Detroit Lions: Ashlee Palmer

The Detroit Lions finished up one of its most successful seasons record-wise in franchise history. Now the offseason begins with the combine, free agency and the NFL draft.

To start that process moving, we’ll look at each position group analyzing what worked, what didn’t and projecting what could happen between now and training camp, a little over six months away.

Previous analyses: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior offensive linemen; Defensive line

2015 Free Agents: Ashlee Palmer; Josh Bynes (restricted)

Levy
The good: DeAndre Levy had another standout season, leading the NFL in solo tackles (117) and finishing second in the league in total tackles (151). He once again made a bunch of plays in coverage and played like be one of the top 4-3 backers in the league for the second straight season. In an added benefit -- more on this in the bad -- he also took over as the man relaying defensive plays with no hiccups. Tahir Whitehead stepped in for the injured Stephen Tulloch and had a fairly strong season, making 77 tackles and picking off two passes. The Lions didn’t show much dropoff from Tulloch to Whitehead, who became a player that can be more than a special teams standout. Josh Bynes was signed after Tulloch’s injury and became a contributor, filling in for Whitehead at times based on packages. The run defense was exceedingly good throughout the season. Levy ended up as the best run defender on the Lions according to Pro Football Focus, with Whitehead also getting a Top 5 grade.

The bad: Tulloch tore his ACL in the third week of the season and missed the rest of the season, the first major time he has missed in his career. Losing him could have been devastating for the defense, but due to Whitehead’s play, the Lions still thrived. His recovery is going to be something to keep an eye on in the offseason. Rookie Kyle Van Noy never got his season going. He spent the first half of the season injured and the second half trying to beat out Palmer for playing time. Next season already becomes huge for the second-round pick in his development. The Lions struggled a little bit in coverage as a group. Levy allowed 82 of 105 passes thrown at him to be caught, according to PFF.

The money (using 2015 cap numbers from ESPN Stats & Information): Tulloch has a cap charge of $5.8 million with no bonuses attached. Levy has a $4.5 million cap hit in the final year of his deal. Van Noy has a cap charge of $1.159 million, including a $50,000 reporting roster bonus. His base salary of $601,914 is fully guaranteed. Whitehead has a cap number of $713,000 in the final year of his deal. Travis Lewis, also in the last year of his contract, has a $674,793 cap hit, and Julian Stanford has a $660,000 cap charge.

Potential cuts: Tulloch is the obvious one, depending on how comfortable the Lions feel with Whitehead manning the middle of the defense. He has $2.6 million in dead money this year and if he’s a post-June 1 cut, there’s $4.5 million in savings. His future could be tied into what happens with Suh, but he’s very likely to be with Detroit in 2015.

Draft priority: Not high, unless the Lions are planning on not bringing back Tulloch, Levy or Whitehead. The only way this jumps up is if the Lions were to make a defensive scheme switch. But if Detroit does take a linebacker, it won’t be until the middle rounds or later.
Over last week and this week, we'll be reviewing each position group for the Detroit Lions in multiple ways. We'll continue with the linebackers Wednesday.

Every morning as part of the Roar, we'll have a quick statistical breakdown of that position group.

The linebackers as a whole: Despite dealing with some injuries, the Lions got good production out of their linebackers throughout the season. On the whole, they had 301 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions. They were also a big part of Detroit's top-ranked run defense and handled themselves decently in pass coverage.

The linebackers as individuals (regular season only):

DeAndre Levy: Levy led the league in solo tackles with 117 and finished second in the NFL with 151 tackles. He also played every regular-season snap this season. Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-5 4-3 outside linebacker against the run, and he also had one quarterback hit and nine hurries according to PFF. He also had 2.5 sacks and an interception. He had three penalties -- two of them accepted -- for 9 yards.

Tahir Whitehead: He had 86 tackles this season and intercepted two passes and had five pass breakups. PFF listed him with two quarterback hits and four hurries. He had three penalties this season for 39 yards.

Stephen Tulloch: He only played in three games before tearing his ACL, ending his season. He had 20 tackles and two sacks in those games and did not commit a penalty this season.

Ashlee Palmer: As the strongside linebacker, Palmer had 12 tackles this season along with 1.5 sacks. He had one penalty for five yards.

Josh Bynes: He played in 13 games, making 22 tackles with an interception and a fumble recovery. PFF had him with one quarterback hit and one quarterback hurry. Bynes had four penalties for 28 yards this season. He was signed off Baltimore's practice squad following Tulloch's injury.

Kyle Van Noy: After missing the first eight games of the season due to core muscle surgery, Van Noy had six tackles in 50 snaps.

Julian Stanford: He had nine defensive snaps this season, making two tackles. He was primarily a special-teams player.

Travis Lewis: He played only special teams this season before ending up on injured reserve.

And now, a look on the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
Before guys made the NFL and before they became consistent starters or better in college, someone found them in high school. With that in mind, we’re starting a series called Recruiting Tales, where we chat with the main college recruiter of a Detroit Lions player.

