Detroit Lions: Steven Miller

The Detroit Lions have started to trim their roster.

Rookie wide receiver TJ Jones, who has been on the team's active PUP list while recovering from shoulder surgery in the offseason, has been moved to the physically unable to perform reserve list. This means he won't be available to practice for six weeks and then the Lions will have five weeks to decide whether to allow him to practice. If they do not -- or they do not activate him to the 53-man roster after he starts practicing -- he'll be on the PUP list the entire season.

Detroit also began its first round of roster cuts Saturday following Friday night's game against Jacksonville. The team started the day at 89 players and released OG Alex Bullard, OL A.J. Dalton, DT Gregory Hickman, RB Steven Miller, DE Kris Redding and WR Conner Vernon.

Of those players, only Miller had been with the team last season and he was on the practice squad. Redding and Vernon were brought in earlier during training camp and the rest of the cuts signed soon after May's draft. Dalton had been given a $2,500 signing bonus and Bullard a $500 signing bonus to come to Detroit as undrafted free agents.

This brings Detroit to 83 players. The Lions need to be at 75 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday. None of the players the Lions released Saturday were expected to make the roster and of those, only Bullard appeared to be a practice squad candidate at any point.

 
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.
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).

Lions bringing back Ross, Durham

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions' receiving corps was bolstered a little bit more Friday, as general manager Martin Mayhew said the team will bring back Jeremy Ross and Kris Durham, who were exclusive rights free agents.

After an injury to Nate Burleson and overall ineffective play from Patrick Edwards, Durham was elevated to a starting wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson for the majority of the season. Durham played in 16 games, making 38 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns last season. He has good familiarity with quarterback Matthew Stafford from their shared time at Georgia.

Ross
Durham
Ross emerged as a return threat for Detroit after he was bumped up from the practice squad in October. He was one of Mayhew's better signings throughout the season, as he grabbed Ross off the waiver wire after he was released by Green Bay.

He turned into the team's primary kick and punt returner, returning both a punt and a kick for a touchdown against Philadelphia in Week 14.

"I think he did a good job for us last season," Mayhew said. "He didn't have quite enough returns to get into some of the categories with the leaders. I guess his stats don't really show up. If he had a handful more returns, he would be one of the top punt returners in the NFL right now.

"So he's a very talented guy. He's young. He had upside. He's still growing. We might add to that (return) group. We might add there."

Among the guys Mayhew pointed to were practice squad running back Steven Miller and utility guy Carlin Isles, who has not decided whether he will give up football for rugby. Mayhew also didn't rule out adding a player through the draft or free agency as competition for Ross.

Lions sign 10 to futures contracts

December, 31, 2013
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Not surprising, but the Detroit Lions have signed 10 players to futures contracts, including the majority of its practice squad.

Wide receivers Corey Fuller, Carlin Isles, Patrick Edwards and Cody Wilson all received deals, along with running back Steven Miller and defensive tackles Xavier Proctor and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen.

All were on the practice squad this season.

The Lions also signed two kickers, Giorgio Tavecchio and John Potter, and linebacker Jon Morgan.

Morgan was with the Lions in training camp before being released. Tavecchio was brought in during the massive kicker tryout late in the season when David Akers was struggling and Potter spent some time with the Redskins this season.

Akers, by the way, is an unrestricted free agent.
The Detroit Lions have assembled their full practice squad, and all eight members are players the team waived Saturday.

They include three former draft choices: receiver Corey Fuller, cornerback Chris Greenwood and linebacker Brandon Hepburn. Also among the group: running back/kick returner Steven Miller, fullback Shaun Chapas, offensive lineman Rodney Austin, and defensive tackles Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Xavier Proctor.

The two most prized possessions of that group are probably Greenwood and Miller.

The Lions couldn't justify a roster spot for Greenwood, who missed all of last season and a good portion of training camp this summer because of injuries, but he is as physically gifted as any defensive back on their roster. Miller, meanwhile, made a big push to win the returner job that presumably has gone to veteran newcomer Micheal Spurlock.

Note: The Lions claimed former Washington Redskins safety DeJon Gomes on waivers, according to multiple reports. That means a corresponding move will have to take place at some point Sunday to create a spot on the roster.

Detroit Lions cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
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Most significant move: There were no surprises for the Detroit Lions and, really, there were few big decisions. We noted earlier that the team decided to preserve a roster spot for No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore, so the most significant move they did make was placing rookie tight end Michael Williams on injured reserve. The Lions had substantial plans for Williams this season as the third tight end in the jumbo package that lineman Riley Reiff filled last season. They also hoped to develop his receiving skills as veterans Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler enter contract years. Williams had surgery last week to repair a hand injury, and though coach Jim Schwartz said the team had no long-term injuries, Williams is in fact lost for the season. (NFL teams can't start placing players on short-term injured reserve until next week.) As a result, rookie Joseph Fauria -- a much better receiver but less of a blocker than Williams -- is on the 53-man roster with Pettigrew and Scheffler.

The dominoes: The Lions apparently chose veteran Michael Spurlock as their kick returner, necessitating the release of rookie Steven Miller, who could return on the practice squad. Spurlock is also a receiver, and for the now he is one of six on the roster, presumably because of Ryan Broyles' sore knees. The release of veteran Matt Willis means Kris Durham is the sixth receiver. You wonder if the Lions would change directions soon in that regard. The Lions sifted through their big group of veteran defensive backups by tapping Rashean Mathis as a swing cornerback/safety and Rocky McIntosh as a backup linebacker while releasing the rest. John Wendling and Don Carey are the backup safeties for now.

