Detroit Lions: Mikel Leshoure

Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Mikel Leshoure has just wanted a chance to play and prove himself.

Leshoure
It now appears he will be attempting to do that somewhere other than with the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Free Press is reporting the Lions will waive Leshoure, one of the team's two second-round picks in 2011, as part of their cuts down to a 53-man roster.

Leshoure lost his starting job to Joique Bell last season and appeared to be fighting for a roster spot since the beginning of offseason workouts in April. He never really established himself during the preseason and ended up having to contend with George Winn, a 2013 undrafted free agent brought in who ended up taking some carries from Leshoure.

Unlike Winn -- who is still not guaranteed a roster spot with Leshoure's release -- Leshoure was barely used on special teams, which is an issue for any depth running back.

Leshoure, who went to Illinois, had 217 carries for 807 yards and nine touchdowns for Detroit -- all but two of those carries and nine of those yards coming during the 2012 season.

Cutting Leshoure also means the Lions only have one player left from their 2011 draft class: defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who was taken in the first round. Leshoure is also one of a litany of second-round picks -- including fellow 2011 second-rounder Titus Young -- who didn't really work out for Detroit.
Maybe the Detroit Lions should think about forgoing second-round picks for the immediate future.

Van Noy
This is not a serious statement, of course, but considering the lack of immediate success -- or any success at all -- the team’s second-round picks have had recently, it is at the very least a very odd, very random coincidence.

The team’s latest second-round pick, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, was tabbed during May’s draft as a player who could be an immediate starter for the team at SAM linebacker. Then he missed part of spring workouts due to injury. After coming back for the first part of the preseason, he injured his abdominal muscle, resulting in surgery Thursday and a chance he’ll be out for a while.

And now you can add him to the list of players who at the very least did not do much during their first years.

Here are the second-round picks under current general manager Martin Mayhew:
  • Last season’s second-round pick, cornerback Darius Slay, started the first two games of the season before being benched in favor of Rashean Mathis.
  • The team’s 2012 second-round pick, Ryan Broyles, was coming off an ACL injury his last year at Oklahoma. Then he tore an ACL his rookie year, returned and ruptured his Achilles midway through last season. He is playing Thursday night fighting for a roster spot.
  • Detroit’s two second-rounders in 2011 have both been disappointments. Receiver Titus Young had stability issues and was released by the Lions after two seasons. He is currently in jail awaiting his latest court case in California. Running back Mikel Leshoure is the team’s No. 4 running back and not guaranteed of being on the roster by the end of the weekend.
  • Perhaps the team’s best second-round pick of recent memory was Louis Delmas, who was released this offseason and now is with Miami. But he was at least productive.

That list is not an inspiring group, to be sure, but the team still has high hopes for Van Noy and it is way, way too early to judge anything about his career based off its start. But considering the team’s past, there should at least be some concern of how much -- if at all -- they’ll be able to use their linebacker prospect during his first season.
The Detroit Lions aren’t going to play their entrenched starters very long against Buffalo, but for many of the guys who are not Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford or Reggie Bush or DeAndre Levy or Ndamukong Suh, this is one last chance to hold on to a job.

Or to earn a spot on the roster.

So here are some position competitions you should be watching -- and I’ll be watching -- in the preseason finale:

Waddle
 
Hilliard
 Corey Hilliard vs. LaAdrian Waddle: The only full-time starting job that’s still up for grabs, watch who starts tonight. Even if Detroit’s starters don’t play, it’s logical to think both Hilliard and Waddle will see the field as one final audition for Jim Caldwell and the offensive line coaches. If Hilliard lines up with the first group again, that might be a sign he’s won the job since he did so last week as well. Who wins here is still somewhat of a toss-up, but if I had to pick, I’d say Hilliard.

Ashlee Palmer vs. Tahir Whitehead vs. Kyle Van Noy: The other semi-starter spot open is still a three-man race and likely won’t resolve itself until the season starts since Van Noy has an abdominal injury. This is a semi-starter spot because the Lions will play enough nickel that Bill Bentley might end up starting half the games and play half the time anyway. As of now, it looks like Whitehead might surprise and win this spot after his performance against Jacksonville and how he's played in camp. If he does well against Buffalo, he may lock the job up to start the season. All three will make the roster, though.

The wide receivers: Touched on this earlier in W2W4, but this is the most wide open competition left on the roster and really, anything can still happen. This is one spot where a strong performance against Buffalo could be a deciding factor. There are four real candidates here for two or three slots: Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller. All were with the Lions last season and if Detroit keeps Durham, Ogletree and Broyles, it’s possible all could be on the team again if Fuller ends up on the practice squad.

Kellen Moore vs. Empty: Moore needs a big game Thursday night and even then, it isn’t a guarantee that would be enough to keep him on the roster. The main competition for him will be depth at other positions, including receiver, running back, corner, linebacker and safety. If Detroit feels good at all those spots, there may be room for Moore on the 53-man roster. If not, the Lions may avoid keeping three quarterbacks, but a huge game from him could make the Lions contemplate the decision hard.

