Five players who need bounce-back performances in 2013

Posted Jun 25, 2013

Tim Twentyman looks at five players on the Lions' roster who need to have standout performances this season

If the Lions are going to regroup from last year's disappointing 4-12 season and compete for a playoff spot in 2013, these players are going to have to have bounce-back seasons.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE

Pettigrew admitted this offseason that he took a step back in 2012.

His receptions (59), yards (567) and touchdowns (3) all declined from the previous two seasons, when he had 83 and 71 catches, respectively, with 1,499 combined yards.

Pettigrew is the most versatile tight end the Lions have on the roster and a safety blanket for quarterback Matthew Stafford. With defenses having to worry about receivers Calvin Johnson and Ryan Broyles, along with running back Reggie Bush, Pettigrew should find room to operate this season.

Pettigrew says he's lost 10 pounds and has refocused to concentrate on fundamentals with new tight ends coach Bobby Johnson this offseason.

If he can get back to being a 70-plus catch tight end, it bodes well for the Lions offense and some of it's other weapons.

Louis Delmas, S

When Delmas is on the field, the Lions are a much better defense.

Simply look to last year's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles as proof. It was Delmas' first game of the season and he was at his healthiest all year. As a result, the Lions recorded 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, 11 quarterback hits and forced two turnovers.

Delmas had seven tackles (two for loss) and an interception in the 26-23 victory.

With the addition of Glover Quin this season, Delmas has an opportunity to play more to his strengths as kind of a roving playmaker who can also be a line-of-scrimmage defender at times. His ability to make plays should increase this year – if he stays healthy.

That's really the biggest key. Delmas missed eight games last season with knee troubles. The knee is still an issue, but the Lions will try to manage it with days off and rest.

If Delmas can play a full slate of games and isn't hampered too much by the knee, the Lions should be very good in the backend of their defense.

Nate Burleson, WR

Nate BurlesonWR Nate Burleson

Burleson played in just six games last season after breaking his leg in a Monday night game in Chicago. Before the injury, he had 27 catches for 240 yards and a couple scores.

The Lions missed Burleson's versatility the second half of the season -- all losses. Burleson can play both inside and outside and he's a savvy receiver, entering his 11th NFL season.

We shouldn't forget that he's only two seasons removed from a 73-catch performance in 2011 and was on his way to a 50-plus-catch season last year before the injury.

With the emergence of Broyles and the addition of Bush, Burleson might not get as many targets in 2013 as he's been used to, but he's a reliable receiver in a pass-happy offense, who could easily catch between 40 and 50 passes with a bounce-back season.

Willie Young, DE

Young showed great promise as a reserve in 2011, recording three sacks at crucial times late in games during the team's 10-6 season and run to the playoffs.

That performance -- coupled with a very good preseason last year -- had many expecting a break-out year from the Lions' former seventh-round draft pick. It simply didn't materialize that way, though, as Lions fans weren't treated to Young's customary "reel-em-in" sack celebration last season.

After signing a one-year contract this offseason, Young knows he has to take a big step forward and start to fulfill some of that promise he's shown in flashes.

Whether he starts on the right side or not, he is expected to get a lot of snaps and be a big contributor on the Lions' defensive front this season. The Lions need more production than they got from the defensive ends last season (15.5 sacks) and are hoping Young can provide some.

Mikel Leshoure, RB

During the first two weeks of training camp in 2011, Leshoure might have been the best player on the practice field for the Lions. He was showing all the skills that made him a second-round draft pick just months prior.

Then came an innocent-enough play where Leshoure was stood up by defensive end Cliff Avril and ended up on the ground with a torn Achilles tendon.

It's been a long road back for Leshoure. He returned last season and played in 14 games, but most doctors and trainers will say that it takes a full 18 months to fully recover from that type of injury.

Leshoure still led the Lions with 798 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last year, but the explosion he showed during those two weeks in the summer of 2011 simply wasn't there. Leshoure averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2012.

For the first time since his injury, Leshoure has had an offseason to focus on football and not the rehab on his Achilles. He feels the explosiveness is starting to return to his game.

If Leshoure can be a between-the-tackles runner with some explosiveness, he'll complement Bush very well and give the Lions a well-rounded rushing attack.