NFL Nation: Kellen Moore

Free-agency review: Lions

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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A week in, here's a quick review of the free-agency period for the Detroit Lions:

Tate
Tate
Most significant signing: Considering that Detroit has mostly signed depth or re-signed its own free agents, the obvious choice is receiver Golden Tate. The former Seattle Seahawk will complement Calvin Johnson and should take pressure and attention off of the Lions' top receiver. He can also spread the field, has elite hands and can block extremely well for a 5-foot-10 receiver. He plays taller than he is and should be a good addition to Detroit.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Willie Young was a productive player who often became overlooked because of the star power in the middle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) and the emergence of Ziggy Ansah at the other end. But Young is a long, rangy end who was good against the run and showed improvement. That he went to one of Detroit's top rivals, Chicago, adds to the significance because the Lions will see him at least twice a year.

Biggest surprise: That the Lions didn't make a bigger play earlier in the safety market. Like receiver on offense, safety is Detroit's biggest need on defense after the release of Louis Delmas. The team looked like it was interested in Chris Clemons and had reportedly expressed interest in T.J. Ward, but so far the only safety the team has brought in is James Ihedigbo. While Ihedigbo could fill a need if he signs, Detroit could have tried to make a bigger play here considering the market and the need. Unless the Lions draft one.

What's next: Solving the backup quarterback issue. The Lions need to have a veteran behind Matthew Stafford, and Kellen Moore just is not going to be a viable option there right now. Detroit, be it through re-signing Shaun Hill or signing someone like Luke McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick, has to have a player with some experience ready to come in if Stafford were to get hurt. Detroit has too many other pieces to let that be an actual issue.
The madness is already underway as the first set of potential NFL prospects -- the specialists, tight ends and offensive linemen -- are going through their first day of combine work in downtown Indianapolis.

Besides the televised workouts and the mass of prospects meeting with the media, Detroit's representatives will also be chatting throughout the week.

Here's a quick primer of what to expect and prospects to watch in Indianapolis over the next few days. And a blanket reminder -- when it comes to the draft, parse what you hear over the next week and employ many grains of NaCl.

Important parts of the schedule:
  • Thursday at noon -- Jim Caldwell speaks to the media
  • Thursday -- Tight ends (an area of need) talk to the media throughout the day
  • Friday at 11:30 a.m. -- Martin Mayhew speaks to the media
  • Friday -- Wide receivers (perhaps the biggest area of need) speak to the media
  • Saturday -- Tight ends have on-field workout; defensive linemen and linebackers meet the media.
  • Sunday -- Wide receivers on-field workout; defensive backs (another big need) meet with the media.
  • Tuesday -- Defensive backs on-field workout.
Prospects to watch:
The Lions have a few position groups they are likely going to target throughout the draft, some with immediate needs and some to draft for the future as they can learn under the men they'll eventually replace.

Here, in order of potential positional importance in the draft, are some names to watch over the next week. This list will likely change by this time next week and is not a be-all, end-all list by any means. But some of these players are guys to pay attention to in each position group.

1.Wide receiver: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Marqise Lee, USC; Davante Adams, Fresno State; Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; Jarvis Landry, LSU; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Allen Robinson, Penn State; Paul Richardson, Colorado; Donte Moncrief, Mississippi; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Jeremy Gallon, Michigan.

2.Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Deone Bucannon, Washington State; Dion Bailey, USC.

3.Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Bradley Roby, Ohio State; Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida; Marcus Roberson, Florida; Keith McGill, Utah; Bashaud Breeland, Clemson; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech.

4.Tight end: Eric Ebron, North Carolina; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.

5.Linebacker: Khalil Mack, Buffalo; Anthony Barr, UCLA; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young; Christian Jones, Florida State; Shayne Skov, Stanford; Max Bullough, Michigan State; Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut.

6.Defensive end: Kareem Martin, North Carolina; Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas; Aaron Lynch, South Florida.

7.Center: Weston Richburg, Colorado State; James Stone, Tennessee; Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma.

8.Quarterback: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech; Derek Carr, Fresno State; Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.); Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Dustin Vaughan, West Texas A&M.

9.Defensive tackle: Caraun Reid, Princeton; Anthony Johnson, LSU; Shamar Stephen, Connecticut; George Uko, USC; Beau Allen, Wisconsin.

10.Offensive tackle: Seantrel Henderson, Miami (Fla.); Brandon Thomas, Clemson; Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt; Michael Schofield, Michigan; Brett Van Sloten, Iowa.

