10 Questions with Twentyman: What are the three biggest positions of need for the Detroit Lions?

Posted Jan 12, 2013

Lions Insider Tim Twentyman answers questions from fans, including: what does the future hold for C Dominic Raiola? Who will be filling the return duties in 2013? And who are the top candidates to fill the "lightning" running back role?

Every week during the season I do a live chat on sponsored by Huntington Bank. I’ll continue to chat from time-to-time this offseason as important dates come up (Senior Bowl, Super Bowl, free agency, draft, ect…).

I can never get to all the questions in the chat because of the time constraints and the fact that I'm not the world's fastest typist. The nature of online chats don't lend themselves to expansive answers, either.

So, after each chat, I'll pick 10 good questions that I either didn't get to or would like to expand upon. I might also throw in a few here and there from my Twitter account, @ttwentyman.

Q. Three biggest positions of need for the Lions right now? From Joe

A. 1. I think you have to start at defensive end.

This is a team that likes to throw the football and rush the passer. They’ve been built on those principles.

There was a serious decline in production from the defensive end group this season and 34 total sacks as a team doesn’t cut it when the strength of your defense is supposed to be the defensive line.

It’s a real possibility that Cliff Avril could be lost to free agency. Reserve Lawrence Jackson is also a free agent, though he's made it known that he’d like to return. He came on at the end of the season, too.

Kyle Vanden Bosch will be 35 next year and his 2012 statistics (36 tackles, 3.5 sacks) were the worst since he signed in 2010.

The Lions need a young, talented pass rusher who can be a double-digit sack guy for years to come.

2. They need a safety.

A lot of Lions fans are clamoring for a cornerback, but safety is a bigger need, in my opinion. The Lions need a young safety to pair with Louis Delmas that allows Delmas to be more of playmaker. They need someone with speed who can play sideline-to-sideline and let Delmas become more of a playmaking rover.

The Lions will definitely need a safety if Delmas bolts in free agency and they decide not to franchise him.

3. Running back with speed.

You could argue that they’ll need a corner here, and I will definitely agree with you if Chris Houston leaves via free agency. Counting on Houston to stay, the speed back is a must. That was really a missing element to their offense this year.

The number of explosive running plays for the Lions during the course of the entire 2012 season totaled four. If Jahvid Best can’t return for the 2013 season, the Lions have to fill his shoes.

Q. Can Denard Robinson fill the Jahvid Best role?

A. I’ve gotten so many Robinson questions over the last week that I felt it necessary to weigh-in on the subject.

Robinson is a dynamic open-field runner with world-class speed. I think there is always a place in the NFL for players like that.

I have two questions that I need answered before I’d take him in the early portion of the draft, though. No. 1, can he catch the ball and run precise routes as a receiver? No. 2, is he durable?

We’ll get a glimpse into No. 1 next week down at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, where Robinson will play both receiver and running back. If he proves he can catch the ball and run routes -- and then he goes to the combine in Indianapolis and runs a 4.3 or faster – sign me up.

As for No. 2, he didn’t prove he could stay healthy in college and that’s an inherit risk at the next level. I do see him taking as many shots in the NFL as he did at Michigan, though.

I think a NFL team that drafts Robinson does so with the idea of adding muscle to his frame and as much weight as they can without compromising his speed.

Q. How is Nate Burleson’s recovery coming? Is he in the Lions’ plans next season? From Tony D.

A. Burleson said he was ahead of schedule with his recovery the last time I talked to him. He said he planned to participate in the offseason training program and OTAs.

Burleson wants to retire a Lion and the Lions NEED him in that locker room and in that receiver’s room. He knows his role, he’s versatile, and he said he’s willing to take a pay cut to make it work.

Plus he’s one of the best players in the locker room to talk to (that’s my personal selfish reason for keeping him). Count me in on Burleson for 2013. I’ll be his campaign manager.

Stephen Peterman

Q. What does the future hold for Dominic Raiola with the Lions? From Karen

A. I thought it was very telling that general manager Martin Mayhew singled out the interior of the offensive line as a weakness this past season. When answering a question on Matthew Stafford, Mayhew said there was too much pressure from the interior of the offensive line.

Too me, that’s an indictment on Raiola and right guard Stephen Peterman. I thought Rob Sims played well on the left side.

The Lions averaged 4.0 yards per carry running wide left, left, wide right and right. When they ran up the middle, that average dropped to 3.6.

Riley Reiff can play guard if that’s the route they take and they’ll certainly give Bill Nagy a shot, too.