Past Recruiting Tales: TE Joseph Fauria

[+] EnlargeAshlee Palmer
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsOne of Ashlee Palmer's highlights this season: this sack of Bills quarterback Kyle Orton.
Ashlee Palmer has been a linebacker and a core special-teams player for the Detroit Lions the past five seasons, but did you know Palmer, who played at Compton Community College in California and then Ole Miss was originally headed to Washington?

Palmer landed at Ole Miss because of then-defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, who recruited him to Oxford, Mississippi, along with then-head coach Ed Orgeron.

Now the defensive line coach at North Carolina State, Nielsen described recruiting Palmer, who has nine tackles, two pass breakups and 1.5 sacks for the Lions this season.

How did you find Ashlee?

Ryan Nielsen: We were at Ole Miss in 2006 and we needed a safety. I’m from California and coach (Ed Orgeron), being at USC so many years, recruited that area heavily. We were going through a junior college list of the top safeties and he said, “I know Ashlee.” Being from California and recruiting there, I went out and started recruiting him. It all started on a junior college list that Kent McLeod, he was our in-house guy, and he got the list together and it went from there.

What was it on his film that jumped out?

Nielsen: All of the things he did. We went back to his high school film. It was easy. He was very fluid, offense, defense, running around, hitting people. Total package. We felt he could come in and play immediately because of all of the things he did on the field. In recruiting, that’s what you’re looking for, a guy who can do a lot of things and make an immediate impact is what we were looking for.

He had initially committed to Washington, so he had Division I talent out of high school. When you see him, what’s that conversation because JUCO is different?

Nielsen: Our thing was playing time. We were in a situation where we needed guys to come in and make immediate impacts. The guy is a heck of an athlete. Did a bunch of stuff in high school. Did a bunch of stuff in college. Pretty long guy. It was just a “Hey, you can come here, play at Ole Miss and make an impact immediately.” He was intrigued by that.

What was the most interesting thing recruiting him?

Nielsen: He made it easy. He was interested in us. I had a home visit with his mom and she was fantastic. Sat in his house a couple of times. Sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of the guys but he was interested in Ole Miss as much as we were with him, especially with what was going on with other schools. Interesting in that where he’s from and all that he’s been through, going here and going there and junior college and all those things, a heck of a guy. Very, very easy guy to recruit.

You sat with his mom, what’s his mom like?

Nielsen: He always said my mom’s got to be OK with it, that kind of deal. I went to the house the first time and we must have sat down for two hours, you know. We were in the living room and it was a day visit. Just kind of getting to know each other. Being from California, we already had something in common, which was kind of easy. Start from there and continue the conversation. She wanted to know her son was going to be OK, get a great education and we could provide that for him. She was good with that. Talking with Coach O and the relationships with the people on the staff, very, very easy for her to say, OK, I’ll let my son go there.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Bell
RB Joique Bell: Even when Reggie Bush returns, Bell has done enough to become Detroit’s featured back. When he is in the game, he is the Lions’ most productive and decisive runner. He continually fights for tough yardage and has enough instinct to bounce outside quickly if the initial hole he’s supposed to run through is closed. Bell has averaged 3.96 yards per carry or more in three of the past four games and is coming off the second multi-TD effort of his career.

DE Ezekiel Ansah: He has been improving every week but last week against Chicago he hit a new pinnacle, hurrying Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler nine times according to Pro Football Focus (initially credited with 10). He already has more tackles in 12 games this season (40) than he did in 14 games last year (32) and with 6.5 sacks and four games left, is on pace to pass his rookie mark of eight. Ansah rates fourth among 4-3 defensive ends according to PFF and is tied with Carlos Dunlap for second among 4-3 defensive ends with 13 quarterback hits.

Detroit’s run defense: The Lions are so good against the run teams are actively scheming against bashing into the Detroit front four at this point because opponents know it might be a futile exercise. Despite having Matt Forte, the Bears only had eight carries Thursday, the second straight game a team has actively planned to avoid running against the Lions.

FALLING:

Palmer
LB Ashlee Palmer: This doesn’t have much to actually do with Palmer, but rookie Kyle Van Noy is slowly starting to creep into Palmer’s time on the field. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Monday “the more the merrier” when it comes to being able to play Palmer and Van Noy at strongside linebacker. So why is Palmer falling then? Well, in the first half of the season, Palmer was the main 4-3 player on the strong side after Tahir Whitehead got hurt. So his snaps are going to continue to drop a little bit as long as Van Noy stays healthy.

Detroit's NFC North title chances: The Lions still have some control here, but likely have to win out to claim the NFC North crown. That would include a win at Lambeau Field in the regular-season finale and that’s a place they haven’t won since the early 1990s. Green Bay is on a roll now and like the Lions have a fairly light schedule -- other than going to Buffalo -- before that Week 17 meeting.

DT Nick Fairley: Jim Caldwell once again said he isn’t sure if the defensive tackle is going to make it back this season. He continues to leave the door open, but he made it pretty clear right guard Larry Warford, who also has a knee injury, is on a different path to return than Fairley. Each week Fairley is not on the field at least practicing leaves more questions about where his status for the season truly lies.
Josh Bynes was languishing on the Baltimore practice squad in September, a player Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was familiar with because of his time with the Ravens.