George Winn vs. Mikel Leshoure vs. None: Winn has had the more impressive preseason and might have locked himself up a roster spot if not for two fumbles in three games. Leshoure has alternated between glimpses of the runs a second-round pick should make and a bunch of indecisive cutting with nothing to show for it. Winn gives Detroit something on special teams as well, which helps his case. There’s also a chance Detroit keeps neither.

Montell Owens vs. Jed Collins vs. Emil Igwenagu: The Lions claimed Igwenagu this week off waivers, and Caldwell seemed like he wanted to give him a real opportunity Thursday night. If he shows enough, it’s possible he could push Owens or Collins out of a roster spot. His signing also could affect the Winn/Leshoure/None competition because Igwenagu’s ability to play fullback and tight end could lead Detroit to keeping two of Owens/Collins/Igwenagu for roster flexibility.

Williams
Williams
 Michael Williams vs. Cornelius Lucas: At the start of camp, the fourth tackle spot looked like Lucas’ to lose. Yet the past two weeks, Williams has been the fourth tackle in the game and has shown he can play both right and left tackle as he continues to learn the position after converting from tight end. Line coach Jeremiah Washburn is also really high on Williams’ potential. Pay attention to who comes in first and who plays the longest here. Remember, last season, Waddle went from fourth tackle to starter in half a season.

Jerome Couplin vs. Isa Abdul-Quddus vs. Don Carey vs. Travis Lewis vs. Chris Greenwood: They play different positions (Couplin, Abdul-Quddus and Carey are safeties, Lewis is a linebacker, and Greenwood is a cornerback), but they could be fighting for one or two spots on defense. This could come down to roster makeup and special teams ability. All of them possess special teams gifts, but watch who might be on the first unit and who gets snaps there because that and injuries could determine jobs.
For the majority of Detroit's starters, the next time they'll see the field is on Monday Night Football next month. Their preseason work is over, and their roster spots secure.

Against Jacksonville, a lot of those starters got enough time to actually show where they are as well. Here are some thoughts on some of the Lions' players on offense against the Jaguars.

Stafford
Stafford
 Quarterback Matthew Stafford: Had an interception where he stared down Calvin Johnson and didn’t see the defensive end dropping in coverage. Also had a defensive drop on a pass forced to Johnson. A defensive drop, at least from what I’m calling it, is a pass that should have been intercepted only to have a defender drop it. After the interception on the forced throw staredown, he looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket and in making decisions.

Running back Reggie Bush: Good speed, good understanding and hit the hole well. On his long run that was called back due to a Brandon Pettigrew hold, he probably wouldn’t have gotten there without that hold. On Bush’s 86-yard touchdown run, he had major help from blockers to create the hole -- more on this below -- but his speed was extremely impressive, and the Lions have to be happy to see he still has that.

Running back Mikel Leshoure: Had more decisiveness and push than in the previous two preseason games and actually ran fairly well when he got his shot with the starters. Still doesn’t feel like he’ll make the 53-man roster, but he had his best film of the preseason. His fumble in the second half didn’t help his roster chance, though.

Running back George Winn: Showed up on first-team special teams again and continued to run hard when he was given opportunities, but fumbling has to be a concern, and it could keep him off the 53-man roster. Ball security has always been a paramount quality for Jim Caldwell, and two fumbles in three preseason games has to raise eyebrows a bit. If I’m Winn and I don’t make this team, I’m looking heavily at those two fumbles because he’s done everything else well.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson: Was in the slot a decent amount during his snaps and looked fine when he was running his routes. Needed to get on the field just to test everything in a game setting. Stafford tried to force throws to him, but Johnson looked like his typical self.

Wide receiver Ryan Broyles: He didn’t play with the starters at all from what I saw, but once again he found open spaces and made catches when he received his opportunity. It’s a tough position grouping at wide receiver, but this is the closest Broyles has looked to his college self, when he was an attractive prospect before three straight season-ending injuries. If he stays healthy, he could end up making some impact this season.

Right tackle Corey Hilliard: There were times it appeared he got beat by the end, but he also sealed quite well to open up holes for Bush and Joique Bell. His block inside helped spring Bush for his 86-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Blocks from Eric Ebron, who appeared to take on two guys well and Kevin Ogletree on the outside gave Bush the hole, but Hilliard started it with the good push inside on the end.

Observation Deck: Detroit Lions

August, 22, 2014
8/22/14
10:51
PM ET

DETROIT -- A week ago, Jonte Green was picked on by Oakland during the Raiders’ game-winning drive. On Friday, he didn’t see any time until the fourth quarter against Jacksonville.

In his short work Friday, the cornerback battling for a spot on the roster ended up with a big play. Green picked off a Ricky Stanzi pass on the Jaguars’ second-to-last drive to secure a 13-12 win for Detroit -- its third straight game decided by a single point.

