Four Downs: A look at position battles and the Lions' turnover turnaround

Posted Aug 29, 2013

Tim Twentyman takes a look at the running back and receiver positions and analyzes the Lions' turnover ratio from the preseason


Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has cautioned the media not to look too much into the depth chart and who’s playing with the first teams through training camp and the preseason.

However, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Joique Bell seems to have jumped Mikel Leshoure in the pecking order at running back.

With starter Reggie Bush getting the night off in Buffalo, it was the undrafted Bell, and not Leshoure -- the second-round pick from three drafts ago -- who replaced Bush in the starting lineup.

Bell finished the night with 28 yards on four carries, including a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Lions a 21-0 lead in an eventual, 35-13, victory in Buffalo.

Bell has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s been given dating back to last year, when he was second on the team in rushing and a big part of the passing game.

Bell averaged 6.9 yards per rush in four preseason games (103 yards on 15 carries) this year and was also the team’s third-leading receiver with seven catches for another 91 yards.

Leshoure had 83 rushing yards on 20 carries (4.2 average) and caught three passes for 15 yards.

Bell makes plays and it appears he’s become the second option in the Lions backfield.


Undrafted rookie running back Steven Miller said he’s not going to sleep a wink Friday night.

Miller, who is trying to win a job on special teams as a reserve running back, seems to be on the borderline to make the 53-man roster in a crowded Lions backfield.

“It’s going to be a nerve wracking deal,” he said. “It’s always a nerve wracking deal for anyone who loves this game as much I do -- it’s a passion thing. There’s going to be tossing and turning all night but hopefully things work out. I’m just going to pray on it and hopefully things fall into place.”

The team has four established backs in Bush, Bell, Leshoure and Montell Owens. Miller and fellow rookie Theo Riddick are trying to break in.

Miller had three kickoff returns and three punt returns Thursday vs. the Bills. He handled all three punts cleanly, but only totaled four yards. He had one fair catch that he probably should have returned.

He finished the preseason averaging 3.1 yards per punt return and 27.3 yards on kickoffs.

Is it enough to earn him a roster spot?


The Lions have a tough decision to make when it comes down to that fifth and final receiver spot.

“Yeah, it’s definitely going to be a tough choice,” said receiver Nate Burleson, who along with Calvin Johnson, Ryan Broyles and Patrick Edwards have secured roster spots.

“I’m glad I’m not a coach and just a player. I guess tough choices are good though when you’re trying to put together a team and when you have decisions that need to be made like this ... that usually means you have a ton of talent to pick from. It’s tough for who doesn’t make it, but who does it’s going to be beneficial for us.”

It’s quite possible that player isn’t on the roster yet, but if he is, then veteran Matt Willis made a good case for the job Thursday.

He made a number of fine catches and was a good blocker downfield.

He was the team’s second-leading receiver over the preseason (nine catches for 129 yards) and his ability to contribute as a cover man on special teams could give him the ultimate edge.

“You wan to try and get the best 53, but you also need to balance out your roster and have enough guys that can cover kicks, return kicks, play in different packages and different things like,” Schwartz said. “When it comes to those final spots, it’ll be very important.”


The Lions defense forced three more turnovers in Buffalo, bringing their total to nine in four preseason games.

Cornerbacks Bill Bentley and Rashean Mathis had interceptions and Micheal Spurlock recovered a fumble on special teams.

In four games, the Lions were a plus six in the turnover ratio.

They were the only team entering the final week not to have a turnover, but Leshoure lost a fumble and quarterback Matthew Stafford and Kellen Moore each threw interceptions.

Still, the Lions were minus-16 in the turnover ratio last year, which ranked 30th in the NFL.

Plus-six is a good way to head into the regular season.