Detroit Lions: Don Muhlbach
To start that process moving, we looked at the position groups over the past two weeks (finishing today with specialists) and analyzed what worked, what didn’t and projected 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; Linebackers; Cornerbacks; Safeties
2015 Free Agents: Matt Prater; Don Muhlbach; Jeremy Ross (exclusive rights)
The bad: Detroit’s kicking game was atrocious in the first five weeks of the season as the team went through two other kickers (Nate Freese, Alex Henery) before somewhat lucking into the availability of Prater. Of all the decisions Detroit’s coaching staff made this season, sticking with an inconsistent Freese out of training camp might have been the worst one in hindsight. Martin’s good season will be overshadowed by his shanked punt against Dallas. Ross’ returns were average at best and he often did not make smart decisions on kick returns to take the ball out of the end zone. According to PFF, he was tied for the 38th-best kick returner. He led the NFL in fair catches on punt returns, although that might have been a product of poor blocking on returns as much as his skills.
The money (using 2015 cap numbers from ESPN Stats & Information): Martin in the only specialist under contract right now and he’ll have a cap number of $625,075 next season.
Potential cuts: None. Martin is not going anywhere and everyone else is a free agent.
Draft priority: Not high. Detroit wouldn’t draft a long-snapper if the team moves away from Muhlbach and drafted a kicker last year with no success. The only area there might be a draft need is at returner, but that player will likely be a receiver/defensive back/running back first.
He wanted to know what he might be walking into. He had familiarity with the organization and with Detroit’s new head coach, Jim Caldwell. But he wanted to understand everything else, too. He knew what it was in 2008, when the Lions became the first 0-16 team in league history.
But how much had things changed.
“It’s extremely different and it’s enjoyable to be a part of.”
Back in 2008, though, Orlovsky wasn’t sure if this was possible in Detroit. He knew what those Lions were as a franchise. He knew the history before 2008 – history still following Detroit this season, when the Lions finished 11-5 and qualified for the playoffs for the second time in four years as they face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Most of Detroit’s players don’t understand the Lions’ nadir. Five do as the remnants of that 2008 team: Orlovsky, Raiola, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, snapper Don Muhlbach and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen. Three have been with the Lions throughout: Johnson, Raiola and Muhlbach. Fluellen has been cut and re-signed multiple times.
Then there’s Orlovsky, the starting quarterback for part of 2008, who chose to come back to Detroit as Matthew Stafford’s backup.
All five cringed a little bit when thinking back to 2008, what it meant and how far Detroit’s franchise had come.
“We were just trying to win a game that year,” Muhlbach said. “Oh, we’ll get the next one. Then, that Monday, oh, we’ll get the next one.
“It just, that was the worst thing I’ve ever had to go through, football-wise. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. The fact that we’ve done that makes this so much better, I guess.”
Fluellen was a rookie in the league then and that season taught him that “the NFL is really hard.”
It didn’t get much easier for a while. The shift of the franchise actually began during the 2008 season, when the Lions fired Matt Millen in September, then got rid of then-coach Rod Marinelli after the season. The winless season led the Lions to getting the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
Raiola looked across the league during Detroit’s rebuild and noticed his teammates in 2008 weren’t in the league anymore. That’s what told him how much work had to be done to reach the point where Detroit is now.
To start that process, Detroit hired Martin Mayhew as general manager and Jim Schwartz as the head coach. The No. 1 pick was Stafford. In their first season together, the Lions went 2-14 in 2009. Then they went 6-10, 10-6, 4-12 and 7-9, leading to Schwartz’s dismissal and the hiring of Caldwell.
Early in Caldwell’s tenure, he addressed the Lions’ past bluntly in a team meeting.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to carry the burdens of the things from the past,’" Orlovsky said. “That resonated with me and I think that resonated with a lot of guys.”
Releasing the burden helped lead Detroit to this point – in the playoffs and what they hope is the cusp of being a perennial playoff contender for the first time since the early 1990s with Barry Sanders and Wayne Fontes.
And those who were around understand how far they really are from 2008 and how important it is.
“This point in time deserves its own moment, you know,” Raiola said. “I know what you mean. It has come a long way. Calvin was here, he could tell you. We were going on the field and we didn’t have much of a chance.
“But we’ve come a long way from that.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Don Muhlbach is only known when he does something wrong for the Detroit Lions. That’s the life of a long-snapper at any level, but especially in the NFL.
But Muhlbach is also invested in business and he chatted about that in a holiday edition of Ten(ish) Questions With…
You’ve done a lot of business stuff in the offseason. What’s your goal after you’re done playing with that?
Don Muhlbach: Ha, ha. Just trying to expand my options for whenever this is done. Hopefully not for a while.
