Detroit Lions: LaMarr Woodley

As free agency begins Tuesday and the Detroit Lions figure out exactly how to fill their holes, certain players will stand out.

And over the past three days, the Lions have spent time in the beginnings of talks with free agents as they try to maximize about $11 million in salary-cap space.

It might sound like a lot -- and it will be enough to get a couple of deals done -- but the total is in the lower half of the NFL and could keep the Lions from being major movers in the market, at least until a new contract is worked out with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

If that happens.

As everyone settles in for the insanity of free agency, here is a look at players the Lions could target on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Why: This could be predicated on what happens with defensive end Willie Young. If the team is able to bring Young back, the Lions might be done at the position in the near term. If not, they might look for a replacement. At defensive tackle, the team already signed Corvey Irvin and has depth.

Two candidates:
  • Young: Last season was his first consistent extended action, and he was effective. He had 47 tackles and three sacks, but his size and speed make him an attractive free agent for teams. At 28, he is in his prime.
  • Brett Keisel: He is a 3-4 defensive end who can play defensive tackle in the 4-3. Though 35 years old, he had 29 tackles and four sacks in 12 games last season. He could be a cheap alternative if the team feels there is a need for another veteran on the line.
LINEBACKER:

Why not: Sure, there could be a deal made with someone for cheap or a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, but with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch returning and the team playing more nickel than ever, it could be tough for them to lure a big-name player.

Two options:
  • LaMarr Woodley: Expected to be released by the Steelers later Tuesday, he has connections to the state and can play both linebacker and defensive end, making him a potentially cheap, versatile piece.
  • Larry Foote: Like Woodley, this is more about someone who has connections to Michigan. If Foote is planning on being a starter, he isn’t going to come to Detroit -- and his price tag would likely be too much anyway.
CORNERBACK:

Why: Despite the team having money wrapped up in Chris Houston and a bunch of younger cornerbacks ready to seek out playing time, the Lions might be wise to invest in another veteran, much like they did with Rashean Mathis a season ago.

Four candidates:
  • Mathis: He showed he can still play after becoming the team’s top cornerback last season and was a steadying influence in the Detroit locker room for those younger cornerbacks. He would probably still come cheap.
  • Corey Graham: He played last season under new Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and has familiarity with Austin's schemes. At 6 feet, Graham has the height Austin wants, made 68 tackles and intercepted four passes a season ago. He could be a strong fit.
  • Alterraun Verner: The Lions reportedly reached out to the former Tennessee cornerback, but he is expected to be pursued heavily in free agency. Though the Lions could be a fit, Verner might end up being too expensive.
  • Charles Tillman: He told reporters during Super Bowl week that he wouldn’t rule out playing for the Lions, and he could be an interesting cornerback/safety hybrid. He also has familiarity with the division, having played for Chicago, and has the respect of receiver Calvin Johnson.
SAFETY

Why: Other than receiver, this might be the biggest need of all for Detroit after the team released starter Louis Delmas. Though the Lions could address this spot in the draft, they likely would like to put someone experienced opposite Glover Quin.

Some candidates:
  • T.J. Ward: The Cleveland safety has been the name most tied to the Lions during the four-day lead up to the beginning of free agency. He had 112 tackles and two interceptions last season and could be a good complement to Quin. He is going to be highly sought after, so if Detroit lands him, he might be the team’s big free agency move.
  • Chris Clemons: His former team, the Dolphins, signed Delmas on Monday, meaning Clemons is likely headed elsewhere. He has been productive the past two seasons with 90-plus tackles in each. If the Lions don’t land Ward, Clemons could be a strong second option for Detroit. Insider Matt Williamson considers Clemons one of the best bargains of this free agent class.
  • James Ihedigbo: He doesn’t have the name recognition of Ward or Clemons, but like Corey Graham, he is someone Austin is familiar with from Baltimore. Ihedigbo, 30, had a career year in 2013, making 99 tackles and intercepting the first three passes of his career.
  • Ryan Clark: The Steelers safety could be a cheap, valuable addition and an instant locker room leader like Delmas and Nate Burleson were. At age 34, Clark has had three straight seasons of 100 tackles or more.
  • Charles Woodson: This would almost scream cheap, one-year deal for an aging veteran with ties to the state. He made 97 tackles last season and still seems in shape to play. He could provide good tutoring and a high level of play for Detroit, and told the Detroit News “never say never” when asked about playing for the Lions. He has also been around the state the past few days, but that likely means nothing in terms of free agency.