And when Stephen Tulloch had his season end with a knee injury suffered in celebration of sacking Aaron Rodgers, the Lions picked up Bynes off the Baltimore practice squad. He is turning into a pretty strong find.

Bynes has been a strong special teams performer for Detroit and has slowly siphoned some snaps away from middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who took Tulloch’s place in the starting lineup.

So why Bynes? He has a knack for making plays and is a pretty consistent player. He won’t wow you with impact plays, but he also has been able to avoid major mistakes.

More on him below in the defensive snap analysis.

Ansah
Defensive end: Ezekiel Ansah (40 of 62), Jason Jones (39 of 62), George Johnson (26 of 62), Darryl Tapp (19 of 62), Devin Taylor (12 of 62).

Analysis: This is the likely rotation the rest of the season, although some of Jones and Tapp’s snaps will probably continue to come inside until Nick Fairley returns. Ansah has turned into a player worthy of a high percentage of snaps as he continues to improve.

Defensive tackle: Ndamukong Suh (56 of 62), C.J. Mosley (36 of 62), Andre Fluellen (16 of 62), Caraun Reid (4 of 62).

Analysis: Suh continues to have an unbelievable ability to play significant snaps each week at a physically demanding and beaten down position. He had one tackle for loss, a pass defended and a quarterback hit Sunday -- not a huge statistical day for him, but he continues to be the most important player to Detroit’s defense. It might not be close.

Bynes
Linebacker: DeAndre Levy (62 of 62), Tahir Whitehead (38 of 62), Josh Bynes (21 of 62), Ashlee Palmer (13 of 62), Kyle Van Noy (7 of 62).

Analysis: Levy is going to play every snap as long as he’s healthy, but the thing to watch right now is the snap split between Whitehead and Bynes. At a two-thirds/one-third split right now, it is starting to creep closer to a situational position for the Lions. That’s mostly due to Bynes, who had a red zone interception Sunday and continues to make plays. He had three tackles in his 21 snaps as well. Don’t be surprised to see this trend continue. The Palmer/Van Noy situation is going to be tougher to read until probably the end of November, when Van Noy has a better feel for the game.

Cornerback: Rashean Mathis (62 of 62), Darius Slay (59 of 62), Cassius Vaughn (35 of 62), Mohammed Seisay (3 of 62).

Analysis: When the Lions kept Vaughn over Danny Gorrer earlier this month, it meant he would become the team’s traditional nickel. Arizona picked on Vaughn early and often. But he ended up with his second interception in three weeks and continues to be the primary nickel option. Seisay saw his first defensive action in weeks, although that appeared to come in a little-used dime package.

Safety: Glover Quin (62 of 62), James Ihedigbo (61 of 62), Isa Abdul-Quddus (11 of 62).

Analysis: The Lions had essentially abandoned the three-safety nickel package with Abdul-Quddus for the majority of the past month, but it made its return Sunday when the Lions brought Quin down to help in coverage in early downs. Abdul-Quddus had three tackles in his 11 snaps. It wouldn’t be surprising to see this defensive package show up again soon. Perhaps this week against New England.

These non-specialists played only on special teams: Don Carey (19 snaps), Julian Stanford (17 snaps), George Winn (15 snaps), Garrett Reynolds (2 snaps).
Question of the Week is a feature in which we take a cross-section of opinions from Detroit Lionsplayers and coaches (and sometimes opponents) about a singular topic. Most of the time, they have nothing to do with football. Have a suggestion? Email: michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Previous Questions of the Week: Talent competition; See in London; Switch jobs for a day; Go-to dance moves; Last meal; Twitter follow; Ninja turtle; Advice for freshmen; First job; First football memory; Who makes you laugh; Ten years from now

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It is one of the biggest questions of our time and one of the most famous causality dilemmas.

What came first? The chicken? Or the egg?

So we brought this question up to the Detroit Lions this week for the Question of the Week. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Here, as always, are their answers as they try to figure out one of life’s biggest questions.

For what it’s worth, this 2010 story says British scientists believe the chicken came first. No idea how the chicken got there, though.

Tight end Joseph Fauria: God made man first, so God made chicken first. Done. I was ready for that question.

Reporter: Have you thought about this in the past?

Fauria: Yessssss. I have. I think that’s a good answer. I’ve thought about it before and thought, you know what, that’s a great answer.




Punter Sam Martin: The chicken.

Reporter: Why?

Right guard Larry Warford: There’s two answers for that.

Martin: The chicken evolved. No?

Warford: Did the chicken come out of a chicken egg?

Martin: No, the chicken came out of another animal. We just don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Reporter: That’s the point. It’s an existential question.

Martin: Well, the egg cannot be made without the chicken so it had to have been the chicken. I don’t know how the chicken got there.

Warford: What it is, though, is what’s in the egg? A chicken, right?

Martin: Yeah.

Warford: But what made the egg?

Martin: A chicken.