Expand options, is there something you’re targeting?
You’re a long-snapper so there was at least a chance you wouldn’t have played in the NFL. What was the plan if you didn’t?
Muhlbach: Oh, man. This has been awesome. This was not Plan A, trust me. It’s definitely working, though.
So what was Plan A?
Muhlbach: I was going to work for, there were a couple of companies that I had talked to that had come to school that had done financial planning for athletes. That was going to be how I was going to stay involved with football was that way. I may still do that one day; who knows?
Did you accept a job? Did you go on the interview process?
Muhlbach: No, no. I did not go that far because I was told, 'Don’t do that until you know you’re done with football because no one is going to take the time to interview, hire, train you if they know there’s a chance you’re going to leave.' I just did a lot of odd jobs after college and the first year, after I got released, I just went home and did whatever I could to earn some extra money. I knew I was going to give it another year.
What were you doing?
Muhlbach: I was on a survey crew for a few weeks. I worked as a temp in an office for a few weeks. I worked at a bank. Actually, when they called me (for a tryout), I was working at a bank. Customer service.
Wait, like a teller?
Muhlbach: (Laughs) No, not a teller. I was in a cubicle.
That’s crazy. What was the temp job?
Muhlbach: There was a business in my hometown that was getting ready to do some stuff so they needed help typing and filing and getting stuff ready and making PowerPoint presentations and all that stuff, so I did that.
When you get the call at the bank, do you just walk out?
Muhlbach: No, I told my boss I had to leave a little early to catch a flight and they were like, ‘Good luck.’ They knew why I was there. They were all very supportive. It was very cool.
If you had gone into athlete management, were you trying to be an agent?
Muhlbach: No, just financial planning. I had seen the guys from college that come back and you always hear all the stories that, what’s it, 80 percent of guys are broke when they are done playing within five years? Guys that are lucky enough to make it this far, you just don’t ever want to see that.
Are you doing all your investments?
Muhlbach: Not all my own, but I have a pretty good adviser and he not only tells me what we’re doing but why we’re doing it and he’s really good for me to bounce ideas off of, and sometimes he likes mine and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
You have to enjoy that type of involvement still?
Muhlbach: My problem is I can only do it in the offseason. That’s kind of something you need to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on all the time and I don’t have the time to give it the attention it deserves this time of year.
When you go to the Harvard, Wharton schools for a week, what’s that like?
Muhlbach: Very intense. Kind of like oversaturation. You kind of have to spend a week when you’re done going over what you did because you spent so much time writing and getting everything down that you have to make sure you have it. It’s a good experience and a lot of networking, too, which is awesome to meet other guys. Like I met Jed Collins at the Wharton one and two years later, he’s my teammate, which is pretty cool.
Previous Ten(ish) Questions With...
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matt Prater is the Detroit Lions' third kicker this season, and for the most part he's been just as consistent as the team hoped he would be when they signed him after he was released by Denver.
What’s the best football memory you have?
Matt Prater: I’ve got a few. Any time you’ve got a game-winning opportunity, those are always real memorable for a kicker. The Atlanta one this year. Against Chicago a few years ago in Denver, had a 59-yarder to tie the game and a 50-something one to win it. That was a pretty big game.
So not the record?
Prater: Oh yeah, that one, too. I forgot about that one. That was cool, but it is bigger to me at the end of a game, more of a clutch kick.
So what’s life like for you away from the field. Everyone knows what you’ve gone through.
Prater: Real boring now. I don’t do anything. I try to watch a lot of movies, and I’m engaged now, for almost a year now. I spend a lot of time with her, go to dinners. One thing about living in a hotel out here, you go out to eat a ton. That’s pretty much about it.
What’s your favorite spot in town?
Prater: I like Roast at the team hotel. That’s good. She doesn’t like Chili’s, but I like Chili’s a lot. So we’ll change it up. Just whatever, different pizza places and stuff.
Did getting engaged change you?
Prater: For sure it did. Just changed some of my extracurricular activities, I guess. So that’s about it. Just one of those things where you just kind of know once you’re with someone for a little while. I knew with her.
When did you meet her? How did you meet her?
Prater: I met her at an ugly sweater party. A Christmas sweater party a few years ago. In Denver. So we kind of hit it off then, just as friends and wasn’t thinking anything of it. Then we ran into each other again a few months later, and that’s when we started talking.
How ugly was your sweater?
Prater: I had a friend out in Denver who asked me to go to this ugly sweater party, and I told him I didn’t have one. So I told him the only way I’m going is if you pick me up and bring me a sweater. So he brought me a sweater.
What’s the best day of your life?
Prater: Shoot, I don’t know. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good days. I don’t know. Just every day is good.
