Burleson's injury difficult blow for Lions

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
10:14
AM ET

This is going to hurt the Detroit Lions no matter how you look at it. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

There’s no other way to explain the impact of the broken arm Nate Burleson suffered early Tuesday morning in a one-car accident in the suburbs of Detroit. And the impact of this goes beyond his on-field production.

Burleson is a leader in the Detroit locker room. He has turned into one of the unofficial spokesmen for the team -- essentially a guy who is willing to talk for his teammates when it is needed almost every day of the season. When discussing injuries and the effect on a team, that often goes unnoticed.

But it will be a big blow.

The 32-year-old’s loss will also be felt on the field. He was leading the Lions with 19 receptions, and also had 239 yards receiving. He was coming off his most productive game in Detroit, catching six passes for 116 yards. He had proved to be a complementary third piece to stars Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, a player who could make some plays but understood his role.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonNate Burleson's injury is an unfortunate loss both on and off the field for the Lions.
And now all of that is sidelined.

Even at his age, Burleson was still productive in the offense and looked like he could perhaps play another season or two. This setback -- his second major injury in as many years -- could call his future into question as well.

His veteran presence leaves Detroit with mostly young receivers aside from their star, Johnson. Ryan Broyles, who is coming off an ACL tear last season and played in his first game of the year Sunday, will be leaned on even more now. This could be a concern considering Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has talked for weeks about wanting to work Broyles, who has sure hands but an injury history, back into the lineup.

The Lions will also need Patrick Edwards, who missed last week with an ankle injury, to get healthy as soon as possible. He adds a different dynamic to the offense with his speed, but between Broyles and Edwards, they have 28 career catches -- all coming in the past two seasons.

Other options for Detroit include bringing in a wide receiver they cut (Matt Willis performed well for the Lions in the preseason), looking to the full free-agent wire or perhaps considering more multiple-tight-end sets since all three of Detroit’s tight ends have the ability to play in the slot. They could also use Bush outside more often and use Joique Bell or Theo Riddick in the backfield as a second back.

It’ll be interesting to see how Detroit handles Burleson’s situation. By using its short-term injured reserve designation before the first game of the season on running back Montell Owens, the Lions either have to shelve the receiver for the entire year or keep him on the roster and go without another receiver or cut someone to make room for another pass-catcher. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle this in the next day or so.

On a personal level, this has to be especially tough for Burleson. He had been experiencing a career renaissance this season after losing most of last year to a broken leg. He was given the team’s Ed Block Courage Award earlier this month and was scheduled to be honored for the award next Tuesday.

Now he’ll show up at the dinner injured again.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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