LIONS INSIDER

5 position battles to keep an eye on during training camp

Posted Jun 25, 2012

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has been with the Lions since 2001, the last three years as the teams senior vice president and general manager. Over that span, Mayhew says he’s never seen a more talented Lions roster than the one they’ve put together this offseason.

“Definitely the most talented team that we’ve been able to put together,” Mayhew said. “I’m excited to see these guys play this year. We’ve got the right mix. We’ve got some young guys and some experienced guys.

“I think it’s really going to help us playing the way we did last year, going to the playoffs and having gone through that process. We know what it takes.”

With more talent comes better competition at a number of positions when the Lions return to training camp July 26.

“I think it is a tough team to make,” Mayhew said. “We’re going to be very competitive in some spots. In the secondary, especially at corner. The receiver situation is going to be very competitive. Our defensive line also is going to be very competitive. I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re going to have to let some really talented guys go late because we’ve got enough depth where guys are going to compete for spots.”

Here are five positions in particular where the competition could be fierce in training camp:

CORNERBACK

The Lions will enter training camp with Chris Houston and Aaron Berry as the starters with Jacob Lacey at the nickel.

Where do Alphonso Smith and Bill Bentley fit into the mix? Right now they're likely backups but the competition for that nickel corner spot between Lacey, Smith and Bentley should be fun to watch.

Chris Greenwood missed a lot of time in the offseason with an undisclosed injury, but should be back for training camp. The Lions love his size and speed, but will the missed time hurt his chances to get onto the field?

Sixth-round pick Jonte Green made a number of plays this offseason and the Lions love his combination of size and speed, too.

The team added undrafted rookie Dontrell Johnson to the mix last week when they claimed him off waivers from the Jaguars.

DEFENSIVE END

The Lions return their top four defensive ends in Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young, four players who accounted for 26.5 sacks last year.

They added Ronnell Lewis to the group when they selected him in the fourth round of April’s draft. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for a player like Everette Brown, who the team signed in free agency, or Ugo Chinasa (practice squad last year) or Edmon McClam.

That doesn’t include Andre Fluellen, either, who the Lions really like because of his versatility and ability to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. Fluellen could fit in with the defensive tackle unit.

Brown thinks he’s found the right system for his speed-rushing style. If he performs well in training camp and the preseason, the Lions might have some tough decisions to make at the position.

SAFETY

The safety position could shape up to be one of the better competitions in camp. We know Delmas is great, and if he can stay healthy he’s a Pro Bowl caliber player. After that, there are some question marks. Amari Spievey has held down the other starting spot the last two seasons, but his status is certainly not etched in stone.

Veteran Erik Coleman has looked good this offseason and has gotten a lot of useful reps with the first team with Delmas and Spievey dealing with injuries this offseason.

Don Carey has experience at both cornerback and safety and Mayhew singled him out as a player he’s had his eye on this offseason

John Wendling is always steady on defense, but his real asset is on special teams, where he’s one of the leagues best.

The real question marks come in when we talk about young players like Ricardo Silva and Sam Proctor. Can Silva build on the promise he showed in training camp last season?

Lets not forget that the Lions brought in a number of veterans over the offseason and another player to compete for this job might not be on the roster yet.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

The addition of first-round pick Riley Reiff has made this competition a lot more interesting. Reiff has been playing both right and left tackle this offseason and will compete for either starting spot in camp.

Jason Fox is entering an important third season where he has to prove he can stay healthy. He’s a mountain of a man and has a ton of potential, but can he stay healthy?

If Reiff wins a starting spot, what happens with Jeff Backus or Gosder Cherilus? Could Backus move over to the right side?

Corey Hilliard has proven to be a solid backup the last two years for the Lions and a player very capable of coming in and starting when needed. Is he ready to compete for a starting spot?

The Lions will also give second-year player Johnny Culbreath a shot to impress in camp.

RUNNING BACK

The Lions are pretty set at the top with Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith. After that, it might get a little interesting. They're likely to keep four running backs on the 53-man roster, which means Joique Bell, Keiland Williams, Stephfon Green and fullback James Bryant are competing for that last spot.

We can also throw a wrinkle in the mix by including Stefan Logan for the fourth spot. Logan is a versatile player who returns kicks, covers kicks, plays receiver and plays running back. There isn’t much room at receiver for Logan and it might make sense to make him the fourth running back if they really want to keep him. He has a similar skill set to Jahvid Best.

It appears to be a long road for Bryant to make the roster strictly as a blocking fullback, but good special teams performances could help his cause.

 Bell, Williams and Green will have to prove themselves in camp and in the preseason. Bell, Green and Bryant would also be eligible for the practice squad.