Here are some other thoughts from the Lions’ third preseason game:
  • Tahir Whitehead received the surprise start over Ashlee Palmer at strongside linebacker Friday night and took advantage. The third-year pro from Temple had four tackles in the first two series and ended up around the ball the entire game. Already likely on the roster due to his special-teams skills, he has been trying to make a push to show he can be an NFL linebacker, too. He took a step toward that against the Jaguars.
  • George Johnson received valuable chances while Ezekiel Ansah was injured. Now that Ansah is back, at least in a limited role, Johnson is still making as many plays as possible. Johnson sacked Chad Henne in the first half and had at least one more really strong pressure. He is also consistently on the Lions’ nickel pass-rush unit at defensive end. Seeing him play this much with the first group bodes well for his chances to make the roster. He also showed up on special-teams units throughout the game, so he can be versatile there, too.
  • Quarterback Matthew Stafford was 10-of-16 for 98 yards and an interception. He was really good on some throws but fell into the old habit of forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson on others -- including the pass he had intercepted. Stafford moved well in the pocket though, and did well to evade Jacksonville's rush.
  • The Lions should be pleased with their pass rush against Jacksonville. Johnson and Devin Taylor picked up sacks and there were numerous other quarterback pressures -- including a roughing-the-passer call on Ndamukong Suh that earned a flag. That some of the pressure came from linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Bill Bentley is another sign of the type of blitzing the Lions are going to do this season.
  • Hello, penalties. The Lions brought in Jim Caldwell to instill discipline and cut down on penalties. The Lions failed there Friday, committing 15 penalties for 131 yards -- not the statement a team preaching discipline wanted to make. Detroit had 16 penalties for 106 yards in the first two games combined.
  • It was not a good night for George Winn. He saw some running back reps with the first team, but also committed his second fumble of the preseason. For a player trying to make the roster as the last running back, that won’t help his cause. His competition, Mikel Leshoure, didn’t do a ton but did have a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter. Leshoure then fumbled on the next play.
The Detroit Lions will play their second preseason game Friday night at Oakland (10 ET), and while we covered certain issues to pay attention to earlier today, there are a bunch of players to pay somewhat close attention to during the late night west coast matchup.

For all of them, a good or bad performance can mean making the team or the practice squad. Here's a primer of who I'll be focusing on (from my couch, since I won't be in Oakland, but we can chat on Twitter):

1. RB George Winn: He's made some big plays during practice and in the preseason opener. Mentioned him in the earlier preview as well, but this could be his best chance to make a strong roster push. Theo Riddick should receive some of the carries that Winn might have otherwise seen since he missed most of the first preseason game, but Winn will get a long look. At this point, he's putting together an audition tape for the practice squad and trying to unseat Mikel Leshoure. The big thing to pay attention to with Winn -- special teams. If he pops up on a first-team special teams unit, that could be a major sign for him.

2. S Jerome Couplin: The Osprey was one of the most focused-on undrafted free agents because of his wingspan and nickname. Then he went out and made some big hits during the preseason opener and has been continually popping up in practice. The Lions are clearly taking a strong look at him, as they played him with the second team defense all week. If he makes a play or two Friday night, he may start to receive real roster consideration instead of a likely practice squad spot.

3. QB Kellen Moore: He put together a strong first performance but he'll need to do it more consistently to have a real shot. Frankly, he'll also need current No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky to continue to struggle as well. But with a good opening game, Moore at least put himself in some conversation for a backup quarterback position on the team. If he gets some actual time with the No. 2 offense, that'll signal the Lions may be looking at it, too.

4. WR Kevin Ogletree: He has been really strong during camp, but had a bad drop in the opener against Cleveland. He should make the roster, although having a good performance against the Raiders wouldn't be a bad thing for him to put on film just to solidify what Detroit's coaches are seeing in practice.

5. WR Ryan Broyles: Like Moore and Winn, he had a good first game and appeared to have no setbacks from his Achilles injury last season. If he's healthy, he should make the roster. If he wants to do more than that, though, another good game would certainly help him here -- especially if he wants to try and push Ogletree for the No. 3 position.

6. DT Caraun Reid: The rookie from Princeton played well in his debut, making two plays in the backfield and showing he can handle the NFL. If he builds on this -- and there is little reason to think he won't -- he could end up being a larger part of the defensive tackle rotation than initially thought. Reid's spot on the team is safe.

7.CB Chris Greenwood: If the Lions keep six cornerbacks, the final spot will be a likely competition between Jonte Green, Drayton Florence and Greenwood. Green appeared to have the initial inside path to this spot -- and then he barely played in the preseason opener. Florence remains an intriguing candidate, but hasn't played much yet. Watch the snaps here, as Greenwood might end up pushing himself into the spot. A real outside candidate would be Mohammed Seisay, but he is probably a bit too raw for a roster spot just yet.

8.Kickers: I'll put Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio in the same spot here since they are two guys competing for one job. Freese appears to have the edge right now, although Tavecchio has been more consistent in practice. At this point, Tavecchio needs to continue to hit all his opportunities and probably needs Freese to miss a few to have a shot, but he has proven himself as a NFL kicker during this camp.

9. DT Nick Fairley: How many snaps will he get? How will he play in those snaps? Fairley is the most intriguing player on the Lions right now because of what occurred in practice last week. In what is expected to be limited snaps, will a motivated Fairley show up?

