The Detroit Lions have a myriad of positions that will have fierce battles throughout the offseason. One mantra GM Bob Quinn made sure to instill in the Lions roster was competition and solid depth across the board. Here are five starting positions that are up for grabs in 2016. May the best man win.
Candidates: Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow, Gabe Ikard
The Lions return 2015 starter and former third-round pick Travis Swanson at the center position. It is obvious that Quinn and head coach Jim Caldwell felt uncomfortable with their situation– and with good reason– as they drafted ex-Michigan interior lineman Graham Glasgow. To be fair, Swanson was dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that could have hindered his play. This will be a make or break season for the once All-American Arkansas center as the Lions already have his replacement on the roster.
One interesting OTA observation to note is it was actually the 2014 undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma, Gabe Ikard, not Glasgow, who played with the first team while Swanson was sidelined. Center is a very cerebral position and experience most likely gave Ikard the initial go-ahead. There is no question that this year’s third-round pick will get his shot, but Glasgow may have to wait his turn. If Swanson struggles as mightily as he did last season, Glasgow’s opportunity may arise sooner than later.
2016 week 1 prediction: Travis Swanson
Candidates: Taylor Decker, Riley Reiff
There are only two names to know here, Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff. Both are labeled more as a right tackle, but the Lions obviously feel Decker is able to protect Matthew Stafford‘s blindside. A first round offensive tackle is rarely taken as high as Decker was without the projection of being able to play on the left.
So far in OTAs, the Lions coaching staff is wasting no time with their 2016 16th overall pick. Decker, last year’s Big-10 offensive lineman of the year, has been lining up at left tackle which subsequently has pushed Rieff to the right.
Many analysts have pegged Reiff on the left solely due to his familiarity there for the past three seasons– and it’s quite uncommon for a rookie to come in immediately and start at LT. Even the most pure pass-blockers can struggle adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. Maybe the coaching staff is just cross-training both players and developing versatility. Either way, Decker and Reiff will start at tackle, it’s just a matter of who on which side. Decker is the future and will need to be given a decent sample size before the Lions can make the decision of keeping or letting Reiff walk in free agency after this season.
2016 week 1 prediction: Taylor Decker
Candidates: Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Caraun Reid, A’Shawn Robinson, Stefan Charles, Gabe Wright
This may be the Lions deepest positional group inciting the most competition. The aging Haloti Ngata is expected to retain his starting role unless there is a sharp decline in play from the end of last season. After Ngata, there is a vast pool of talented DTs to choose from if you are defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Tyrunn Walker earned the starting role last year before being placed on the injured reserve. He is still recovering from a rather gruesome injury and may not be back to his normal self by the start of the season. This year’s second-round selection A’Shawn Robinson is no slouch either and has been given a chance to start in OTAs due to injuries. Caraun Reid has the speed and agility to rush the passer and compliment Ngata’s skillset. With starting experience, there is a good possibility he could wind up starting if his growth and ascension up the ranks continues.
No matter the case, Austin loves to rotate his D-line and everyone will get a shot to make plays. The cream will rise to the top.
2016 week 1 prediction: Haloti Ngata and Caraun Reid
Candidates: Kyle Van Noy, Josh Bynes, Jon Bostic, Antwione Williams
The SAM linebacker has been greatly devalued over recent years with the new pass-happy NFL. Defensive sub-packages are now more the base defense and the third linebacker is only on the field for a limited time. Although this new look aerial attack is en vogue, the strongside backer still plays a vital role on run downs and goal line situations.
It would appear the Lions are going to give every opportunity to 2014 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy. The 6-foot-3, 248-pound backer looks the part but has severely underperformed in his first two seasons. Even with his checkered past, he has been receiving plenty of first team reps so far in OTAs. On the other end of the spectrum, the unheralded Josh Bynes was surprisingly excellent in pass coverage last year and was a solid tackler. Van Noy, now healthy, will have to do a complete 180 from a year ago to keep the temporary “starter” status.
2016 week 1 prediction: Josh Bynes
Candidates: Miles Killebrew, Isaiah Johnson, Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson
After the Lions spent a fourth round pick on Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew, there were some who thought the hard-hitting safety might be the answer next to Glover Quin. Coming from the FCS level, Killebrew will have quite the learning curve and may take some time before he contributes on defense.
In a bit of surprising move, last year’s UDFA Isaiah Johnson appears to be the third safety in line behind Quin and Rafael Bush. While the recovering Quin sat out the team portion of OTA’s, Bush slid over from his starting SS position to FS and was backfilled by Johnson. If OTA’s are any indication, the SS spot is the versatile Bush’s to lose. If Johnson can continue to impress, the newly acquired Tavon Wilson may be on the streets come September. Wilson signed a two-year deal which usually indicates the brass views him as more than just a camp body.
2016 week 1 prediction: Rafael Bush