Ansah, Burleson inactive for Detroit

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
12:10
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Not much of a surprise, but defensive end Ziggy Ansah and wide receiver Nate Burleson are among the inactive players for Detroit on Sunday against the Steelers.

Ansah tested the ankle during warm-ups before the game, but had only practiced one day in the past two weeks and appeared unlikely to play from the start. Rookie Devin Taylor will make his second career start in place of Ansah.

Burleson had hinted he likely wasn't going to play this week as well, but he warmed up before the official no-go decision was made.

In bigger news for the Lions, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was deemed inactive. That's a big deal for Detroit, which will start rookie right tackle LaAdrian Waddle for the third straight game. Facing Woodley would have been the biggest test so far for Waddle.

Lions inactives: Burleson, Ansah; OT Corey Hilliard; OG Leroy Harris; RB Montell Owens; CB Bill Bentley; QB Kellen Moore.
PITTSBURGH -- Calvin Johnson won’t be the only Detroit Lions player who presents serious matchup problems for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field.

Reggie Bush has just under 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in eight games this season, and Ryan Clark said Bush is so good in open space that he reminds the Steelers' free safety of LaDainian Tomlinson.

Bush
Bush
“As far as his ability to make guys miss, I think it’s LaDainian-like,” Clark said.

That is high praise considering Tomlinson is fifth all-time in the NFL with 13,684 rushing yards and is a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Like Tomlinson was during his decorated playing career, Bush is a dual threat, and he has added balance to the Lions’ offense after signing with Detroit in the offseason.

The eighth-year veteran has rushed for 623 yards and added 343 receiving yards.

Clark said Bush is also comparable to Saints’ scatback Darren Sproles, because of his receiving and open-field skills.

“He’s a guy who’s cat-quick, extremely elusive in the open field, and so they feel like any opportunity with Reggie in space against a defender other than a corner they have an athletic advantage," Clark said. "They try to get him in space.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Bush is more than just a running back who also has good hands.

“He’s one of those few running backs that has wide receiver skills in terms of his ability to drop his weight and create separation at break points,” Tomlin said.

Many of the Steelers will play against Bush for the first time.

The only other time he faced the Steelers was during his rookie season in 2006.

Bush rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and caught seven passes for 50 yards in helping the Saints beat the Steelers at Heinz Field.

He has never quite lived up to the hype that accompanied him to the NFL, but Bush has carved out a solid career.

And the former Southern Cal start is still one of the more feared players in the NFL when he gets into the open field.

“You have to get to him as a unit,” said Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who isn’t expected to play Sunday because of a calf injury, “because he does a great job of breaking tackles and finding a lane and taking it to the house.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After missing two days of practice and then saying Thursday he anticipated playing Sunday against Pittsburgh, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is officially listed as probable on the team's injury report Friday.

Johnson
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle), who returned to practice Friday on a limited basis, is officially listed as questionable but had not practiced for almost two weeks before Friday. Also listed as questionable is right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee).

Cornerback Bill Bentley (knee), who hasn't practiced all week, is listed as doubtful along with receiver Nate Burleson (forearm), who is still recovering from his injury.

The only player ruled out for the Lions is running back Montell Owens, who hasn't practiced all week.

Interesting to note, especially since he likely would have faced rookie right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) is officially doubtful for Pittsburgh on Sunday. Also, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) is questionable for the Steelers.

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