10. DE Larry Webster: Like Reid, Webster made a few plays in his debut. If he continues to do that, he could end up being a rotational factor this fall instead of being a pure developmental project for the Lions. His size, speed and build could turn him into a freakish defensive end once he figures everything out. Between him, Devin Taylor and Ezekiel Ansah, that could three high-caliber ends in a season or two.
DETROIT -- Kellen Moore doesn't have a Detroit Lions' roster spot locked up, but he might have made a good first impression on his new coaches.

The third-year player from Boise State, who has been the No. 3 quarterback on the team since his rookie year, led a game-winning drive completed with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Corey Fuller with a little over a minute left Saturday night to give Detroit a 13-12 win over the Cleveland Browns.

While it will help Moore's case for a spot -- it was a perfect throw -- it might aid Fuller even more. Fuller beat his defender perfectly on the play and caught the ball in stride.

Fuller is in the midst of an intense competition at receiver and was the only player to score a touchdown.

Here are some other thoughts on the Lions' first preseason game of the year:
  • It is only one game and the offense is obviously condensed, but the Lions have to hope Matthew Stafford stays healthy this season. Dan Orlovsky was average in his return to Detroit. He often settled for the checkdown, ended up on the run or waiting too long to make decisions. It would be interesting to know what his instructions were in the game. His passes also often looked off-target, even on shorter screens. Orlovsky was 12-of-23 for 89 yards and was sacked once.
  • Montell Owens had a nice game for the Lions as he competes with Jed Collins and, theoretically, Mikel Leshoure, for a roster spot. While he didn't receive a carry, he had an excellent block pickup in the third quarter to buy Orlovsky time. In the first half, he had a massive special teams hit in kick coverage. He knows their way to a spot is through special teams and Owens is quite good at that facet of the game.
  • The Lions appeared to use some 4-4 on defense. Not enough for it to be a base package, but enough for it to be noticed. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and players have mentioned the multiplicity of the defense often and that appears to be an early wrinkle unveiled.
  • Drops again were a little bit of an issue on the first few series of the game while starters and key reserves were in there. On the flip of that, receiver Ryan Broyles looked fairly healthy in his first action since his Achilles injury last season. He caught three passes for 27 yards and made it through the game healthy. He's been pretty buried on the depth chart so far this summer and has to continue to have strong performances like Saturday to have a shot at a roster spot.
  • Kicking data: Nate Freese made both of his field goals in the first half, although both were somewhat chip shots -- 33 and 37 yards. Meanwhile, Giorgio Tavecchio made the game-winning extra point. Freese and Tavecchio also handled kickoffs as the Lions try to keep Sam Martin's leg as fresh as possible for the season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times last season where Mikel Leshoure knew he was not going to receive a chance. He had been banished to the bench even though his coaches said publicly there was a role for him somewhere on the Detroit Lions.

Leshoure
That role, it seemed, was an inactive one.

The Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish after starting the season strong, resulting in the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. In their place, the team hired Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

And one of the bigger beneficiaries of the move might be Leshoure, the former second-round pick out of Illinois.

“The new coaches just coming in here and they, knowing us, they got their own background of us and they give everybody a fresh chance, a fresh start and I feel like that’s what I needed,” Leshoure said. “I feel like it’s fair game now and I can go out there and compete.”

Leshoure still has a tough road to real playing time as the Lions have a lot invested in starting running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-based offense could provide Leshoure with at least a fraction of the chances he received in 2012, when he had 215 carries for 798 yards and 34 receptions for 214 yards.

Then last season, he had two carries all season.

“I don’t really get into what happened last year,” Leshoure said. “I felt a lot of it was out of my hands. It wasn’t anything I did as far as my part as far as discipline or anything like that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision and he’s gone, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

By leaving it there, he’s hoping he can pick up where he finished in 2012 instead of languishing where he was in 2013.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder – unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.

Position: Running back/Fullback

Starter: Reggie Bush/Joique Bell (running back); Jed Collins (fullback)

Bush
Bush
Bell
Riddick
Depth (in training camp): Running back – Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Montell Owens, Steven Miller. Fullback – Owens, Chad Abram

Likely roster spots: 5-7.

What to expect in camp: Don’t be surprised to see Bell take more reps than Bush during camp. This won’t have anything to do with a switch at the top of the depth chart, but could have more to do with Bell missing time throughout the spring because of a knee injury. Bush practiced throughout the offseason, so this would be time for Bell to catch up since Detroit will need both in the fall. Figure to see Riddick also receiving a good share of snaps, in part to rest Bush and also to see if his spring breakout performance without pads translates into when he is fully dressed and being hit as well.

Fullback would seem like Collins’ spot to lose since Detroit brought him in during the offseason during its renewed commitment to the position. Yet Owens offers potentially more flexibility as he can play both running back and fullback. Abram is still an unknown but could be one of the undrafted free agents who can push for an actual spot on the 53-man roster. How things shake out could end up affecting other roster spots as well – and vice versa.

What Detroit needs to see: Bell has to have no adverse issues with the knee injury that bothered him but didn’t keep him off the field last season. Riddick needs to show he can continue to improve in his second year. He was one of the team’s better special-teams performers as a rookie but to keep a roster spot, he has to show the ability to become more involved in the offense as well.