11.Running back: Bishop Sankey, Washington; Andre Williams, Boston College; Charles Sims, West Virginia; Storm Johnson, UCF; James Wilder Jr., Florida State.

Five questions that need to be answered during the combine:

Suh
1. Ndamukong Suh. Has he solved his representation question? Where are talks with him regarding an extension? Is this realistic to get done by the time the new league starts on March 11? These questions -- at least some of them -- likely won't be answered this week, but it is by far the biggest remaining question this offseason.

2. Does the team have interest in Brandon Pettigrew? This would be the second-biggest question and with money potentially being a factor, could tie into Suh. Tight end is a place of need with Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams the only tight ends definitely returning for 2014. Pettigrew offers a unique blocking and route-running skill set that could be difficult to replace, but there are options in the draft and some chance-type options likely available in free agency. Is a veteran a big key here considering the inexperience of Fauria and Williams.

3. How does the team plan on making more cap room? There are some other players that could have contracts restructured or could be outright released to make room under the cap to sign both free agents and the eventual rookies the team is in Indianapolis to scout. Right now, Detroit is around $3 million under the cap and that is an insufficient number to fill out the roster with talented players. Something needs to move here, and if question No. 1 ends up being answered, that could be the easy solve.

4. Is Kellen Moore the answer to back up Matthew Stafford? He has yet to play an NFL down and always appeared to be a personal project of former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. With Shaun Hill headed toward free agency, Moore is the only backup on the roster and a decision needs to be made on that. If he is, Detroit should feel comfortable at the position. If not, the Lions need to figure out whether bringing in a veteran backup or drafting a rookie to start developing is the smarter way to go.

5. What is the plan with Joique Bell? The running back has said he would like a long-term deal to stay in Detroit. The team clearly seems to like him as a strong option in the backfield. As a restricted free agent, he is likely to come back to the team in 2014, but the question is at what cost. If the team tenders him, it'll be under a cap value likely around $2 million if he is offered a second-round tender. But if the team can work out a cap-friendly long-term deal, that might make more sense.

Lions without Johnson, three corners

December, 29, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions made the correct call.

Johnson
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is among the seven players inactive for the Lions, ending his season with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. The receptions and yards are his lowest totals since the 2010 season.

His 12 touchdowns more than doubled the five he had a season ago.

In Johnson's place, the Lions will start receiver Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree has 16 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns this season, split between Tampa Bay and Detroit.

No Johnson is only part of Detroit's issues Sunday. Three of top five Lions cornerbacks are out as Chris Houston, Bill Bentley and Jonte Green are all inactive. Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay, who is coming off a torn meniscus, will start and Chris Greenwood, who played his first NFL game earlier this month, will be the top backup.

Also inactive for Detroit is its starting right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, and he'll be replaced by Jason Fox. Dylan Gandy is the other inactive on the offensive line. Guard Rodney Austin will be active for the first time in his career.

And this also ends Kellen Moore's second season with the Lions -- and second season where he has yet to play in a game.
DETROIT -- Detroit may have star receiver Calvin Johnson available for Sunday's game against the New York Giants, but the Lions will be without both their starting cornerbacks.

Rashean Mathis (illness) and Chris Houston (toe) are both inactive for Detroit on Sunday, leaving the Lions extremely short at corner. Bill Bentley, the team's usual nickel back, and Jonte Green will be the presumed starters at corner.

Chris Greenwood is the team's top reserve and Darius Slay, who was listed as doubtful heading into the game as he recovers from a torn meniscus in his right knee, is also active.

The Lions' other inactives are expected: quarterback Kellen Moore; running back Mikel Leshoure; offensive guards Leroy Harris and Rodney Austin and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was ruled out Friday.
DETROIT -- His experience is minimal with 20 defensive snaps this season. And now, in the biggest game of the season for the Detroit Lions, on national television against the Baltimore Ravens, one of the starting cornerbacks will be Jonte Green.

Green was inactive for some games earlier this season and was essentially the last option for the Lions at cornerback when he was active. He will now have to cover Marlon Brown and be effective in his role.

Veteran Rashean Mathis is expected to line up opposite Baltimore's top target, Torrey Smith.

Green landed in this role due to injuries to starter Chris Houston and top reserve Darius Slay, both of whom are inactive for the Lions on Monday night. Detroit now has Mathis, Green, Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood, who has never played an NFL game, as its active corners.