Warford: But you don’t know that.

Martin: 100 percent, that’s a fact.

Warford: No, but the mutated embryo could be a chicken from something else.

Martin: That’s what I’m going to go with.

Reporter: You guys have been great. Thank you.

Martin: The egg was laid by something but no one knows if the chicken actually came from a chicken. The chicken and the egg might not have come from two chickens. It could have been a mockingbird and a coyote, you know. Made a chicken. (Eds. Note: He’s joking about the mockingbird and a coyote. I think.)




Defensive end Darryl Tapp: The chicken.

Reporter: Why the chicken?

Tapp: He had to come from somewhere. Right?

Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen: It’s the easiest question in the world.

Reporter: Why?

Fluellen: The chicken. God created the chicken.

Tapp: Yeah. That’s a pretty random question. I didn’t know where you were going with that question, thought there would be a residual conversation from it.

Reporter: Nope.




Wide receiver Jeremy Ross: I don’t know. Did the chicken come first or the egg come first? In order for a chicken to be born, there must be an egg.

Reporter: Right, but where does the egg come from?

Ross: God. God created the egg, allowed it to hatch and then, boom, there’s chickens.




Linebacker Ashlee Palmer: The egg.

Reporter: Why?

Palmer: Because. I’m not sure. I just wanted to give an answer. (Laughs)

Reporter: That’s pretty good. Cornelius [Lucas] gave me a whole explanation. So did Rodney [Austin]. I think they were making it up, though.

Palmer: Yeah, they had to be making it up because I’m not too sure what came first. The chicken or the egg? Wow.

(Eds. Note: Palmer then proceeded to yell at Austin across the locker room asking him about the chicken or the egg).




Offensive guard Rodney Austin: It would have to be the egg. Where would the chicken come from without the egg?

Reporter: Where would the egg come from without the chicken?

Austin: The egg grew. The first egg grew. Something dropped into it and fertilized it and the chicken came out and was like, ‘Hey, I’m lonely. So I think I’ll make more chickens.’ (Laughs hard)




Offensive guard Travis Swanson: Egg. I don’t know (why).




Offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas: I would say egg. Why egg? Because I think that was the evolution of everything. The egg had to come first. God wasn’t just going to drop a chicken down. He had to give the chicken some time to grow inside the egg.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Johnson
WR Calvin Johnson: The team’s best playmaker should finally return to the lineup Sunday against Miami after three weeks out with an ankle injury and a fourth week to rest with the Lions being off. He hasn’t played a game fully healthy since Week 2 against Carolina and if he is back to or close to full strength, this might be the healthiest he has been to start the second half of a season in his entire career. With teams seeing the possibilities presented by Golden Tate as well, Johnson may have more room to make plays than any time since his rookie year, too.

DT C.J. Mosley: He’s off suspension and likely in the starting lineup for Detroit with Nick Fairley out due to a knee injury. The veteran doesn’t have the natural ability Fairley has, but he has the experience and consistency Detroit will need to try to replicate some of what Fairley had been doing before he got hurt. At one point during training camp, Mosley was playing extremely well. He’s going to need to find that again now.

QB Matthew Stafford: He hasn’t done anything different, but he is starting to finally get his full complement of pass-catchers back for the first time since mid-September. Both Johnson and Reggie Bush should be good to go without setbacks and he already has Golden Tate, Joique Bell and newer options in Corey Fuller and Theo Riddick. The tight end situation is still a question mark, but there is no reason for Stafford and the Detroit offense to not have a strong uptick at the start of the second half of the season.

FALLING:

Palmer
LB Ashlee Palmer: Wrote this last week as well, but Palmer’s snaps could easily be cut down this week since the Lions have activated rookie second-round pick Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy, out of BYU, was initially thought to be the team’s starting strongside linebacker but then he had an inconsistent preseason before needing core muscle surgery. That kept him out for the first half of the season. The Lions are looking for ways to integrate Van Noy into the lineup and that will likely start with some of Palmer’s snaps in the team’s 4-3 base defense.

WR Ryan Broyles: With Calvin Johnson returning, snaps might be minimal and deactivation on game day once again becomes possible for the third-year receiver out of Oklahoma. Johnson coming back pushes everyone down the depth chart a little bit, from moving Tate into the slot on some plays to getting Corey Fuller on the field and having Jeremy Ross on the field in the slot in other situations. Considering Broyles barely played during the injury-plagued first half of the year, it doesn’t look good for him right now.

Detroit’s schedule: It only gets harder from here for the Lions, who face Miami (5-3), Arizona (7-1) and New England (7-2) over the next three weeks. Consider, too, where Detroit is playing these teams. Miami has gone 3-1 on the road. Arizona (4-0) and New England (5-0) have yet to lose at home. So it’ll be a rough, rough three-game stretch for the Lions that should say a lot about the team the rest of the way.
During the bye week that conveniently comes at the midway point of the season, we'll review each Detroit Lions position group.