More than the health of players, though, the Lions have to see reliable hands from Bell, Bush and Riddick. Those three will be the primary backfield players to receive passes and there were major issues there in 2013. Bush dropped 11.4 percent of the passes he was thrown. Bell dropped 8.8 percent of his attempted catches. Riddick dropped 12.5 percent of passes thrown to him, although he only had eight targets so it was a small sample size.

At fullback, Owens is the intrigue. If he can handle both roles, it could open up a roster spot at another position or bump Collins or Leshoure from the team. Abram is probably headed toward a practice-squad spot unless he really impresses during training camp both on offense and in special teams.
The offseason workouts have concluded and with players and coaches about six weeks away from the start of training camp, one last rest and individualized training period will commence.

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 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 offensive prediction are in parentheses.

QUARTERBACK:

Projected starter: Matthew Stafford (no change)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Dan Orlovsky; Kellen Moore; James Franklin (no changes)

Thoughts: Stafford remains Detroit’s starter and barring injury, that won’t change. Orlovsky will be the No. 2 quarterback – and that probably isn’t changing, either. The main battle in camp will be between Moore and Franklin for the No. 3 spot, if the Lions take a third quarterback. Franklin took no snaps in the spring, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell indicated he’ll see live game action in the preseason.

Roster locks: Stafford; Orlovsky (add Orlovsky)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Stafford, Orlovsky, Franklin (practice squad) (Franklin from 53-man to practice squad)

RUNNING BACK

Projected starter(s): Reggie Bush/Joique Bell

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Steven Miller.

Thoughts: Bush and Bell aren’t going anywhere. Riddick was one of the stars of the spring and looks like he’ll end up having a role in the offense beyond special teams this season. Leshoure missed part of spring workouts, so it is tough to say where his role will be this season, if he has one. But Detroit has its first three running backs pretty set right now unless it makes a free-agent move at the position.

Roster locks: Bush, Bell, Riddick (add Riddick)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Bush, Bell, Riddick, Leshoure (no changes)

FULLBACK

Projected starter: Jed Collins.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Montell Owens, Chad Abram.

Thoughts: This is a tough position to pick. Collins is the clear favorite heading into camp, although Owens’ spot on the roster could depend how Detroit feels about the rest of its teams units. If there is comfort there from other spots, Owens might be out of a job. If not, the Lions might keep him along with Collins because Owens can be a running back as well. Abram is probably headed toward the practice squad.

Roster locks: None. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Collins, Owens, Abram (practice squad) (add Owens to 53-man, move Abram to practice squad)

WIDE RECEIVER

Projected starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Jeremy Ross, Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, TJ Jones, Corey Fuller, Naaman Roosevelt, Patrick Edwards, Cody Wilson, Andrew Peacock.

Thoughts: This was the spring of Jeremy Ross. He will make the roster at least as the team’s returner but probably showed enough during the spring to at least enter training camp with a good shot at being the team’s third or fourth receiver. Another surprise was Broyles, who if he can stay healthy could end up making a contribution in the fall. He isn’t a roster lock yet, but will certainly get some opportunities. The competition for the third (or fourth) outside receiver will be one to watch in the fall.

Roster locks: Johnson, Tate, Ross (add Ross)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Johnson, Tate, Ross, Durham, Broyles, Jones, Fuller (practice squad). (Add Broyles to roster from PUP, move Fuller from roster to practice squad.)

TIGHT END

Projected starters: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Joseph Fauria, Jordan Thompson, Jacob Maxwell.

Thoughts: Moving Michael Williams to tackle all but assured Fauria a roster spot in the fall. It also means Detroit is probably going to carry only three tight ends on the roster unless either Thompson or Maxwell makes a massive move during training camp. The other thing benefiting Fauria is Ebron’s struggles with catching the ball at times.

Roster locks: Ebron, Pettigrew, Fauria. (Add Fauria)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ebron, Pettigrew, Fauria. (Minus Williams)

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Projected starters: Riley Reiff (LT); LaAdrian Waddle (RT).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Corey Hilliard, Cornelius Lucas, Michael Williams, J.B. Shugarts, Bryce Quigley.

Thoughts: This position seems fairly settled other than the No. 4 tackle spot. Reiff and Waddle aren’t going anywhere and Hilliard will likely push Waddle for a starting spot. As of now, Lucas has the inside shot on the fourth tackle position.

Roster locks: Reiff, Waddle (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Reiff, Waddle, Hilliard, Lucas.

GUARD

Projected starters: Rob Sims (LG); Larry Warford (RG).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Rodney Austin, Travis Swanson, Alex Bullard, D.J. Morrell.

Thoughts: Warford is not going anywhere and Rodney Austin had a good enough spring that both he and Swanson might make the roster as swing backups that could end up as starters by 2015 to replace Sims and Dominic Raiola. As long as Sims is healthy, he’ll make this team and start as well. The interesting question might be a practice squad candidate out of this group.

Roster locks: Warford (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Warford, Sims, Austin, Bullard (practice squad)

CENTER

Projected starter: Dominic Raiola

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Swanson, Austin, Darren Keyton, Bullard.

