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O'HARA: Lions trending toward youth

Matthew Stafford can joke about "feeling old" as the Detroit Lions progress through the offseason workout program, but at the still young age of 28 he is one of the veterans in the middle ground of the team's trend toward youth.

Change at every level – front office, coaches and players - is a constant in the NFL, regardless of age. In terms of player turnover, the Lions are a prime example of how drastically rosters can change in a short period of time.

In the final game of the 2013 season, the Lions had 70 players under contract in various categories – 53 on the active roster, nine on injured reserve and eight on the practice squad.

As the Lions begin the second week of their OTA workouts, only 15 of the 70 remain.

"Every year is different," Stafford said last week after the Lions had finished the first week of OTAs. "You have new teammates. You don't have some of the guys you had last year. It's no different this year."

The Lions have gotten younger in this cycle of change. More players 25 and under are competing for jobs, while the number of players 30 and over has declined in the last three years.

With an offseason roster limit of 90 players – and the Lions were two under, at 88, at the end of last week – the Lions have 54 players 25 and under. Only 10 of the 88 are 30 or older.

Included in that group is linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who is not currently with the team.

A further breakdown shows that only two in the 30-over group are returning position starters – free safety Glover Quin, who turned 30 on Jan. 15, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who turned 32 on Jan. 21. That does not include Tulloch.

That is a stark contrast to the 2013 season. When the Lions opened the season, 13 of the 53 players were 30 or over.

Whatever the reasons, Stafford is well aware of how the roster's demographics have changed -- and where he stands on the age and experience scale.

"It's just crazy how it happens," he said. "You feel like the young guy forever. It's the NFL. They're always trying to bring in competition, bring in young guys. We've got a bunch of competition at a lot of positions, and it's going to make us better."

As Stafford prepares for his eighth year as the Lions' starter, only three teammates remain who were on the team when he came to the Lions as the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. Two were part of that draft class – tight end Brandon Pettigrew, also a first-round pick, and linebacker DeAndre Levy, a third-round pick. Long snapper Don Muhlbach (35 in August) has been a Lion since 2004.

Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky (33 in August) was drafted by the Lions in 2005 and departed as a free agent in 2009. He signed back as a free agent in 2014.

Here are some statistics and factors that have made an impact on the makeup of the Lions' roster:

2013 draft success: A good draft means players stick around and help form a young core. That was the case in 2013.

Eight of the nine players drafted by the Lions are still active in the NFL, and seven are still with the Lions. Four are 25 or under – cornerback Darius Slay, running back Theo Riddick, wide receiver Corey Fuller and guard Larry Warford. Defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor and punter Sam Martin are all 26.

Of the Lions' 2013 draft class, only seventh-round pick Brandon Hepburn failed to stick. Michael Williams, also a seventh-round pick, was traded to the Patriots last year.

Draft classes comparison: The seven players from the Lions' 2013 draft still on rosters is one more than the six who are on 2016 rosters out of 19 players selected by the Lions in three drafts from 2010-2012 combined.

2014 roster: At the start of training camp, 53 players were 25 or under, and 21 qualified as veterans – meaning they had been credited with at least one full season of service.

Only eight of the 39 had turned 30. Only one other player – defensive end Darryl Tapp – turned 30 during the season.

2015 roster: At the start of camp, 48 players were 25 or under and 23 qualified as veterans. There were 11 players 30 or older.

2016 roster: 54 players are 25 or under, and 27 qualify as veterans.

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