Major moves in the first half: Lost Stephen Tulloch to a season-ending knee injury. Placed Travis Lewis on injured reserve with a quad injury. Had Kyle Van Noy sit out the first eight games with a core muscle injury. Signed Josh Bynes and Julian Stanford.

What has worked: DeAndre Levy has continued his ascent into one of the top groups of linebackers in the NFL. His sideline-to-sideline speed has been impressive and his instincts often put him right at the point of contact for either rushing plays or short routes. His coverage continues to be strong and he has taken over Tulloch's role by calling defenses before the play.

Josh Bynes ended up being a strong signing for the Lions on both special teams and on defense, where he has been taking some snaps from Tahir Whitehead every week next to Levy. Whitehead still plays the majority of snaps and has filled in about as well as expected for Tulloch, but Bynes is definitely pushing him for time a little bit.

The Lions, prior to Tulloch's injury, had been doing well rushing the passer from the linebacker spot, specifically with Tulloch. Of course, that's how Tulloch's season ended -- celebrating a sack of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

What has not: Injuries have hampered this unit. The Lions still haven't seen once-projected starter Kyle Van Noy and Tulloch won't be back with the Lions this season.

Whitehead has had moments where he has been out of position – more and more as games have gone on. He has been effective, but not as good as Tulloch would have been in the spot.

Ashlee Palmer, who ended up as the starting SAM linebacker by default when Van Noy was out for eight weeks and Whitehead had to slide over to play Tulloch's spot in the middle. Palmer still struggles with play-action from time-to-time and does get beat, but he has been good in run support.

When he gets caught in passing or play-action, it doesn't go nearly as well.

Prognosis: This unit might be the one that shifts the most at the start of the second half of the season. Bynes appears to be playing his way into a somewhat larger role in the linebacking corps and it'll be interesting to see how fast they push Van Noy into the lineup.

Van Noy was inconsistent in the preseason as the second-round pick would sometimes take bad routes on pass rush. But he was still getting acclimated to the pro game at that point -- something likely taking the whole season at this stage.

If he picks everything up quicker than expected, he could end up being an upgrade on the defense in 4-3 situations over Palmer.
LONDON -- Each week, we’ll take a look at who or what might be rising or falling with the Detroit Lions.

RISING:

Tate
Tate
WR Golden Tate: Tate is second in the NFL among receivers in receptions (55) and third in yards (800) at the halfway point of the season and has really turned into a No. 1B option to Calvin Johnson's No. 1A (when Johnson is healthy). Tate showed it again Sunday against the Falcons when his 59-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter really got Detroit’s comeback going.

RB Theo Riddick: Jim Caldwell said Tuesday that even when Reggie Bush gets healthy, the team is going to have to find ways to get Riddick some touches. Like Joique Bell and Bush, Riddick hasn’t had much success running this season, but he has 149 receiving yards and has shown a penchant for big plays when he’s gotten the opportunity -- including a big screen against Minnesota and two massive catches against Atlanta.

At least a winning season: At 6-2 halfway through the season, a .500 record the rest of the way would give Detroit a 10-6 final record and a potential playoff berth and/or divisional title. And at this point, only a total collapse -- one that would be worse than last season -- would keep the Lions from their second winning record since 2011. For some franchises, this is expected on a yearly basis. For the Lions, it is a rare sight over the past decade and a half.

FALLING:

Bush
Bush
RB Reggie Bush: If Caldwell is going to get Riddick more carries, that will likely come out of Bush’s total, not Bell’s. Bush and Riddick have similar roles in the offense, and Riddick continues to look like a player who could have an increasing role both this season and in the future. That doesn’t bode well for Bush, who has missed two games this season with an ankle injury and been limited in others.

LB Ashlee Palmer: If the Lions bring Kyle Van Noy off of short-term injured reserve -- and it seems like they will at some point before Detroit faces Miami in Week 10 -- Palmer could see his role in the defense start to decrease. The two had been competing, along with now-middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead, when Van Noy had core muscle surgery, putting him on IR for half the season. Now that he’s back, the Lions will at least work him into the lineup and might eventually have a split like Whitehead and Josh Bynes at middle linebacker.

WR Ryan Broyles/TEs Kellen Davis and Jordan Thompson: Grouping these three together because, as the Lions get healthier on offense during the off week, these three players are the most likely to be phased out of the offense or potentially off the team altogether. When the Lions were healthy, Broyles was a healthy scratch each week and could end up back there again. If Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron all end up healthy by next week, either one or both of Davis and Thompson may no longer be on the roster.
The Detroit Lions were down their top wide receiver, two of their top three tight ends and still had a hobbled running back in Reggie Bush.

And yet receiver Ryan Broyles still rarely stepped on the field against the New Orleans Saints.

Broyles
The former second-round pick actually saw six snaps Sunday -- the most he’s had all season -- but four of those plays were runs. He was not targeted, was barely used and clearly has no role in this offense now, even with injuries all over the place to skill-position players.

Only one offensive player -- sixth lineman Travis Swanson -- played fewer offensive snaps than Broyles, and Swanson had five of them.