Thoughts: Raiola is the starter here. Austin and Swanson will eventually compete for the starter’s role. Pretty cut and dry here.

Roster locks: Raiola, Swanson. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Raiola, Swanson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions offseason officially began around 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when Jim Caldwell finished his final media obligation of the spring and the players all shuttled off to begin a six-week break.

When they reconvene, things will become much more serious at the Lions’ facility to start training camp and prepare for the 2014 season. But there were some things to learn throughout the time Detroit spent here in the spring, both from an installation perspective and from who might actually see an increased role come the fall.

Here are some thoughts on the final day of minicamp -- and of the offseason program as a whole.
  • Ross
    Jeremy Ross had the most impressive minicamp/organized team activities session of any player -- at least from what the media was able to see. He established himself as the team’s returner and spent enough time on the first team that he is going to have a role in the offense as well this fall. Yes, Golden Tate's absence had something to do with the amount of snaps Ross saw, but his speed and size make him attractive as a player who can be used in the slot and on the outside.
  • The player of the final day of minicamp might have been Joseph Fauria. The tight end caught multiple touchdown passes in team drills and used his size well in the red zone. Some of the touchdowns were over undrafted free agents, but he needed to have a good camp and he did that.
  • Conversely, Eric Ebron had what seemed to be a rough indoctrination to the NFL. He struggled with dropped passes throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp, including two drops on the final day of practice. Drops were an issue for him at North Carolina, so to see him continue this trend during his first few weeks as a professional should be at least a little bit concerning to the Lions. That said, it is still early and he is clearly still learning everything, so it could be an issue of just overthinking on routes and not letting instincts take over. This will be a situation worth monitoring during training camp.
  • Waddle
    Right tackle is going to be a competition, and it could last all the way through the end of camp. LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard essentially split first-team snaps throughout the spring practices, and Caldwell did not give an indication one player or another was going to win the job anytime soon. Tough to see Cornelius Lucas winning the job, but the undrafted free agent could end up playing his way into the conversation at some point. His size alone makes him attractive. This will be the spot to watch on the line in camp. If Rob Sims doesn’t come into camp healthy, left guard could be a spot to pay attention to as well.
  • The defense looked a lot better than the offense Thursday -- a day after the offense looked incredibly sharp. There were not a lot of big plays on the defense, but the secondary broke up a lot of passes throughout the morning session. Seeing something like this is fine by Caldwell, because he almost expected the offense and defense to rotate having good practices. Makes it more competitive that way. The defense was particularly stout in the two-minute offense, where it held the offense to three-and-out on two straight possessions.
  • Giorgio Tavecchio rebounded from his rough Tuesday practice to make all of his kicks Thursday. Nate Freese didn’t fare as well, missing at least one field goal attempt and almost missing an extra point. Caldwell seemed fine with how both kickers have performed thus far in the spring, and it sounds like both will enter camp with a shot at the job.
  • One player who saw no action during the entire spring was James Franklin, the undrafted free agent quarterback from Missouri. He took no snaps at quarterback during team drills in any practice open to the media. Why? Just not enough reps. It will be interesting to see how he does in July and August, because it sounds like a lot of his snaps will actually come in preseason games from the way Caldwell spoke.
  • Spent some time watching Nick Fairley on Thursday since it will be the last time we see him until training camp. The weight loss really is staggering. He looks much more explosive than he was at any point last season, and he’s just moving a lot better. He is still bigger than Ndamukong Suh, but he looks like he can keep up with him more.
  • It will be interesting to see where Devin Taylor fits into the defense. He will definitely have a role, but he couldn’t compete much at the closed end position because he spent a lot of time with the first group at open end since Ezekiel Ansah did not practice. Taylor could play either spot and even some on the inside. He’s going to see more snaps in 2014 than he did in 2013 -- that’s a fairly confident prediction right now.
  • The defensive aggression will fit the secondary well. They were making plays on the ball and being smart about their reads and coverage. This is without the ability to really bump receivers at the line or press receivers at all. When they are able to do that, the Lions will likely become even more aggressive. Much different than a season ago.
  • Attendance report from practice: Not there at all: Stephen Tulloch, T.J. Jones, Chris Houston. There but not participating: Tate, Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell, Ansah, Kevin Ogletree.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
At one time, the Detroit Lions had the best running back in the history of the NFL. Now, the Lions have turned into one of the most pass-heavy teams in the league with a sometimes-accurate young quarterback and the best wide receiver in the game.

Yet in 2014, the Lions will spend a decent chunk of money -- the most the team has since 2010 -- on their running back corps.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Reggie Bush
AP Photo/Jose JuarezReggie Bush will account for seven percent of the Lions' cap space used on offense next season.
A salary-cap breakdown of the running backs Detroit has employed since the 2010 season shows increased attention paid to who lines up in the backfield, mostly due to the signing of Reggie Bush before the 2013 season.

It'll be like this at least for the next two seasons -- provided Bush and Joique Bell remain on the roster -- as the team has committed to both through the 2016 season. The Lions' cap number for running backs, as of now, will be at least $9 million until that year, when Bush, Bell and Theo Riddick are all unrestricted free agents.