The Lions' other inactives were as expected as well: quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Mikel Leshoure, guard Leroy Harris, tackle Jason Fox and guard Rodney Austin.

Ansah, Burleson inactive for Detroit

November, 17, 2013
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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.
DETROIT -- Of all of the Detroit Lions' inactives, the one that was unexpected was return specialist Micheal Spurlock not playing.

Spurlock
Spurlock has had his issues this season, but was healthy all week, so unless he suffered a late injury, this is a healthy scratch. Look for a combination of receiver Jeremy Ross and running back Theo Riddick to work kick returns and Ryan Broyles to possibly work in punt returns in place of Spurlock.

Detroit's other inactives are wide receiver Nate Burleson, quarterback Kellen Moore; running back Mikel Leshoure; cornerback Jonte Green and offensive linemen Leroy Harris and Corey Hilliard.

Also, and this isn't a surprise, LaAdrian Waddle is starting in place of Jason Fox at right tackle.

RB Joique Bell active for Lions

October, 20, 2013
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He spent about 15 to 20 minutes working out on the sideline, going through ladders and other drills testing out his injured ribs. At the end of it, it was determined running back Joique Bell would be active Sunday against Cincinnati.

Bell
How much Bell plays could be dependent on how much pain he is in with contact. Watch for Mikel Leshoure to potentially see some carries in his place behind starter Reggie Bush.

Detroit's inactives are as expected: receiver Nate Burleson; quarterback Kellen Moore; running back Theo Riddick; cornerback Jonte Green; offensive linemen Leroy Harris and Jason Fox and tight end Tony Scheffler.

One other interesting note is receiver/returner Jeremy Ross, who was signed off the practice squad Saturday, is active. It'll be interesting to see how much work the former Green Bay Packer gets today.
CLEVELAND -- Ending the biggest suspense in Detroit this week, wide receiver Calvin Johnson is active and will play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Johnson
He was the largest question among the Lions players, but he took part in warmups, including receiver drills, and looked fine making his cuts and moving through ladders. He got an extensive stretch before the end of workouts, but he'll be giving it a shot Sunday.

Detroit's inactives are wide receiver Nate Burleson, quarterback Kellen Moore, cornerback Jonte Green, running back Theo Riddick, guard Leroy Harris, tackle Jason Fox and tight end Tony Scheffler.

Running back Mikel Leshoure is active for the second time this season.

DT Nick Fairley inactive for Lions

September, 15, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Detroit Lions will play Arizona without one of their biggest defensive playmakers.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an injury to his shoulder, was deemed inactive Sunday and won’t dress for the Lions.

C.J. Mosley, a ninth-year pro out of Missouri, will start in his place. It wouldn’t be surprising to see defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh now command more double teams due to Fairley’s absence.

There were no other surprises on the inactive list for the Lions: quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Mikel Leshoure, safety Don Carey, offensive lineman Leroy Harris, wide receiver Ryan Broyles and right tackle Jason Fox, who was deemed out on Friday.

Corey Hilliard will start in place of Fox.