The Lions stuck with a three-receiver base set most of the game, too, with Golden Tate in on 63 of 70 plays, Jeremy Ross on 62 of 70 plays and Corey Fuller on 62 of 70 plays. Then came Broyles, who barely filled in.

He plays a different position, but tight end Jordan Thompson, who was called up Saturday by the Lions, had double the snaps of Broyles (12) and was even targeted once (an interception that bounced off his hands to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro).

Considering the Lions are in a constant rotation of players and formations to try to gain an advantage on an opponent, the lack of usage for Broyles is pretty jarring.

He fought to make the team during training camp and has expressed both understanding and frustration about his usage before -- on Twitter last week and to ESPN last month.

But as the injuries to other players pile up and Broyles continues to remain on the bench, it is becoming more and more clear there just might not be much of a role for him on the Lions.

Other snap count notes for the Lions from Sunday:
  • Joique Bell saw the majority of the snaps at running back -- 52 for him and 18 for Bush. Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game it was “absolutely not” a benching when Bush sat for most of the second half and that Bush was still dealing with his ankle injury.
  • Nick Fairley played a season-high 47 snaps and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus also credited him with four hurries of Drew Brees.
  • In parsing the numbers for defensive alignments, the Lions went to their traditional nickel with Danny Gorrer on 30 of 74 plays, the base 4-3 with Ashlee Palmer on 17 snaps, the big nickel with Cassius Vaughn on 15 snaps and a third nickel package with Don Carey on 12 snaps. Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played one snap last week and was the initial big nickel back, played only special teams for 23 plays.
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes continues to get some run spelling Tahir Whitehead, as Bynes played 15 of 74 snaps but did not record a statistic. He is a core special teams player, too, so he’s carving out a role on this defense.
  • Once again, only backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t play, but these position players saw less than 10 combined snaps between offense, defense and special teams: Cornelius Lucas (four, special teams); Jerome Couplin (eight, special teams); Caraun Reid (eight, defense); and Broyles (six, offense).
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions continue to add defensive versatility to their ever-changing personnel packages, something once again on display Sunday against Minnesota.

With Cassius Vaughn returning to the lineup, the team’s snap counts would indicate he has taken the 'big nickel' spot played by safety Isa Abdul-Quddus during Vaughn’s absence the past three weeks.

Vaughn
Vaughn (one tackle) played 23 snaps, and Abdul-Quddus (no tackles) played one.

The Lions had been playing the big nickel package with Abdul-Quddus at safety and either James Ihedigbo or Glover Quin closer to the line on early downs, when the run percentage is higher but personnel commands a nickel package to defend the pass.

According to Pro Football Focus, Vaughn had two passes thrown his way for 17 yards.

With Vaughn back in the lineup, they could keep Quin and Ihedigbo back and Vaughn as the nickel cornerback.

Danny Gorrer, signed when the team kept losing defensive backs to injury, has held on to his traditional nickel slot, playing 26 of 68 snaps. Gorrer had one tackle and one pass defended. He was thrown at twice, defending the one pass and allowing a catch to Cordarrelle Patterson on the other.

This wasn’t the only shift among Detroit’s defense.

The Lions stuck with linebacker Ashlee Palmer in traditional 4-3 situations for 17 snaps -- including putting him out in the slot at points to defend a route-runner.

The more interesting change was the occasional appearance of linebacker Josh Bynes in defensive sets, including replacing Tahir Whitehead for a spell in the second half in nickel packages. Bynes, who was signed when starting middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL, has not played much on defense prior to Sunday.

Bynes had two tackles and a pass defended.

What could be interesting to watch is if these changes were made specifically for the Vikings, a team that has a mobile quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, or if they are a sign of things to come. The other potential reason could lie with Minnesota's personnel, which features speedy receivers.

The Lions play a vastly different team with a vastly different scheme -- New Orleans -- on Sunday, so if these new wrinkles stick, then it could signal a change in some personnel groupings.

Some other notes:
  • Devin Taylor continues to be the fifth defensive tackle in the rotation, this time playing 12 snaps. The Lions like their rotation there, but this has been the product of George Johnson emerging as a pass-rusher and Darryl Tapp being pretty good against the run, not a dip in Taylor’s play. Both Johnson and Tapp have been surprises this season.
  • Ryan Broyles was unhappy with his playing time Sunday and voiced it on Twitter. He might have a point. In an offense without Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush, he played two snaps and was not targeted. If he can’t get an increased role then, it might be a long way from happening.
  • Clearly the Lions wanted Jeremy Ross more involved in the offense. He played 60 snaps, more than Golden Tate. He didn’t do much with it, catching only one of his three targets for eight yards.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Teddy Bridgewater has only one NFL start and two games as an NFL quarterback, but he has already impressed the Detroit Lions, his opponents this week.

Bridgewater has completed 31 of 50 passes for 467 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in his two appearances this season, although he did run for 54 yards and one touchdown.

Perhaps most impressive are his QBR and passer ratings. His QBR is 73.8, 7th in the NFL, and a passer rating of 92.7, 15th in the league.

Here’s what the Lions think of him.