What’s the worst?
Prater: So far, probably when my grandpa, Wallace Beylin, died when I was younger. I was 12. With the whole, if I were to say the day I got suspended or something, that’s not the worst thing that ever happened. I feel like I’ve come back and done an OK job coming back and dealing with the adversity of that. It’s just one of those things where you have to learn from your mistakes and hopefully don’t repeat them.
Were you close with your grandfather?
Prater: Really close. He used to pick us up from school growing up. He lived five, 10 minutes away, so he was close. He was super close with all of us boys. I’m one of four boys, so he was close with all of us. When he passed away, it was pretty tough.
What was it like growing up, four boys?
Prater: I’m one of four boys, and we fought a ton. My older brother was super competitive, so he used to force us, my younger brothers and I, to go out and play sports with him. Football season, baseball, soccer, tennis, whatever it was.
Was that how you got started or the traditional 'I was a soccer player'?
Prater: Soccer. Then got into kicking. You remember the Gramatica kickers? Their youngest brother was actually on my soccer team, and they were family friends of ours growing up. Martin went to Kansas State and Bill [to] Florida State originally. My dad was like, 'Shoot, you guys can kick. Why don’t you try?' So I did it. I was 12.
At least this time, he has years of statistical evidence to back up that confidence.
Caldwell and the Lions would rather not be answering kicking questions again after a 17-3 win against Minnesota on Sunday, but Detroit is bordering on historic failures when it comes to making field goals. Matt Prater -- the third kicker the Lions have had in six weeks -- went 1 of 3 on his field goals at gusty TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday leading to ugly stats and more issues.
"Wind like we had today had an issue," Caldwell said. "He kicked a 52-yarder, which was great, and we have all the confidence in the world in him. The guy's got a great track record and we feel good about him."
They can't, though, feel good about their kicking game. This is a unit that has missed 10 field goals this season, currently at 5 of 15 through six games. Last season, no team missed more than nine throughout 16 games.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions are also the first team since the Cleveland Browns in 1981 to miss 10 field goals in their first six games. Only three Lions players – center Dominic Raiola, cornerback Rashean Mathis and long snapper Don Muhlbach -- were alive when that happened.
Even more jarring: Ten Lions players were born in 1991 or later, meaning they could have been a decade away from being alive.
As for the Lions' latest kicking conundrum, Prater had not kicked since last season's Super Bowl and had spent the first five weeks of the 2014 unable to play due to suspension.
So he expected to be a little bit off -- but not as rough as he was Sunday, where he missed a 50-yarder wide left and clanged a 44-yarder off the left upright and out.
“Yeah, but not like that,” Prater said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I should have.”
The 44-yard miss dropped the Lions to 0-for-7 this season on field goals between 40 and 49 yards. Consider, entering Sunday, 20 teams were perfect this season from the same distance and every team made at least 50 percent of those kicks except Philadelphia, who had not attempted one from that yardage, and Detroit according to ESPN Stats & Information.
While it is unlikely the Lions shift away from Prater at this point -- he's too established and has too good a track record -- there is at least a little bit of reason for concern considering Detroit’s kicking history this season.
Plus, unlike some of the other misses by his predecessors Nate Freese and Alex Henery, the Lions still won Sunday.
“I’m supposed to make them, so I’m upset with my performance today,” Prater said. “But I’m glad we got the win.”
@mikerothstein: It's a little too early to be going down that road, because if the Lions do struggle the rest of the way, you can't really call it a collapse since it was only through four games when they were 3-1. Their schedule sets up for second-half struggles, though, with trips to New England, Arizona, Chicago and Green Bay. I wouldn't call this one a classic collapse if it happens -- and I think that phrase should be withheld until at least the midway point of the season.
@mikerothstein: Interesting question and something I've wondered, although you could say the same about Ryan Broyles at this point. The issue for Jeremy Ross is this: He was essentially used in a Golden Tate-esque role a season ago on reverses and end arounds and screens because of his speed. The Lions have Tate for that now and he's a better option to run those things than Ross is. That said, I expect a bigger role for Ross this week and as the season progresses. He's still growing as a receiver and has a chance to make an impact Sunday against Minnesota.
@mikerothstein: Ryan Broyles is probably asking the same questions at this point. Even when Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson were out against the Bills, Broyles barely saw the field. When I talked with him this week about whether he was more involved in the game plan this week, he said the same as last week. I anticipate he'll play more Sunday -- but for whatever reason Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi don't seem to trust him as much as some of the other guys they have. If it were me, I'd play Broyles more considering his preseason and his hands, but I'm not the coaching staff.