Observation deck: Lions-Bills

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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Reviewing the merciful end of the Detroit Lions' preseason, a 35-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday:
  • The biggest news of any preseason finale is whether any prominent players suffered injuries. The Lions suffered no obvious ailments, partly because they rested six (relatively) healthy starters: running back Reggie Bush, receiver Calvin Johnson, safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Also sidelined were receiver Ryan Broyles, running back Montell Owens, tight end Michael Williams and safety John Wendling.
  • The remainder of the starters played two series. First, the good news: The defense didn't allow a first down. It forced a three-and-out on the first possession against Bills emergency quarterback Matt Leinart, and nickelback Bill Bentley intercepted Leinart on the third play of the second.
  • The bad news: The remainder of the Lions' offensive starters -- including quarterback Matthew Stafford -- weren't sharp. Guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford collided in the backfield when both pulled, an error I'm going to attribute to Warford, and Stafford completed only 1 of 6 passes for 12 yards. He threw one interception when a high pass glanced off receiver Nate Burleson's hands. I'm not sure what to make of Stafford's preseason. It wasn't sharp by any means. He completed 49 percent of his passes for 310 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 64.9 passer rating. But Johnson hardly played, and Bush's absence took away Stafford's comfort receiver Thursday night.
  • As long as we're talking about Lions personal fouls -- Oh, wait. Were we? -- let's get on the record that center Dominic Raiola cost the team 15 yards with a personal foul while trying to make a tackle on the interception return.
  • With Johnson and Broyles inactive, the Lions gave receiver Patrick Edwards a long look. Results were mixed. Stafford overthrew him on the first play of the game for what could have been a 63-yard touchdown. On another deep pass, Edwards got open but seemed to slow down when looking for the ball. It glanced off his hands. Meanwhile, he let a third-down catch bounce off his chest but later broke a tackle to score on an 8-yard pass from backup quarterback Shaun Hill. Have the Lions seen enough from Edwards to give him a regular spot in their rotation? I think the better question as final cuts loom this weekend is whether they'll have a choice. It's worth noting that competitor Matt Willis made a sensational 39-yard catch from Hill and just missed a touchdown from Kellen Moore when he couldn't get both feet down in the end zone.
  • Moore wrapped up a strong preseason with a performance that suggests the Lions will at least have a very difficult decision to make. Moore entered in the second quarter and played the second half, throwing two touchdown passes to rookie running back Theo Riddick. Moore finished the preseason with four touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating. The Lions might want to use his roster spot to keep a player at another position, but this preseason he has looked at least like a future No. 2.
  • For what it's worth, the Lions started Jason Fox at right tackle and Warford at right guard for the second consecutive week. Does that mean they have won the Week 1 starting jobs? I suppose it depends on how their film grades out from Thursday night. But things appear to be going in that direction.
  • Joique Bell got the start at running back with Bush sidelined, and his best run was a 23-yard scoring jaunt. Mikel Leshoure managed 24 yards on seven carries. Each lost a fumble. At the very least, Bell has earned himself regular-season playing time even with Bush locked in as the starter.
  • Did you notice rookie cornerback Darius Slay matching Bills speedster Marquise Goodwin stride for stride on a go route in the first quarter? I did. I realize speed is a skill and not a reflection of technique, but it's nice to know the Lions have a cornerback who can run step for step with one of the fastest receivers in the 2013 draft.

Camp Confidential: Detroit Lions

August, 12, 2013
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions opened training camp expressing unprecedented confidence in the direction of their program, and, if anything, their steam has picked up since then. A relatively injury-free camp, the obvious impact of multiple newcomers and a rousing victory in the first week of the preseason have the Lions and many of their fans convinced they will bounce back from last season's 4-12 record.

"We're every bit as optimistic now as we were then," coach Jim Schwartz said late last week, "and probably more so -- particularly with some of our rookies and younger players. Now, we're saying that two weeks into camp, before we've even played a preseason game. The tale of the tape is going to be consistency over the course of time. But certainly our stance hasn't changed."

Importantly, that optimism isn't based solely on anticipation of another year of development between quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. It's a nod toward the early returns on the fit with tailback Reggie Bush. There is relief that receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, who both suffered significant leg injuries last season, have returned healthy.

There's more. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were unblockable during the practices I watched last week. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter of his first NFL game action. New safety Glover Quin's leadership is notable, and rookie punter Sam Martin has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer of all.

The good vibes, and presumed results, come at a crucial time for the franchise. The Lions are entering their fifth season under Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew, and there might not be a sixth if this team misses the playoffs.

"I'm a vet," Burleson said. "I've been at this 11 years. I'm trying to get everyone to understand that if we don't do what we need to do, these name plates above these lockers, this furniture, [everything] is going to be shipped up out of here -- including myself. So I've got to be productive, and everybody has to have the mindset that the time is now, so in order for us to do something special and bring something special to this city, we're going to have to win."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions are counting on Riley Reiff to protect Matt Stafford's blind side.
1. Offensive line transition: The Lions will have three new starters on the line, and here's the good news: The player in the most important position appears to be making a smooth transition. Riley Reiff, the Lions' first-round draft pick in 2012, has replaced retired left tackle Jeff Backus, and he held his own against the Lions' talented defensive line during my training camp visit last week.

Reiff bulked up this offseason after spending his rookie year in a quasi-tight end role. He might be the most soft-spoken player in the Lions' otherwise-boisterous locker room -- when I asked him about the job, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "They asked me to play left tackle so I'm playing left tackle" -- but he more than passed the eyeball test as a credible left tackle.

The same can't be said, at least not yet, about the wide-open jobs on the right side of the line. The Lions are rotating two players at right tackle and up to four at right guard, and no clear leaders had emerged by the weekend. (It was notable, however, that the Lions played rookie right guard Larry Warford for three-quarters of Friday night's game against the New York Jets.) In this case, time will tell.