Whether all three make it to the final year of their contracts is another matter, but compared to prior years, Detroit is starting to invest in its backfield. Here's the breakdown working backward from this coming season to 2010. One other interesting thing to look at is the salary progression of Bell, who has turned into a valuable piece for the Lions. (Non-2014 numbers are end-season cap numbers; numbers culled from ESPN Stats & Information.)

2014
Total numbers: $10,663,107 (cap value); 16.62 percent (offensive cap percentage); 7.74 percent (total cap percentage); $11,473,297 (cash value).

By players:

  • Reggie Bush $4.5 million (cap value); 7.02 percent (offensive cap); 3.27 percent (total cap).
  • Joique Bell $2.3 million (cap value); 3.59 percent (offensive cap); 1.67 percent (total cap).
  • Montell Owens $1.13 million (cap value); 1.76 percent (offensive cap); .82 percent (total cap).
  • Mikel Leshoure $1,085,357 (cap number); 1.69 percent (offensive cap); .79 percent (total cap).
  • Jed Collins $710,000 (cap value); 1.11 percent (offensive cap); .52 percent (total cap).
  • Theo Riddick $517,750 (cap value); .81 percent (offensive cap); .38 (total cap).
  • Steven Miller $420,000 (cap value); .65 percent (offensive cap); .31 percent (total cap).
2013
Total numbers: $4,962,709 (cap value); 8.38 percent (offensive cap); 4.74 (total cap); $7,913,898 (cash value).

By players:

  • Bush $2 million (cap value); 3.38 percent (offensive cap); 1.91 percent (total cap).
  • Owens $975,700 (cap value); 1.65 percent (offensive cap); .93 percent (total cap).
  • Leshoure $929,259 (cap value); 1.57 percent (offensive cap); .89 percent (total cap).
  • Bell $630,000 (cap value); 1.06 percent (offensive cap); .60 (total cap).
  • Riddick $427,750 (cap value); .72 percent (offensive cap); .41 percent (total cap).
2012
Total numbers: $4,550,837 (cap value); 7.30 percent (offensive cap); 3.77 percent (total cap); $3,143,441 (cash value).

By players:

  • Jahvid Best $1,745,805 (cap value); 2.80 percent (offensive cap); 1.45 percent (total cap).
  • Stefan Logan $837,305 (cap value); 1.34 percent (offensive cap); .69 percent (total cap).
  • Mikel Leshoure $730,749 (cap value); 1.17 percent (offensive cap); .61 percent (total cap).
  • Joique Bell $544,960 (cap value); .87 percent (offensive cap); .45 percent (total cap).
  • Shaun Chapas $82,058 (cap value); .13 percent (offensive cap); .07 percent (total cap).
2011
Total numbers: $6,733,718 (cap value); 10.64 percent (offensive cap); 5.76 percent (total cap); $9,131,406 (cash value).

By players:

  • Best $2,650,500 (cap value); 4.19 percent (offensive cap); 2.27 percent (total cap).
  • Maurice Morris $2.125 million (cap value); 3.36 percent (offensive cap); 1.82 percent (total cap).
  • Leshoure $624,396 (cap value); .99 percent (offensive cap); .53 percent (total cap).
  • Jerome Harrison $575,000 (cap value); .91 percent (offensive cap); .49 percent (total cap).
  • Keiland Williams $450,000 (cap value); .71 percent (offensive cap); .38 percent (total cap).
  • Kevin Smith $282,352 (cap value); .45 percent (offensive cap); .24 percent (total cap).
  • Bell $26,470 (cap value); .04 percent (offensive cap); .02 percent (total cap).
2010
Total numbers: $4,629,094 (cap value); 6.44 percent (offensive cap); 4.11 percent (total cap); $5,217,000 (cash value).

By players:

  • Morris $1.8 million (cap value); 2.47 percent (offensive cap); 1.58 percent (total cap).
  • Best $1.27 million (cap value); 1.74 percent (offensive cap); 1.11 percent (total cap).
  • Smith $686,631 (cap value); .94 percent (offensive cap); .60 percent (total cap).
  • Jerome Felton $515,368 (cap value); .71 percent (offensive cap); .45 percent (total cap).
  • Aaron Brown $420,095 (cap value); .58 percent (offensive cap); .37 percent (total cap).
Over the past two weeks, we have taken a look at the past 10 first rounds from the Detroit Lions – all of the drafts that had Martin Mayhew as either the team’s general manager or assistant general manager.

This week, we’re looking specifically as the Lions’ drafts since 2009, when Mayhew has been in charge. This will be a look at the entire class, not just the first-round picks, which are the ones that are the most paid attention to.

We’ll take a peek at each of the drafts, what worked, what didn’t and one pick that in retrospect we would change with Detroit. Hopefully, this can also give a window into the way Mayhew drafts and some of the decisions he has made in the past that could help influence the 2014 draft and beyond.

Past years: 2009; 2010

Complete draft (pick number in parentheses): Round 1 – Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (13); Round 2 – Titus Young, WR, Boise State (44); Round 2 – Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois (57); Round 5 – Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse (157); Round 7 – Johnny Culbreath, OT, South Carolina State (209).

