group, were the strip-sacks, forced fumbles and turnovers. The Lions got a grand total of two forced fumbles -- both by Cliff Avril -- from the position last year.

In 2011, when they won 10 games and made the playoffs, that number was 10.

The Lions need more sacks, more forced fumbles and more disruption from the position. It's a big reason they overhauled the group this offseason with the additions of Jason Jones, Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah and Devin Taylor.

They're trying to get bigger and more athletic on the edges so they can make more plays.

Q. Is a patchwork o-line going to be our downfall this year? Jim Park (@Park_17)

20man: Well, Jim, I think a lot is riding on that group to be good this year. I think it's the biggest question mark remaining for this team, but I don't know that I would really call it patchwork.

Riley Reiff was drafted with the intention that he would take over the left tackle spot when Jeff Backus called it quits. That's gone according to plan.

On the right side, Jason Fox was drafted in 2010 with the idea that he'd be a starter in this league someday. The Lions thought they stole him in the fourth round of that draft. Injuries derailed his first two seasons, but they've always envisioned him competing for a starting spot.

The team drafted Larry Warford in April with the intention that he could start Week 1. He'll have plenty of competition for that spot, but everything they've done in terms of assembling this offensive line has really been according to plan.

We'll find out this year if the plan was a good one.

Q. How much $ do the lions have left to spend and what do you see us doing with it? Veteran LB maybe? Scooter (@scootergarson)

20man: By last count, the Lions are a little less than $2 million under the cap.

We should remember, though, the cap is always fluid and president Tom Lewand can always find the room he might need with a release or a simple restructure or a number of other ways that I wouldn't even want to venture to guess without a law degree.

I think the Lions are okay at linebacker, but they could use a No. 4 defensive tackle – preferably a veteran.

The team hosted veteran free agent Sedrick Ellis this week and Corey Williams remains a free agent.

Suh, Fairley and C.J. Mosley are a very good No. 1, 2 and 3, but Fairley has yet to play a full season, and the Lions like to rotate those guys in quite frequently.

Maybe Ogemdi Nwagbuo or Jimmy Saddler-McQueen is the answer for that spot, but I expect one more body to be added to the mix before training camp. That could be where some of that space goes.

Q. In the coming year how much of a role will @ReggieBush play in the offense? Joshua Drama (@javensel)

20man: The Lions didn't make him a Day 1 priority in free agency for nothing. He's going to play a big role.

If he stays healthy, my guess is he leads the team in carries in 2013 and probably catches around 70 passes.

As a rookie in 2010, Jahvid Best ran 171 times and caught 58 passes. He was dealing with turf toe all season.

I'll go out on a limb and say Bush gets around 165 carries and catches 71 passes.

Q. How many cornerbacks make the Lions roster? Butch Anderson (@B22A)

20man: Heading into Week 1 last year vs. St. Louis, the Lions had six cornerbacks (Chris Houston, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green, Jacob Lacey, Kevin Barnes and Drayton Florence) on the 53-man roster and Chris Greenwood was on PUP.

Given the frequency of injury at the position, and the added depth the Lions have this year, I think six is a good number to start with.

I think the top six right now are Houston, Darius Slay, Ron Bartell, Bentley, Green and Greenwood, but we have a long training camp yet to go to ultimately figure that out.

Q. Do you think the Lions are set at WR or do they add a veteran to compete for the #2 spot? Mr_Lance W. (@DubbNation17)

20man: With Nate Burleson expected to be back to full 100 percent status for the start of training camp, the emergence of Patrick Edwards and the drafting of Corey Fuller, I'd guess the Lions don't make a big splash at the position.

As we saw Tuesday, with the addition of receiver Matt Willis, the Lions will continue to tinker with the position leading into camp, but I think between Burleson, Edwards, Ryan Broyles and Fuller, one of those will emerge to take the spot.

Q. Tim, other than returners, what should be the biggest battle for a starting position on either side of the ball? Motowncool (@Motowncool)

20man: I think the top four right now are right guard, right tackle, outside linebacker and the right cornerback spot.

How the right guard spot shakes out will be very interesting after the recent additions of Leroy Harris and Jake Scott.

I think Sims is still the left guard (though nothing seems guaranteed these days) and Harris, Scott, Larry Warford, Rodney Austin, Bill Nagy, Dylan Gandy and Derek Hardman are all fighting for that right spot. It'll be fun to see how that shakes out. Can the rookie (Warford) win the spot?

We'll see a good competition between Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis for that third linebacker spot alongside Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. Don't discount Lewis from very much being in the mix there, either.

Ashlee Palmer LB Ashlee Palmer

Does Darius Slay beat out veteran Ron Bartell or second-year player Bill Bentley for the right cornerback spot? I think they'll give Slay every opportunity to win the job, but it should be a great competition.

Q. How much better is the defense this year? Can it carry us to the playoffs? Steve Blake (@steve_blake35)

20man: This defense is bigger, faster and stronger, but that's about all we know until the pads come on and the hitting starts.

On paper, it looks to be a much-improved unit. The biggest addition, in my opinion, was safety Glover Quin. He's a difference maker in the backend and I think it's very unlikely we'll see 13 passing plays of 40-plus yards put up against the defense this year with him patrolling back there.

The biggest question mark is the defensive end position. Will Jason Jones and Ezekiel Ansah provide more of a spark than Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch did last year? That's a big key.

I think the defense will be better, but how far the Lions will go (i.e. the playoffs) will depend more on the right arm of quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Q. With the acquisition of Thaddeus Lewis, do you see him as a possible future #2 QB after Hill hangs them up? Lion Fanatic (@RoarOfMotown)

20man: I don't think we can even begin to talk about that until we see him in training camp or the preseason.

Let's not forget the Lions made Kellen Moore a priority free agent after the draft last year and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan like him.

The advantage Lewis has over Moore is that he's a little bigger (6-2, 200), has a stronger arm and has NFL game experience after starting the last game of the season for the Browns last year (22-of-32 passing for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception).

Moore knows the Lions system though, and is a very accurate quarterback.

Let's also not push Shaun Hill into retirement just yet. He's just turned 33 and probably has a few more years in him. He's one of the best backups in the league.

Q. As seen in '11, the fans caused a lot of false starts. Last year, a lot of boos. Is Ford Field our double-edged sword? Sledge (@MrGottaGetReady)

20man: It certainly can be. At times towards the end of last year, the defense had to plead with the fans to get loud at times. It seemed like the fans were simply drained by all the close losses and the losing streak.

When the Lions are humming, and Ford Field is loud, it's one of the best home-field advantages in the game.

I've been to a number of stadiums and I can honestly say that I've only ever heard the Superdome (New Orleans) and the Metrodome (Minnesota) reach volumes louder than it was in Ford Field during that Monday Night game vs. Chicago in 2011 when the Bears had nine false starts.

The key for the Lions in 2013 is to get off to the kind of start they did in 2011 (5-0). If they do that, Ford Field will be rockin' and will be a weapon.

If they don't, well ...