2. Stafford's next step: He failed to build on his breakout 2011 season in 2012, but in the big picture, Stafford is an experienced starter who has thrown for 10,005 yards in two seasons and who, at 25, still has plenty of room to grow.

That status, however, has generated rare expectations for a Lions quarterback, leading to training camp reports of missed passes and microanalyses of mechanics in a space once reserved for delineating various levels of incompetence. The franchise endorsed his progress with a contract extension that in essence locks him in for another three years at the helm, but the football world is waiting anxiously to see whether Stafford can elevate his career to an elite level.

My time at Lions camp suggested he is aware of but unaffected by those expectations. I saw no worrisome incompletions, no signs of malaise and an important sense of context as voiced by Schwartz.

"You don't [want to] take him for granted," Schwartz said. "We have a couple of guys new to our organization that come out to practice, and that's one of the first things that they want to say is, 'Holy mackerel, did you see the throw he made here?' It's a little bit like Calvin. You watch him a lot, and you forget how big he is and the plays he made."

3. Special-teams overhaul: Lost in the Lions' busy offseason was a near-total reconstruction of their special teams. New coordinator John Bonamego has welcomed newcomers at place-kicker (likely David Akers), punter (likely Martin) and returner (a wide-open competition to replace Stefan Logan). The Lions also signed longtime special-teams ace Montell Owens to anchor their coverage units.

Akers is working on a limited regimen after an injury-plagued season with the San Francisco 49ers, but he appears healthy and will benefit from both indoor home games and Martin's strong kickoff skills. Martin has been booming punts throughout camp, and his three touchbacks (in as many attempts) in the preseason opener suggest the Lions might have found a long-term answer at the position.

The return game is unsettled and probably dependent on bottom-of-the-roster decisions at other positions. Undrafted rookie Steven Miller has demonstrated elite quickness while getting the majority of reps in training camp, but can the Lions squeeze a return specialist onto their roster? His minimal action as a returner in the preseason opener makes you wonder whether he is a candidate for the practice squad.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Of all the factors I rattled off earlier this post, the most significant might be the attention the Lions placed on their defense this offseason. You're doing pretty well if the worst thing you can say is that the strongside linebacker position is unsettled, especially when you realize that whoever wins the job will come off the field in nickel situations, anyway.

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions believe Glover Quin can provide steady leadership as well as solidify the secondary.
The Lions invested heavily at defensive end (drafting Ansah and Devin Taylor, signing Jason Jones and Israel Idonije), cornerback (re-signing Chris Houston, drafting Darius Slay) and safety (re-signing Louis Delmas and acquiring Quin). After two weeks of camp, Stafford said, "This is probably the most talented secondary we've had since I've been here," and Schwartz was lauding the leadership Quin will provide.

"A lot was made a few years back when we signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson," Schwartz said, "and the difference that they made on the team was a big part of us making it to the playoffs [the] next year. I think the same thing, when it's all said and done, will be said about Quin because he brings that same kind of leadership, that same sort of professionalism."

We all expect the Lions' offense to score this season. If their defense can keep pace, as it appears it is equipped to do, the Lions will be a playoff team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Schwartz said "there is no doubt" that the Lions have enough good pieces to make up a competent offensive line. But on the list of potential problem spots that could derail their season, the Lions' offensive line sits most prominently. If you believe in the law of averages, you wonder whether any team could come up with three good starters in one offseason, as the Lions are hoping to accomplish.

Warford has his work cut out to win the right guard job, as many have assumed he would. (The Lions got him 53 snaps in the preseason opener to accelerate that process.) Many have considered Jason Fox the favorite to win the right tackle job, but competitor Corey Hilliard got the first start of the preseason.

