LIONS INSIDER

TIM AND MIKE: How does TJ Jones' shoulder injury affect competition at receiver?

Posted Jun 25, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara talk World Cup, competition at wide receiver and NFL Top 100.

Americans have caught a case of soccer fever – with symptoms ranging from mild to raging – because of the United States’ performance in the World Cup. So ... is soccer making advances on football’s turf as America’s No. 1 sport?

(Note to soccernistas: We get it that in America we call it soccer, but the rest of the world calls it football in their country’s language.)

Back to plain old American football, what kind of competition is shaping up for the Lions’ wide receivers when training camp opens next month?

And have there been any surprises for Lions players who’ve been listed so far in the NFL Network’s ranking of the top 100 players?

Mike: Let’s start with soccer, and whether it’s making inroads into football – or baseball, golf, tennis, hockey, NASCAR racing, lawn darts, curling or any other sport.

Soccer is making its greatest gains in the area where it should – as soccer. The fact that according to the ratings, some 24 million Americans watched some part of the 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday is evidence that there is an audience for soccer.

It doesn’t matter how it compares to the NFL, NBA or Major League baseball. That’s a lot of people to tune in to any sports event, and it means that there is a following for soccer on some level. It doesn’t mean that soccer is about to take over Sundays and Monday nights in the fall and the NFL will be shown on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

You don’t have to know the names of all the players be an expert in the nuances of soccer to appreciate the athleticism of the players, or get caught up in the drama of the World Cup.

I prefer pro football, but on its own, soccer is making an impact in this World Cup. It doesn’t have to be compared to any other sport.

Tim: Soccer will never pass football, baseball, basketball, hockey, NASCAR or golf (when Tiger Woods plays) in this country, but who cares.

Every four years, guys like myself, who could care less about the MLS or soccer in general, find themselves watching the sport and becoming emotionally attached to it.

I jumped off the couch when Clint Dempsey made it 2-1 the other night, and couldn’t believe when Portugal tied it up in the final seconds.

That’s the fun of the World Cup. Even if you don’t follow the sport, there’s a sense of national pride for a month. Soccer should be proud of that.

But back to American football, how does TJ Jones’ shoulder injury and minor procedure to fix it affect the race for four or five roster spots at receiver?

Mike: When I look at the formula on how the final depth chart will look at receiver, I see pluses and minuses that will determine the final makeup.

On the plus side, three sports are locked up – Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Jeremy Ross. Ross makes it because of his ability as a returner.

On the minus side is rookie Eric Ebron, and it’s a minus because of the spot he might take up because of his ability. If he can split wide and in the slot, in addition to being a traditional receiving tight end, that could take away one job that ordinarily would go to a receiver.

Ryan Broyles is an interesting wild card. He’s coming back from his third straight season-ending injury – one at Oklahoma, the last two with the Lions – and he’s ahead of projections in his return from a torn Achilles. He’s a sure-handed slot receiver. A lot depends on how much of his speed he gets back. He could be a quality possession receiver.

Ryan BroylesWR Ryan Broyles (Photo: Detroit Lions)

It’s a crowded field of candidates looking to catch a job.

Tim: When it comes to Broyles, I’ll defer to a quote from general manager Martin Mayhew right before the draft.

“I believe in Ryan, and he’s one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever seen in terms of rehab, practice. He’s just outstanding,” Mayhew said.

“I believe in him. I’m not going to build a whole offense around him, obviously, but I believe in that man.”

That’s pretty high praise from the man who has the final say on roster decisions. It makes me think Broyles has a great shot to make it if he can show the explosiveness is back.

What that means for Jones should be interesting to watch. Jones told The Detroit News he expects to be back in time for training camp.

Assuming Ross and Broyles make the roster, it seems the Lions would want Jones to make his living on the outside. He can also play in the slot, but he could help most on the outside.

You make a good point about Ebron too, Mike. If there are some tough decisions to make regarding the bottom of the 53-man roster he can be a swing guy who takes a spot away from a guy.

It should be interesting to see how it all plays out at receiver. I expect we’ll see a lot of two-tight end sets this year with Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew matched with Johnson and Tate. Matthew Stafford will have options to stand Ebron up and do a lot of different things with him depending on the defense he sees.

Mike: After all this talk about offense, let’s shift back to defense and soccer – and the one Lion we know who has experience with both. Ndamukong Suh has enjoyed attending the World Cup. Which leads to two questions:

1. Will Suh sign a new contract before the start of training camp? (I say no.)

2. Will Suh, who has played soccer, ever attempt another extra point – like he did in 2010? (I say absolutely, positively maybe.)

Tim: 1. The longer it drags on the less chance a deal gets done before training camp, but I still think they figure it out in the end.

2. Suh did miss the attempt he had against the Jets a few years back, right? It’s not like he drilled it right through. He hit the upright and it was no good. There’s no way he gets another shot. Sam Martin plays the role of emergency kicker.

Let’s finish with the NFL Network’s ranking of the top 100 players. Stafford was 100, Bush was 85, DeAndre Levy was 59, Suh checked in at 40 and I’m assuming Calvin Johnson will land somewhere in the top five. He was No. 3 last year.

I don’t have any real problem with the rankings. Stafford is probably a better talent than 100, but quarterbacks are ultimately measured on wins and losses.

I like the fact the players recognized Levy’s talents, even though the Pro Bowl voting doesn’t. Levy is in his prime and should be considered a top echelon linebacker in this league.

Mike: No argument here, either, with where Lions players finish in any rankings. The important thing is to be in the top six at the end of the 2014 regular season. Six teams make the NFC playoff field, and the mandate for the Lions is to be one of them.