Head coach Jim Caldwell: He can run. I think one of the things, because of the fact that all of the reports were initially not favorable, that everybody sort of underestimated this guy. This guy’s a good player. I looked at him coming out, closely, and he can think on his feet. He can deliver the ball. He’s very good as far as analyzing defenses, he does it quickly. The other thing is he gets outside of the pocket. He’s like Russell Wilson. … This guy has the same kind of capabilities. Can get up the field, can cover ground and a talented guy. So he creates problems for us because he’s also not a guy that just gets out there and runs. He gets outside of the pocket and looks down the field, and he doesn’t necessarily look to run but looks to pass first and then takes off. So you have to watch what coverages you’re in.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis: Poised and confident. He’s a young quarterback, but he’s displaying a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. It’s impressive to see.

Linebacker Ashlee Palmer: He’s come into the league and put a lot of bad things people have written about him coming into the league, put it to rest. We know he wants to run. He’s a mobile quarterback and we’ve faced mobile quarterbacks before, but he’s also a pocket passer. He did a lot of pocket passing at Louisville. Just got to neutralize him. Stop him from wanting to do what he likes to do. … Just watching how he controls their offense. Him coming in, they based everything off of his Pro Day, and I didn’t know too much about his leadership skills, but he has a good grasp of the offense and he came in wanting to learn it and wanting to be the starter, and it gave him an opportunity and he showed his best.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: You can, he obviously has the ability to scramble and move around. You’ll see probably, maybe some zone read stuff that if he gets out on the edge, he can do some damage and move the chains that way. So you’ll see those things but you won’t see a whole lot different because the guy can make every throw. Shows remarkable poise for a young guy. Knows when to throw with touch, can throw under pressure. Can avoid pressure and create time and still look downfield. Sometimes for a young guy, once they avoid the pressure, they just want to run. I don’t think you see that with him.

Safety Glover Quin: He don’t seem to get rattled, just from watching him a little bit. He seemed to be pretty poised in what he’s doing, confident in what he’s doing, and that’s what you expect from a top quarterback, first-round quarterback. Should be confident, should be able to stay poised. Know what they doing and should be able to get the job done.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford: I was impressed with him in college. From a smaller school, did a great job and played great. Caught a little bit of that game he was in before he got hurt, and he was playing really well. They are doing a good job, getting some guys running free, and he was hitting them.
Ten(ish) Questions With... is a weekly series where we chat with a Detroit Lions player or coach about whatever. Sometimes it’ll be football-related. Sometimes it’ll be about their dogs or something completely different. Want to hear from a particular subject, send an email to Michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Previous Ten(ish) Questions With: RB George Winn; C Dominic Raiola; CB Nevin Lawson; WR Golden Tate; S James Ihedigbo; S Jerome Couplin III; The whole series, including last year.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ashlee Palmer has played an understated role on the Detroit Lions top-ranked defense this year.

Palmer
He became the team's starting strongside linebacker again when Stephen Tulloch tore his ACL and has been one of the Lions’ top special-teams contributors.

He’s also one of the quieter guys on the Lions, which seemed to make him an interesting target for this week’s Ten(ish) Questions With ... series.

What is the coolest thing about being an NFL player?

Ashlee Palmer: The coolest thing about being an NFL player is probably my children knowing me as an NFL athlete because they want to grow up and do the same thing I do one day.

When did you realize they realized that?

Palmer: For my daughter, she's 6 and this is my sixth year in the league so when she was maybe about two, she knew what I was doing. She didn’t know extremely what I was doing until she was 3 or 4. But my son, he’s 4 now, so he’s kind of like 'I want to be like Daddy. I want to go where Daddy is. I want to do what Daddy’s doing.'

When did he first say that to you?

Palmer: He was a young 3. Almost about a year ago.

When he does that, are you like, 'Man, that’s cool'?

Palmer: Nah. I have a bunch of other friends who played before me in the NFL, guys that I hung around with, he was able to hang around with and he listens to our conversations. He goes with me everywhere. He knows a lot about wanting to play football. He doesn’t know the ins-and-outs of it, but tackle, run, catch, he knows all of those.

When you’re not playing, what’s your favorite thing to do?

Palmer: Man, just hanging out with my fam, my wife, my kids, go-kart racing. Movies. Chuck E. Cheese.

Go-karts? Like the silly 12 mile-an-hour go-karts or actual karting and go?

Palmer: I mean, out here there’s not many. I’ll go to ones where my kids can actually drive. So we’ll go there. They have an indoor speedway in Novi, so me and my wife or me and my brother and my wife and older guys, we’ll go there and get a couple tracks in. It’s a lot faster. Electric.

Did you want to ever race cars?

Palmer: Nah. Nah. No.

Q: You did grow up in California.

Palmer: Nah, no race cars. I like go-kart racing. My kids like it. My family likes it.

Did you do it as a kid?

Palmer: Definitely. And in high school, family, get out of school and go go-kart racing on weekends.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Palmer: To be honest, I don’t know yet. There’s a bunch of places I would love to go. I haven’t been doing a lot of traveling. I want to do what [DeAndre] Levy does. He gets out and sees the world, man. That’s what I’m going to probably start doing at the end of this year, get my traveling up.