#LionsMailbag What is the deal with Ryan Broyles? He plays well when he plays. Why is he not getting more playing time?— Vince Vielhaber (@vieltech) October 9, 2014
@mikerothstein: It's more of a combination of Nos. 1 and 2 than No. 3 there. Stafford has held the ball longer and part of that has to do with the depth of the routes run, not necessarily the receivers getting separation because Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and even Corey Fuller can get separation. The offensive line's blocking issues have been magnified the past couple of weeks because of strong pass rushes and struggles picking up stunts from the interior line against the Bills. If Detroit can't fix the pass protection issues this Sunday against a middle-of-the-road Minnesota pass rush, then it might be time to consider changes to something within the scheme or personnel of the offense.
#LionsMailbag biggest issue: O-Line not blocking, Stafford not getting rid of the ball quick enough, or receivers not getting open?— Those Detroit Guys (@ThoseDetGUYS) October 9, 2014
@mikerothstein: You can expect a whole bunch of carries. With Reggie Bush hobbled at best and out at worst, Joique Bell should see a full workload against Minnesota. He'll probably be spelled by Theo Riddick and maybe George Winn, but Bell is going to be the Lions' main running back against the Vikings. That probably means somewhere in the realm of 15-to-18 carries for Bell, who didn't play last week due to a concussion. But he's back this week.
@mikerothstein: The Lions are not a franchise that dumps a coach after one season, never really have been. Jim Caldwell will get a chance with this roster and at this point, barring a complete collapse, Martin Mayhew probably is around as well. Doesn't feel -- at least at this moment -- that either seat is particularly hot.
Shawn from Facebook asks: With two kickers this year now both having multiple misses in a handful of games is it time to question the ability of the Lions staff to scout and evaluate special teams players? Good question and I'll answer it like this. Matt Prater is an accomplished kicker with a good history. If he struggles with the Lions, then everything is fair game to be called into question, from the snapping of Don Muhlbach to the holding of Sam Martin and the coaching of John Bonamego. Unlike Alex Henery, who was having kicking issues in Philadelphia before his release, and the rookie Nate Freese, who was inconsistent his entire time here, Prater has been known for his accuracy. So if there's an issue, then the questions can begin.
“Up to this point, no misses have been because of holds and snaps,” Martin said. “I think our operation has been pretty sound, actually. But with that being said, I don’t think I’m a perfect holder or perfect kickoff guy or perfect punter.
“So I’m always trying to improve. If the hold’s not perfect and I notice that, I’m going to fix it along with bad punts and bad kickoffs. I don’t think I’m perfect at any area.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said there have not been many issues with Martin’s holding and that he hasn’t considered a change there – but really, there hasn’t needed to be.
“Sam works at it. Sam’s got good hands and that’s something that every single week is evaluated,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s looked at closely in terms of the battery between the snapper, the holder and the kicker, so all of that is looked at closely.
“We try to evaluate it, we don’t pull any punches if we see an issue that may be a problem. We certainly identify it and address it. I think he does a good job.”
Martin said if he were to ever kick in a game -- he hasn’t been asked to do so thus far -- that backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky is the backup holder. Martin also indicated other players, including starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, sometimes work on holding for emergency situations.
Martin also said he has never come in during a kicker tryout to be a holder.
Suh being named a captain was going to happen at some point this season, and once again, Lions coach Jim Caldwell praised his defensive tackle.
"He does what we ask him. He does everything in regard to what the rules require," Caldwell said. "I know often times people get hung up on when he was here, when he wasn't here, that kind of stuff. He wasn't required to be here. There is nothing that the league says. It's voluntary. It's not mandatory.
"If it's a guy I had to be really concerned about that was away from here, that would come back out of shape and certainly not in position to be able to function, this [guy] comes back in impeccable shape. I'm talking about impeccable shape. He does all the things you ask him to do when he's in this building. He's exemplary in every fashion."
Caldwell appears to appreciate the way Suh leads -- as well as a player like Johnson, who rarely talks or gets riled up.
"We don't have a whole lot of vocal guys, which I kind of like," Caldwell said. "Rah-rah guys, guys who make a lot of noise, running around, yelling, stuff like that, typically that stuff wears off at a certain point in time.
"I like the kind of guys that do it. He's one of those guys. He doesn't have to say a whole lot. Most often your best leaders, what's that saying, lead by example and when all else fails, use words. That's what I believe in."
Two of Detroit's biggest emotional leaders from last season, receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas, were big talkers who were also the emotional centers of the team before being released in February. Both, though, had their share of issues -- from Burleson's age and production to Delmas' knee woes and inability to practice during the week because of them.