If I’m Raiola or Peterman, I’m probably a little worried about Mayhew’s comments.

I will say this, though. Raiola has survived a lot of coaching changes here in Detroit and there might not be a better center in the league in terms of making the calls at the line of scrimmage.

Q. Are Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz on the hot seat next year? From Ron

A.  I think it’s fair to assume the Ford Family was not very happy with a 4-12 season, but they obviously think both Mayhew and Schwartz can turn it around. The Lions view the 2012 season as a bump in the road, and not a change of course from the ultimate destination. I thought Mayhew said it best when asked about the importance of the 2013 season to his job status after the season.

"You have to win,” he said. “You are here to win football games. Anytime you only win four you better have a sense of urgency that you better get it turned around and get things going the right direction quickly.

"I certainly have that sense of urgency and a high level of concern and we're moving very diligently forward in making sure we put the best together we can for 2013."

I think that says it all.

Q. Thoughts on Chris Rainey filling the Jahvid Best role? Would come cheap but do obvious character concerns nix it? From Jordan Tansey.

A. For those of you that don’t know the story, Rainey was released by the Steelers this week after he was arrested and charged with battery in a domestic dispute in Florida.

Rainey (5-9, 180) is a speed back who played in all 16 games for the Steelers and finished with 26 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He had some fumbling issues, though, with four on the year.

I’d be very hesitant going after Rainey with all the problems the Lions had last offseason. Some players like Stephen Tulloch thought those issues lingered into the regular season and had an effect on the year.

Mayhew said after the season that they’re looking for “character guys.”

Q. Who are some candidates to fill that “lightning” running back role you wrote about this week? From Reggie

A. The Lions are hoping that can still be Jahvid Best, but they aren’t counting on it.

There will be some players in free agency that could fill the role, but before everyone starts clamoring over Reggie Bush, know that he’s likely to be a $6 million-a-year type player.

I think New England’s Danny Woodhead is an interesting free-agent-to-be in that regard.

From the college ranks – and I’m only looking at guys who have sub 4.5 40-yard dashes – I think Clemson’s Andre Ellington and Oregon’s Kenjon Barner are two guys that immediately fit the bill in the first couple days of the draft.

Q. You were very high on Mikel Leshoure before the season. Has your opinions of him changed? From Lions fan in the south

A. Let’s not forget that Leshoure was coming off a major injury to his Achilles tendon, an injury that Lions head coach Jim Schwartz admitted during the season probably slowed him down some.

He was also essentially a rookie this season, having missed 2011 because of said injury.

I think he’ll be a bit faster and more productive next year. That’s the hope, at least.

Two things Leshoure needs to improve on this offseason, in my opinion, is being more decisive of a runner and becoming a better receiver.

I though he danced too much at times this season instead of just putting his head down and hitting a hole and getting what he can get. He’s shifty for a back his size, but he’s big enough to get some tough yards, too, if he had that mentality. I thought he left yards on the field.

I think most people were pretty disappointed with him as a receiver. I really think has better hands than he showed.

Joique Bell proved to be a much better option in the passing game, which was probably a little disappointing for the Lions. He needs to add that to his repertoire and make it a weapon.

I think he’ll be faster come training camp having been two years removed from that injury. He still had nine touchdowns this season, but I think we’ll see a better Mikel Leshoure next season.

Q. Would you like to see Stafford get more aggressive as a leader, get on teammates, curse, get more animated in practice and games with the other players? From Stafford fan

A. You can’t just flip a switch be something you’re not. It’s wouldn’t be genuine and people wouldn’t follow. Stafford is a calm, cool and collected kind of leader. He’s more of a calming voice and the voice of reason.

That's not to say he won’t get on guys. He’ll let guys know if they made a mistake, but he’s not about belittling anybody or showing them up. He’s not a rah-rah guy, either, it’s just doesn’t seem to be his personality.

Leaders come in all forms. Stafford leads more by example.

Q. Is Mike Thomas the Lions’ return man next year? From Donald

A. For now he is. Stefan Logan is a free agent and talking to him before that Chicago game he didn’t sound like a guy who was too optimistic that his future was in Detroit.

If the Lions draft a running back with speed they’re looking for, and he has some return capabilities, that could be an option.

I still think Ryan Broyles has some capabilities as a punt returner, too.

They'll be on the lookout for both and I anticipate a much more open competition in this offseason and in training camp. But right now it seems like Joique Bell (kickoff) and Thomas (punts).