What's next: According to multiple reports, the Lions will place running back Montell Owens on short-term injured reserve. That can't happen until next week, so for now he is part of the 53-man roster. He must miss at least six weeks of the regular season. You would think the Lions will bring back a number of the players they cut Saturday for their practice squad, and it's worth remembering that they are No. 5 in priority for NFL waiver claims. Sunday could be a busy day.

List of players cut: WR: Corey Fuller, Matt Willis. RB: Steven Miller, Shaun Chapas. OL: Rodney Austin, Kevin Haslam, Darren Keyton, Jake Scott. DL: Andre Fluellen, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Sadler-McQueen. LB: Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan (waived/injured) Chris White. CB: Ron Bartell, Chris Greenwood. S: Amari Spievey, Tyrell Johnson, Martavius Neloms (waived/injured) P: Blake Clingan.

Three big Lions roster questions

August, 30, 2013
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People closer to the situation than me have made their best projection of the Detroit Lions' 53-man roster, which must be whittled down by Saturday afternoon. Here is one look from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press and here is another from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.

In essence, the Lions have a handful of key decisions to make that will start the fall of the other dominoes. Here are the three most important that come to mind:

Who is their kickoff and punt returner?

The answer to that question should drive the Lions' decisions at the bottom of their depth chart at receiver and running back. Is it rookie running back Steven Miller? Or veteran receiver Micheal Spurlock? Or will the Lions try to piece the roles together with players that were already destined to make the roster like running back Joique Bell and receiver Patrick Edwards?

Do they want four tight ends on the roster?

The Lions have four at that position who are NFL-caliber: Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Michael Williams and Joseph Fauria. Williams had surgery this week to repair a bone in his hand. Will the Lions keep him on the 53-man roster with hopes of using him after a few weeks off? Will they keep him on the final roster for one day and then place him on the injured reserve-designated for return? Or could they just shelve him for the season? In any event, it seems risky to expose Fauria to waivers.

How many of their veteran backup defenders do they need to keep?

The Lions have almost a dozen seasoned defenders on their roster, many of whom with starting experience, who have no chance to start. They can't all make the team. Is it Justin Bannan or Andre Fluellen on the defensive line? Rocky McIntosh or Chris White at linebacker? Ron Bartell, Rashean Mathis, Tyrell Johnson or Amari Spievey in the secondary?
Good morning and ROARRRRRRRR!

The Detroit Lions' reserve players wrapped up their preseason Thursday night by stomping the Buffalo Bills' emergency players 35-13, leaving them with a 3-1 preseason record.

The good news: Only two NFL teams finished with better records this summer, the undefeated Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins.

The bad news: Everyone is back to 0-0 this morning with the start of regular season now less than a week away.

Alas, we can still take our morning tour of the Lions' den:
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions finished the preseason 3-1 and are 15-5 in exhibition play in Jim Schwartz's five seasons as head coach, but they head into their season-opener next week against the Minnesota Vikings with a number of questions about their supposedly high-powered offense."
  • Birkett on the Lions' offense: "Some level of concern is warranted. But until the offense is on the field together and slotted in the right spots -- [Nate] Burleson in the slot, [Patrick] Edwards as a complementary part, etc. -- it's impossible to make any conclusive judgments."
  • Quarterback Matthew Stafford on the Lions' offense, via Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News: "I think we’re right where we need to be. Keep progressing, get some of our guys back on the field and go out there and get ready for Minnesota."
  • Lions defensive end Jason Jones has played well at his new weight of 280 pounds, according to Katzenstein.
  • Waiting out final cuts will be nerve-wracking for bubble players like kick returner Steven Miller, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.com.
  • Receiver Matt Willis made a strong case for a roster spot Thursday night, writes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Let's be careful to note, as Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press did, that the Bills were missing 27 players Thursday night.
  • Here is my Observation Deck post off the game.

Previewing Preseason Week 4: Lions

August, 29, 2013
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In which we look ahead to the Detroit Lions' preseason finale:

Opponent: Buffalo Bills

Location: Ralph Wilson Stadium

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Healthy starters are expected to get one series, which probably means that receiver Calvin Johnson (knee) will be among those sitting out. … The first-team offense, with or without Johnson, has managed one touchdown drive this preseason, providing enough incentive to give quarterback Matthew Stafford and others one more chance. … The Lions have a number of position battles to sort through, some of which will get a better run Thursday night than others. … You have to wonder how much the top candidates to start at right guard and right tackle (Larry Warford and Jason Fox?) will play. But we'll get a long look at the players competing to return kicks -- Steven Miller, Micheal Spurlock, Patrick Edwards and others -- and the same goes for the last few receiver positions. Edwards, Matt Willis, Spurlock and Kris Durham are all among those competing. Finally, we'll be looking for clues on how the Lions plan to work in the nickel. Is Bill Bentley still the third cornerback? Could Rashean Mathis unseat him?

Focal point: Tailback Reggie Bush has gotten 17 carries and caught 10 passes this preseason, so the guess is that he won't play much if it all. So that will make Thursday night a big final test for the Lions' backfield depth behind him. As we've discussed, Joique Bell has done just about everything he can to win the No. 2 job ahead of Mikel Leshoure, and I've gotten no sense that coaches are giving Leshoure the benefit of the doubt because he was a second-round pick. It's hard to imagine the Lions cutting Leshoure, even if he doesn't play a big role on special teams, but there is also a rookie running back in Theo Riddick that the Lions like and want to keep on the roster. Another possibility is rotating Bell and Leshoure based on game plans and matchups during the season. We'll see how it plays out Thursday night.

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