- The Lions ended their camp Saturday afternoon with a practice that lasted a little less than one hour with no pads at all and a lot of players in baseball caps catching passes -- including specialists Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach. Why would Lions coach Jim Caldwell bring the players out there less than 12 hours after they returned from a West Coast trip to Oakland?
“The practice was kind of to break a sweat and often times guys find out they have an injury that they didn’t know about,” Caldwell said. “So we run them a little bit, loosen it up a little and go through our corrections and get them off the field to get them some rest tomorrow and get back at it at Monday.”
- Once Monday hits, the Lions will go into their regular practice mode, which also means practices are also no longer fully open to reporters. He also did this Saturday practice to give players an idea of how days go with evaluation and film.
- The biggest topic again was defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who seemed more jovial Saturday than he was at any point last week. That’s probably a good sign for him and Caldwell indicated he felt he had improved during Friday night’s game against Oakland.
- Detroit did have a transaction Saturday, signing linebacker Shamari Benton out of Central Michigan and releasing linebacker Justin Jackson from Wake Forest. Benton had 111 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss, last season for the Chippewas. He also had four sacks and an interception. He apparently trained at a gym in suburban Detroit co-owned by Tony Scheffler and Ndamukong Suh. He was so new, the Lions didn't even have a jersey for him at practice Saturday.
- Caldwell also appeared to be pleased with backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, saying he “demonstrated that [Friday] night, but we still have two more games to go.” Orlovsky was markedly better than he was in the preseason opener, when he was outplayed by No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore. He appeared to regain his hold on the backup spot with his performance Friday night. Part of the backup quarterback’s job, Caldwell said, is to be a collaborator with starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
- Asked three of the Lions players who attended Notre Dame (there are five in all as Alex Bullard and Joseph Fauria started at the school and transferred to Tennessee and UCLA, respectively) about the academic investigation at their alma mater. TJ Jones said he knew little about it and wanted to hear more details. Theo Riddick declined to comment, but said he would speak with Notre Dame if the school reached out. Golden Tate, who did not play under current coach Brian Kelly, declined to comment.
Starter: P – Sam Martin; LS – Don Muhlbach; K -- TBD
Depth (in training camp): P – None. LS – None, really. K – Nate Freese, Giorgio Tavecchio.
Likely roster spots: 3.
What to expect in camp: Barring injuries, Martin is the team’s punter and Muhlbach is the long snapper. Even the returner competition is fairly squared away unless Jeremy Ross makes a multitude of errors in camp.
The only true competition here is at kicker, where Detroit continues to search for a viable replacement for Jason Hanson, who retired following the 2012 season. David Akers was not the answer last season. The Lions searched for replacements during the season, holding tryouts, before sticking with Akers throughout the year. Last season during camp, Akers’ competition with Havard Rugland aka "Kickalicious," had never kicked in a college or NFL game before.
This season, the Lions are headed toward a young kicker no matter who wins. Freese is a seventh-round pick out of Boston College. Tavecchio, born in the fashion capital of Milan, Italy before playing college ball at California, is his competition.
Freese is more accurate. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. One of these two will be Detroit’s kicker for at least the 2014 season. It may be the most intriguing position fight of 2014.
What Detroit needs to see: Either Tavecchio or Freese needs to show enough of a combination of leg strength and accuracy to convince the coaches they are the right player to win the job. For Tavecchio, that is consistency and accuracy. For Freese, it is displaying a strong enough leg to be a player who can make kicks from beyond 50 yards.
If all things end up equal, Freese will win the job and the roster spot because the team invested (minimally) a seventh-round pick in the kicker and accuracy can often trump distance. Tavecchio, in order to win the job, will likely have to be markedly better than Freese throughout the preseason.
Some reporters have to chart every pass in quarterback competitions every fall. For Detroit this season, every kick by these two players will be scrutinized and measured.
After a month of workouts, though, there have been some players who have made cases for potential roster spots in the fall and others who did not help themselves nearly as much.
Just like the start of the spring workouts, here is a look at the Detroit defensive and special teams depth chart -- along with a post-minicamp guess at the 53-man roster that could end up being the Lions' team in the fall. Remember, a lot can change between now and then.
Changes from our May defensive prediction are in parentheses. The offensive roster prediction lives here.
Starters: Ezekiel Ansah (open); Jason Jones (closed)
Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Larry Webster, George Johnson, Kalonji Kashama.
Thoughts: Ansah didn’t practice this spring but he is a starter and should have a good year. Jones started to look healthier and will likely be pushed by Taylor throughout camp. Taylor may end up winning the job. Tapp is a good veteran and Webster is raw. Really raw.
Roster locks: Ansah, Jones, Taylor. (no changes)
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Webster. (Webster up from practice squad)
Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley.
Backups: C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Greg Hickman.