Where’s your first place?

Palmer: I’m trying to get to Greece, man. Just a place I haven’t been. There’s a lot of history there. Just my wife wants to go there and probably going to go.

Is it planned already?

Palmer: It’s planned but it may change because of weather. So we’re not too sure on Greece.

So how long is your list?

Palmer: Man, if you could name any out-of-the-country place to go to, that’s how long the list is. Yeah.

Have you ever been out of the country?

Palmer: Other than Mexico and Hawaii, and you don’t consider (Hawaii) out of the country, then no. But nah, man, I’ve been here for the most part. I do want to do some traveling like Levy, tips and pointers from Lev.

Have you talked about it yet?

Palmer: Yeah, every time he says he’s been somewhere and did this or did that, I ask,'What’d you see? What did you do there? What is there to do here?'

Is there one story you were like, ‘Whoa’?

Palmer: You know Lev, he’s always up in the mountains somewhere. He said he was in the mountains one time and he was taking baths in rivers and lakes and all this stuff.

Is that too much for you?

Palmer: I need a shower head. I head a shower head.

Is that where you draw the line?

Palmer: Yeah, man. I need a shower head. I need some clean water.
Welcome, finally, to the regular season.

Though the Detroit Lions are among the last teams to actually kick off the season Monday night against the New York Giants, they start everything Monday, when the team returns to practice this afternoon as a 53-man roster for the first time (not including the 10 practice squad players).

There are some issues to get through, though, between this morning and a week from now, when the season actually starts.
  • Who is the right tackle? This is the lone starting position not finalized yet, as LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard continue to compete at the position. Might find out as early as Monday who won the competition, but both have shown they can play. The Lions can drag this out a few more days because both players lined up next to right guard Larry Warford last season during games, but for continuity's sake, it is better to handle this earlier than later.
  • What to do with Kyle Van Noy? The prevailiing thought is Van Noy is headed for injured reserve with a designation to return. This will give Van Noy time to heal from his core muscle surgery last week and won't take up a roster spot early in the season. If Van Noy heads to IR on Tuesday, don't be surprised if the Lions bring back a veteran they already had in camp or go after one recently released.
  • That said, who is the SAM linebacker? Van Noy probably wasn't starting the opener yet anyway. He just wasn't ready yet. Tahir Whitehead appears to have won this competition -- after not even starting the preseason playing at SAM full-time. Now, he has emerged as one of the team's top three linebackers. It will be either him or Ashlee Palmer when the team goes into a 4-3 on Monday night.
  • What about Champ Bailey? He is the big name on the free agent wire now and general manager Martin Mayhew has not shied away from going after veteran cornerbacks in the past (Rashean Mathis, Drayton Florence) if he thinks it will help his team. The question is if Bailey has anything left at age 36. He only played in five games last season. He also missed about three weeks of training camp dealing with a foot injury. Is he worth bringing in for a workout? Possibly.

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
A week from now, you'll be watching a bunch of teams in their first regular-season games. The Detroit Lions won't play until the next night, but cut downs have happened. Regular-season football is finally here.

And the Mailbag remains. As always, to ask a question for the Mailbag, tweet with the hashtag #LionsMailbag, drop me a note on my Facebook page or email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com. With all of the roster movement and fluidity, this is a shorter mailbag than usual because I avoided roster questions from when this was put together and when it would run.

Now, on to your questions:

@mikerothstein: If Joique Bell or Reggie Bush were to get injured -- and you saw it last season with Bush -- the other would probably receive a good chunk of the other's snaps. In addition, the Lions would certainly lean on Theo Riddick a little bit more and perhaps give some carries to a fullback. Depending what the roster looked like at that point in time -- remember, the roster is a constantly evolving thing -- there could be a pickup or promotion from a practice squad as well.

@mikerothstein: If you had asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have said Ashlee Palmer without question. Now, I'd lean heavily toward Tahir Whitehead. The former Temple player has had an extremely strong preseason and has grown into a player who could be a capable starter in his third NFL season. He'll always have a big special teams role, but that he can play linebacker effectively as well is helpful. That said, you might as well throw Bill Bentley in there since most teams run nickel as much as a base 4-3/3-4 (in Detroit's case, 4-3) defense.

@mikerothstein: Considering the person asking this question is in one of the leagues I participate in, I feel like I shouldn't answer this, but I will. Eric Ebron should have a decent fantasy season for a tight end because the Lions are going to pass the ball a lot and Ebron is going to be a stretch-the-field tight end. I wouldn't expect massive numbers -- most rookie tight ends don't do that -- but respectable ones. Maybe 400-500 yards and a handful of touchdowns. That's been around the projection on ESPN's fantasy site and something that could be close to right. He's going to compete with Joseph Fauria for playing time early and Fauria has the better hands and is a better blocker right now. Plus, as Fauria improves, his ability as a red zone target as well shouldn't go unnoticed for fantasy purposes. 

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