Picks left on the 2014 roster: 2 (Fairley, Leshoure)

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley and Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNick Fairley is one of the few players to produce for the Lions in their 2011 draft class.
Picks left in the NFL at the end of the 2013 season: 2 (Fairley, Leshoure)

Best pick: Fairley. Like in 2010, this is pretty much by default – although this really is by default, considering the rest of the horrific nature of this draft for Mayhew. Fairley has been an inconsistent defensive tackle for the Lions and the team is not picking up his fifth-year option, something detailed at length here. When he has decided to show his talent, he and Ndamukong Suh become one of the better defensive tackle tandems in the NFL. Those times, though, are rare.

If he can ever get himself in shape and playing at a consistent level and is still playing for the Lions at that point, he could end up making at least part of this draft worth it for Detroit.

Worst pick: Um, take your pick? In all seriousness, this entire draft was awful for Detroit, but no pick ended up worse than the selection of Titus Young. The Boise State wide receiver had a ton of talent and from a pure talent perspective, was well worth the second-round selection. By now, though, everyone knows how that worked out. In two seasons, Young had 81 catches for 990 yards and 10 touchdowns – actually good production. But then it all fell apart for him. He got into confrontations with coaches, teammates and opponents. The team eventually released him in February, 2013. St. Louis claimed him on waivers then released him soon after.

All of this before he was arrested three times in two weeks in May and Young’s father eventually said he had a brain disorder. It is a sad story for an immensely talented player and unfortunately a tale that future players might be able to learn from.

Best value pick: None. Seriously. The Lions received no value-compared-to-draft-position on any of their picks. Fairley has been inconsistent. Leshoure turned into a non-factor in 2013 and is not a lock to be on the 2014 roster by the start of the season. The other players are out of the league.

One pick I’d change (other than the worst one): This is going to be complicated. In the fifth round of this draft, the Lions had to flip their initial pick, the 140th selection, with Kansas City, which had the 154th pick. The Lions then traded down three places to 157 to take Doug Hogue. If I were the Lions, I would have stayed at No. 154. Why? The player Seattle took in that spot was a decent cornerback out of Stanford. His name – Richard Sherman.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Lions made some trades and had to swap picks due to tampering in this draft. In one trade, the Lions moved up to take Leshoure, giving away the Nos. 75 and 107 picks to Seattle. That deal also swapped the team’s fifth round picks (mentioned above) and seventh round picks. Here is who was taken with those Seattle selections.

No. 75 – John Moffitt, G, Wisconsin; No. 107 – Kris Durham, WR, Georgia; No. 154 – Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford; Pick 205 – Lazarius Levingston, DE, LSU.

As part of the Alphonso Smith deal with Denver, the Lions gave up pick No. 186 in the draft – and Green Bay, which ended up with the pick, selected D.J. Smith, OLB, Appalachian State. In the Chris Houston deal, the Lions gave up the No. 210 pick in the seventh round, which was used on Andrew Jackson, OG, Fresno State. Pick No. 231, which eventually ended up with Miami, ended up going from Detroit to San Francisco for Shaun Hill. Miami took Frank Kearse, DT, Alabama A&M.

Draft grade overall: F. Heck, if I could give this draft a "Z," I would. Seriously, this might be the worst draft in the history of drafts for the Lions – maybe in the history of the NFL. Of the team’s five draft picks, four ended up being arrested at least once during their NFL careers. Only two, Fairley and Leshoure, are still in the league. Only one, Fairley, made any sort of impact in the NFL. If you’re looking for reasons why the Lions had zero depth in 2013, look at the 2010 and specifically 2011 drafts for the reason why. This draft was laughably bad for Detroit. Not to cross over sports here in Detroit, but this entire draft was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over Trey Burke for the Pistons last year bad. With every pick.
Good morning and ROOOOAAARRR!!!!

One of the most discussed Detroit Lions over the past four months, when it comes to being released or traded, has been running back Mikel Leshoure. The discussion makes sense -- he was a second round pick, has talent but hasn't played much -- but the former Illinois back might not be going anywhere any time soon.

At least that is what Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew has indicated.

"Yeah, I think he’s obviously a very talented guy. Did not get a lot of opportunities last year. Our system last year was really a two-back system. Whether he was up or Theo (Riddick) was up, if Joique and Reggie were healthy, they were going to get the bulk of the carries," Mayhew said. "The few times he had the opportunity to be up, he didn’t get a whole lot of action. Couldn’t break into the top two.

"If you go back and look at what the Saints did, they used multiple backs in a lot of different ways. I’m encouraged about that for Mikel, and it could bode well for him in terms of getting more playing time and having a more specific, defined role in our offense. I’m encouraged by that for him and look forward to seeing him when he gets back."

Leshoure was a second round pick for Detroit in 2011 and played in 14 games in 2012, rushing for 798 yards and nine touchdowns. He was barely used in 2013, though, playing in only three games and having two carries for nine yards. By the end of September, all Leshoure wanted to do was play, whether it was in Detroit or somewhere else.

With the way new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi could run the Detroit offense, Leshoure might now get that chance.

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:

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