Thoughts: The Lions cut a lot of marginal veteran weight here during the spring and really somewhat set their defensive tackle depth chart. Suh and Fairley, at least in the spring, look like they could be the dominant pairing the Lions wanted the past few seasons. Both Jones and Taylor can play inside, so that gives the Lions flexibility.
Roster locks: Suh, Fairley, Mosley (no changes)
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Suh, Fairley, Mosley, Reid, Proctor (practice squad) (Add Proctor to practice squad)
Starters: DeAndre Levy (weak side); Stephen Tulloch (middle); Kyle Van Noy (strong side)
Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Cory Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson.
Thoughts: The starters are pretty set here with the two veterans and the rookie, Van Noy. Palmer will end up playing his way onto the team, but watch for Whitehead here. He is a potential candidate to push for playing time or at least be a stable backup in the middle. The last spot here could be between Stanford and Lewis for a mainly special-teams spot. In this version, I cut both Stanford and Lewis in favor of a sixth cornerback, but could easily see that changing by the time the next roster projection is done before camp.
Roster locks: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy (no changes)
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Palmer, Whitehead, Hepburn (practice squad). (Jackson off practice squad, Palmer to the 53-man roster).
Starters: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis (Chris Houston off team).
Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Chris Greenwood, Nevin Lawson, Jonte Green, Aaron Hester, Mohammed Seisay.
Thoughts: The release of Houston opens up this competition and a roster spot for another cornerback, potentially. Slay and Mathis are likely starters here with everyone else fighting for time and, other than Lawson, a roster spot. It’ll be one of the toughest battles of camp. This was one of the toughest cuts I had to make.
Roster locks: Slay, Mathis, Lawson. (Add Mathis, subtract Houston)
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson, Greenwood, Seisay (practice squad). (Houston, Green off; Seisay on practice squad).
Starters: Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo.
Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes, Jerome Couplin, Gabe Lynn.
Thoughts: The Lions are good with their top three safeties in Quin, Ihedigbo and Carey. Carey can play both nickel and corner in an emergency, which makes him imminently valuable for the Lions. Abdul-Quddus and Gomes might be competing for one roster spot and that should be an intense battle throughout camp. Between these two was the last cut I made. Initially had both making the roster until the end.
Roster locks: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey. (no changes)
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, Abdul-Quddus, Couplin (practice squad)
Starter: Nate Freese
Backup: Giorgio Tavecchio
Thoughts: Still Freese's job to lose, but this might be a tougher competition than anticipated. Tavecchio has the stronger leg and if he can add consistency, he’ll win the gig. Otherwise, it’s Freese’s. Right now, it’s a toss-up.
Roster locks: None.
If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Freese.
Starter: Sam Martin
Thoughts: None. It’s Martin.
Roster locks: Martin.
If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Martin.
Starter: Don Muhlbach.
Backups: Jordan Thompson.
Thoughts: None. Barring injury, Muhlbach will be the team’s long-snapper.
Roster locks: Muhlbach.
If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Muhlbach.
Before that officially begins, here's a look at the Lions' depth chart -- along with a first shot at what the 53-man roster could look like come fall. And please remember, a lot can change between now and then.
Starters: Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones
Backups (in projected order of depth for now): Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Kourtnei Brown, George Johnson, Larry Webster.
Roster locks: Ansah, Jones, Taylor.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Webster (practice squad).
Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley
Backups (in projected order of depth for now): C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Corvey Irvin, Vaughn Martin, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Xavier Proctor.
Thoughts: Suh and Fairley are entering the final year of their contracts, but are one of the more dominant duos in the league when Fairley decides to play well. Reid could be the steal of the draft for the Lions, and Mosley provides good depth and leadership. Everyone else is likely fighting for a roster spot at best.
Roster locks: Suh, Fairley, Mosley.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Suh, Fairley, Mosley, Reid.
Starters: DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Kyle Van Noy.
Backups (in projected order of depth): Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson.
Thoughts: The starters are locks at this point. Levy, if he takes another step, could turn into a dominant linebacker. Tulloch is one of the defensive leaders, and Martin Mayhew already said Van Noy could end up starting right away. The depth is still questionable, but Whitehead is a good player who at least can be strong on special teams.
Roster locks: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Whitehead, Stanford, Hepburn (practice squad), Jackson (practice squad).
Starters: Chris Houston, Darius Slay.
Backups (in projected order of depth): Rashean Mathis, Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, Aaron Hester, Nevin Lawson, Mohammed Seisay, Gabe Lynn.
