This Friday, the Lions report to training camp in Allen Park, essentially kicking off the 2010 campaign. Practice begins on Saturday, beginning the on-field portion of the Lions' preparations for the 2010 season. Over the course of the next month or so, many players will be in a battle to make the team, fighting with others for the 53 spots on the roster. Others, however, will be in a battle of their own, attempting to edge out other players for a spot in the starting lineup.
This week's Top Five examines the position battles to keep an eye on during training camp. While there's no doubt some of the battles for a spot on the team will be interesting, the focus for this post is the battles for a starting job. Some are just between two players, whereas others include an entire group of players.
No. 5: Gosder Cherilus vs. Jon Jansen - Right Tackle
Currently, four of the starting spots on the Lions' offensive line are set in stone. The lone question mark is at right tackle, where veteran Jon Jansen is battling former first-round pick Gosder Cherilus for the starting job. There hasn't been a ton of competition between the two so far this offseason because Cherilus spent a couple months recovering from knee surgery, but now it is set to heat up.
Cherilus came into the league in 2008 and has yet to show that he was worth a first round pick. In fact, last season he was so inconsistent that often times coaches simply benched him and went with another player, such as Jansen. Now he is at risk of being on the bench from the very beginning of games, because Jansen is making a strong push for his starting job. The knee surgery Cherilus underwent should result in him being better on the field, but the negative of it is that Jansen got plenty of chances to show coaches what he can do as the Lions' right tackle.
In this battle of experience vs. youth, the hope is that Cherilus emerges as the starter. If not, then it will be yet another sign that Matt Millen's final first round pick will join many of his others in the "bust" category. No Lions fans want to see that, so the hope for this year's training camp is for Cherilus to take some steps in the right direction.
No. 4: Cliff Avril vs. Jason Hunter - Defensive End
When the Lions signed Kyle Vanden Bosch as soon as free agency began back in March, one of the starting spots at defensive end immediately became set in stone. That left only the other side of the defensive line open for the rest of the Lions' DEs, who will compete to be the only returning player on the starting D-line. Between KVB, Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams, there are plenty of new faces on the defensive line, but Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter hope to be the sole familiar face in the bunch.
Earlier in the offseason, the Lions showed their faith in Jason Hunter by tendering him with a second round pick, the highest tender given out to the team's restricted free agents. The move made sense considering Hunter did play pretty well a year ago, so he was rewarded in the form of his tender.
Avril has been in the league for only two seasons, but he has shown a lot of promise, especially last year. He made 11 starts in 2009 and had 5.5 sacks to go along with three forced fumbles. While there was a rumor in the offseason that the Lions had traded him, that turned out not to be true, and now he is ready to go head to head with Hunter for the right to start on a defensive line that has the potential to be very good.
No. 3: Zack Follett vs. The Other Linebackers - Outside Linebacker
The Lions' decision to not re-sign Larry Foote meant that there would be one new face at starting linebacker next season. The move didn't come as a huge surprise given the emergence of DeAndre Levy, who has the faith of the Lions' defensive coaches and is now set to be the starting middle linebacker.
When the Lions decided to trade Ernie Sims, that was a surprise simply because it meant that Zack Follett was in line to take over his starting spot. There's no doubt that Follett showed a lot last year with his hard-hitting attitude, but that was mainly on special teams, not as a linebacker.
Although Follett is currently penciled in as one of the starters at linebacker, I'm not ready to say it is set in stone by just yet. The Lions have quite a few linebackers on the roster that appear to be nothing more than depth, but with an inexperienced player such as Follett currently set to be the starter, it's definitely possible that someone like Landon Johnson, who was a starter for four years in Cincinnati, could step up and take over the spot. I do think Follett will eventually lock up the starting spot because he is probably the most ready player on the entire roster for a battle, but it will be interesting to watch the competition for this starting spot in the meantime.
No. 2: The Entire Secondary Sans Louis Delmas
The Lions have completely revamped the cornerback position this offseason, bringing in the likes of Dre' Bly, Jonathan Wade, Chris Houston and Amari Spievey. They have also tried to find a player willing to step it up and be a starter at safety alongside Louis Delmas. So far that search hasn't gone all that well, but that is part of the intrigue with the secondary, which is why it is my second most interesting position battle to watch during training camp.
Because there are so many question marks, I couldn't narrow down the battle for starting spots in the secondary down to a few players, let alone only two. At cornerback, for example, you have Bly, Wade, Houston and Spievey as the main competitors for the two starting spots. Eric King, Dante Wesley, Jack Williams, Aaron Berry and Jonathan Hefney are also in the mix, however. Are there favorites to win the starting job? Certainly (Bly and Houston). But everything is up in the air so much that it will be a battle worth watching for sure.
The only certainty with the secondary is that Delmas will be a starter and perhaps one of the defense's best players. Who will start at safety with him? It's possible that it could be someone not even on the roster right now, as the Lions reportedly want to trade for Kansas City safety Jarrad Page. That says a lot about the safeties currently on the roster, as the coaches currently don't seem to have a ton of confidence in them.
No. 1: Jahvid Best vs. Kevin Smith - Running Back
I'm a little surprised that so many people are seemingly ready to just hand Jahvid Best the starting job. I know that Kevin Smith still has a long road back from his ACL injury and it's not a given that he will be healthy and ready to go from day one of camp, but I have faith that Smith will make things interesting at running back.
Let's assume for a second that Smith is healthy and is on the practice field Saturday, ready to get this battle with Best started. While Best certainly is more of a big-play threat, to me Smith seems more ready to be the every-down back, even after tearing his ACL last December. Perhaps I'm being a little naive about Smith's recovery process, but there's no doubt Smith isn't going down without a fight.
The other aspect of this battle that I'm interested in watching is how the Lions use Smith and Best. Like I said, Best is the big-play threat, so it's likely that he will be taking snaps at more than just running back. I expect to see him lined up at wideout in the slot every so often, as I'd bet on Scott Linehan getting creative with how he uses Best. If that is the case, then Smith will still be there to take snaps at running back. I'm not going to go as far to say that he will be the starter as a result, but I do think people are underestimating him a bit too much. I suppose we will find out soon enough, though.