Thoughts: This was one of the positions that appeared to be in need of help in the draft and the Lions didn't really address it. This is a massive year for Bentley, Green and Greenwood, as well as an important development year for Slay. Other than Matthew Stafford, the level of success Detroit has this season might depend on how these players end up improving or not. It could end up being the most competitive battle in camp. The toughest decision I had on this roster was between Bentley and Greenwood, but went with Bentley. Cornerback is going to be a position to watch over the next four months.
Roster locks: Houston, Slay, Lawson.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Houston, Slay, Mathis, Vaughn, Green, Bentley, Lawson.
Starters: Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo
Backups (in projected order of depth): Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes, Jerome Couplin.
Thoughts: Quin and Ihedigbo are set, and Carey can be a serviceable backup at safety and also play down at nickel. Abdul-Quddus is a special teams player the Lions targeted early. Watch for Couplin. He may be more intriguing than some of Detroit's draft picks.
Roster locks: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, Abdul-Quddus, Couplin (practice squad).
Starter: Nate Freese
Backups (in projected order of depth): Giorgio Tavecchio
Thoughts: This is Freese's job to lose as the team used a draft pick -- albeit a seventh-rounder -- on him. If Tavecchio outkicks him, he could steal the job.
Roster locks: None
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Freese
Starter: Sam Martin
Thoughts: Martin's the guy.
Roster locks: Martin
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Martin.
Starter: Don Muhlbach
Backups (in projected order of depth): Jordan Thompson
Thoughts: Muhlbach is one of the best in the league here. With a rookie kicker, he's not going anywhere. What could be intriguing is if the team keeps Thompson on the practice squad as the snapper of the future.
Roster locks: Muhlbach.
If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Muhlbach.
The depth continues to build for the Detroit Lions with players unknown to most and unlikely to be on the final 53-man roster come the start of the season in September.
The man the Lions officially signed Monday, though, might have a chance down the road.
Jordan Thompson, a tight end from Ohio University who went undrafted last season, became the fifth tight end on the roster. That is not why he might eventually have a chance to make the team. Thompson won't make the roster as a tight end unless he surprises everyone -- not with Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams in front of him.
Where he could eventually make the Detroit roster -- or another roster at some point -- is his other ability. Long snapping. Not much was made of this and the Lions have one of the top snappers in the NFL, Don Muhlbach, but Thompson could be a player who gets stashed away on a practice squad for a year or two before being brought up to actually take over the role.
Here's some video of him snapping. It is as exciting as it sounds. Three minutes of nothing but snaps. All snaps. All the time. But guys can make careers out of this -- ask Muhlbach -- so if he's able to have this type of role, he may end up with a chance at a future roster spot.
And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Reggie Bush put his Hollywood Hills home on the market. Calvin Johnson is the only Lions player in the top 50 of player sales lists. The Lions could look for late value with quarterbacks. The NFL draft preview begins with a look at the quarterback position.
- Golden Tate likes how Jim Caldwell is working on team building, writes Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press.
- The Lions could draft an outside pass-rusher, writes Chris McCosky in the Detroit News.
- Drafting tight end Eric Ebron wouldn't be a big surprise for the Lions, writes Justin Rogers of MLive.
The team, which brought back center Dominic Raiola last month, re-signed veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach to a one-year contract. The deal was announced Thursday.
The base salary on the deal is $955,000, according to NFLPA records. The Detroit Free Press is reporting Muhlbach is also receiving a $65,000 signing bonus. He received the same bonuses in 2012 and 2013.
The 32-year-old from Texas A&M has played in 148 games for Detroit since going undrafted in 2004 -- almost primarily as the team's long snapper.
Muhlbach was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012.
To understand a little bit more about what Muhlbach actually does, here's a look from last season at the Detroit Lions punting operation.
So as teams across the country sign players Wednesday, here's a look back at where the Detroit Lions were ranked when they were high school seniors. For rankings from 2006 forward, the rankings used are ESPN's rankings. From 2002 to 2006, we used the Rivals.com rankings.
In some cases, no rankings were available. If something is not denoted as coming from another site, it is ESPN's ranking from that year.
What you'll see is most of Detroit's players were not highly rated players coming out of high school. Some had no ranking at all. Just goes to show how blue chip recruits in high school don't always turn into top-level college or NFL players.
This post covers the defense and special teams. This post from earlier took care of the offense.
- Ndamukong Suh (2005): Rated as the No. 6 defensive tackle by Rivals.com and the No. 51 player overall. Signed with Nebraska.Suh
- Nick Fairley (2007): Rated as the No. 31 offensive tackle. Signed with Auburn but went to Copiah-Lincoln Community College for two years before heading to Auburn.
- Willie Young (2004): Rated as the No. 14 defensive end by Rivals.com. Signed with N.C. State and went to Hargrave Military Academy in 2004 before going to N.C. State in 2005. Was the No. 18 prep school player in the country in the Class of 2005.
- Ziggy Ansah (2008): Not rated in ESPN's database. Not surprising considering he went to BYU from Ghana. He tried out for basketball, was on the track team in 2009 and started playing football in 2010. His story is documented here from colleague Ohm Youngmisuk.
- Devin Taylor (2008): Rated as the No. 69 defensive end in his class and No. 21 player in South Carolina. Signed with South Carolina.
- Jason Jones (2004): Not rated by Rivals.com, but was labeled a two-star prospect by the service. Signed with Eastern Michigan.
- C.J. Mosley (2001): Not in Tom Lemming's Top 100 for 2001 but Missouri's website says Mosley was one of the top 55 defensive line prospects in the country in 2001. Signed with Missouri.
- Andre Fluellen (2003): Rated as the No. 28 defensive tackle in the country and No. 22 player in Georgia his year. Signed with Florida State.
- Israel Idonije (2000): Played football at Manitoba in Canada.
- Xavier Proctor (2008): He was not rated by either service in 2008 and signed with North Carolina Central. Here's an interesting story about his past from the Baltimore Sun.
- Jimmy Saddler-McQueen (2005 or 2006): No information is available on Saddler-McQueen. He signed with Texas A&M-Kingsville, where he played from 2006 to 2009.
- Stephen Tulloch (2003): Rated as the No. 28 inside linebacker in his class and No. 51 player in Florida by Rivals.com. Signed with N.C. State.
- DeAndre Levy (2005): Rated as the No. 49 outside linebacker in his class and the No. 4 player in Wisconsin by Rivals.com. Signed with Wisconsin.Levy
- Ashlee Palmer (2006): Information on Palmer's recruitment is confusing. Was unranked in the Class of 2007 by ESPN. He was the No. 38 junior college player in the class of 2006 by Rivals.com as a safety. He initially signed with Nebraska out of high school, then signed with Washington out of Compton Community College before landing at Mississippi. There are some nuggets about Palmer's recruiting saga in this Scout.com story.
- Rocky McIntosh (2001): Rated as the No. 15 linebacker in the nation by SuperPrep according to the Miami (Fla.) website, where he signed.
- Tahir Whitehead (2008): Not ranked as a safety out of high school. Signed with Temple.
- Julian Stanford (2008): Not rated by either service in 2008. Signed with Wagner.
- Brandon Hepburn (2008): Not rated by either service in 2008. Signed with Florida A&M.
- Travis Lewis (2007): Rated as the No. 79 running back in the country by ESPN and No. 20 outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Signed with Oklahoma.
- Cory Greenwood (2006): Played football in Canada.
- Louis Delmas (2005): Not rated by Rivals.com, but was a two-star recruit. Signed with Western Michigan.Delmas
- Glover Quin (2006): Not rated by either service out of Southwest Mississippi Community College in 2006. More interesting -- both Rivals and ESPN had his name spelled at Glover Quinn with two "n's" in their bios.
- Rashean Mathis (1998 or 1999): Mathis broke his leg his senior year at Englewood High School according to Jacksonville.com, costing him high Division I scholarships. He ended up at Bethune-Cookman. No recruiting information exists about him.
- Chris Houston (2003): Rated as the No. 32 cornerback in his class and No. 66 player in Texas by Rivals.com. Signed with Arkansas.
- Darius Slay (2009): Rated as the No. 109 safety and No. 76 player in Georgia in 2009. Signed with Mississippi State but went to Itawamba Community College before re-signing with Mississippi State in 2011, when he was unrated.
- Don Carey (2005): Not rated as a safety by Rivals.com in his class. Signed with Norfolk State.
- Bill Bentley (2008): Went from Pahokee, Fla. to Dodge City Community College. Didn't play there, but signed with Louisiana. Was not rated by ESPN.
- Jonte Green (2007): Not rated out of high school by either service. Signed with Benedict College before transferring to New Mexico State.
- Chris Greenwood (2007): Not rated out of high school. Went to Division II Northwood and then Division III Albion.
- DeJon Gomes (2007): Not rated out of high school. Attended City College of San Francisco and then Nebraska in 2009. He was not rated then, either.
- John Wendling (2002): Not rated as a running back out of high school by Rivals.com. Two-star recruit. Signed with Wyoming.
- Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (2006): Not rated as a running back. Signed with Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania and had an interesting recruiting story in Sports Illustrated.
- David Akers (1993): No information is available here. Signed with Louisville.
- Sam Martin (2008): Was going to play college soccer. Signed with Appalachian State for football. Explained his recruitment in this ESPN story this year.
- Don Muhlbach (1999): Signed with Texas A&M. No information available on his recruitment.