It's too early to judge the outcome of this overhaul, but there is no doubting the challenge it entails and the ramifications if it falls short.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Excitement about the Bush acquisition has centered around his receiving skills and ability to break long runs. But you'll have to trust me on this: The Lions are just as intrigued by his ability to run between the tackles. There will be just as many opportunities for that kind of yardage in a Calvin Johnson offense as there will be anywhere else. "The things that Jahvid [Best] was able to do for us, when he got outside of the tackles, Reggie can do those things," Johnson said. "But Reggie can run inside the tackles as well. He's a good overall back."
  • Along those lines, the Lions also are trying to identify a change-of-pace back behind Bush, and my sense is that they're past the point of giving Mikel Leshoure an inherent advantage over Joique Bell because of his pedigree as a second-round draft pick. If Leshoure isn't any more explosive than he was last season -- and I didn't see any evidence of that at camp -- there is a real opportunity for Bell to win the job.
  • One of the more intriguing prospects in camp is rookie running back Theo Riddick, who has a relatively similar skill set as Bush. He is quick, a good receiver, smart in the open field and in contention for a kick return job. And like Bush, he isn't afraid to bust it inside the tackles, either.
  • Another interesting prospect who has gotten plenty of attention is 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria. He can get to balls no one else on the field can reach, with the exception of Johnson when he leaps, and he is a natural receiver. It will be really tough for him to be a good blocker with his lean build, but the Lions need him to be just good enough. I sensed real optimism that he can qualify for that modest expectation.
  • Players such as Riddick, Fauria, tight end Michael Williams and others will give the Lions some interesting roster decisions. You wonder whether they will find some room by deciding against having a No. 3 quarterback on their roster. Kellen Moore looks improved and Thaddeus Lewis is intriguing, but the only real reason to keep one of them is if he is projected to someday succeed No. 2 quarterback Shaun Hill. Otherwise, that roster spot might be more valuable elsewhere. "It's about talent and about having a plan for guys," Schwartz said. "We're flexible, and that's not just at quarterback. That's all positions."
  • Receiver Patrick Edwards has gotten plenty of work with the first team in camp and has the unwavering support of Burleson, who said: "In my eyes, he is going to be the surprise player that changes games this year." But Edwards didn't show much in 29 snaps Friday night, going without a catch amid two targets. He got a step on Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner in the end zone, but Milliner out-jumped him to knock away Stafford's pass. At some point, Edwards will need to demonstrate some game production if he is going to be in the Lions' receiver rotation.
  • Delmas (knees) has worked in a little less than half of the Lions' practices and did not suit up for the preseason opener, but the Lions remain confident his limited schedule will leave him ready to play in games when the regular season starts. Schwartz: "We're working hard to get there right now. ... He's feeling good right now, and we're trying to keep it that way. Lou has the advantage of having played in this defense the past few years, even though we have new wrinkles each year. The terminology is the same. He's a really hard worker. We need to balance being on the field and practicing with the point of diminishing returns. I think we've been very proactive in camp doing that. Time will tell how effective that plan has been."
  • Much like his week at the Senior Bowl, Ansah wasn't nearly as noticeable during practice as he was during the preseason opener. Nothing he did in three days of training camp jumped out to suggest he was on the cusp of being an elite playmaker, but he stood out immediately against the Jets. In addition to his 14-yard scoring return of an interception, he nailed running back Bilal Powell for a 2-yard loss among his 20 snaps.
  • Take this for what it's worth: Even the amateur observer could notice a big upswing in man coverage from the Lions' defense during 11-on-11 drills. Stafford concurred but suggested the shift was more about evaluating the Lions' newly fortified secondary than it was a scheme change. "They're trying to figure out who can cover and who can't," he said. "But they're doing pretty good out there."

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
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In which we look ahead to Week 1 of the 2013 preseason. All four NFC North teams will take the field Friday night. Rob Demovsky will have a preview of the Green Bay Packers' game against the Arizona Cardinals, and our friends at ESPNChicago.com handled pregame coverage of the Chicago Bears' matchup at the Carolina Panthers.


Detroit Lions
Opponent: New York Jets
Location: Ford Field
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Starters will probably play a couple of series, but some are expected to sit out. Atop that list is safety Louis Delmas (knee), whose limited work in training camp suggests the Lions wouldn't risk him in a preseason game. Fans at Ford Field will have their first chance to see tailback Reggie Bush in the Lions' offense, and everyone is looking forward to seeing place-kicker Havard Rugland -- aka "Kickalicious" -- see his first action in a live game. Rugland didn't look out of place in training camp practices earlier this week. Also, it will be fun to watch the Lions try out a number of candidates for their kickoff and punt return roles. Rookie Steven Miller is inexperienced but fast, quick and has the look of a playmaker.

Focal point: Three days at Lions training camp revealed that they could face some intriguing bottom-of-the-roster decisions. The Lions are deep at tight end and running back, especially, and it makes you wonder whether they can afford to keep a No. 3 quarterback. Part of that decision includes the level of competence that Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis demonstrate in preseason games.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Houston Texans
Location: Metrodome
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: A number of front-line players aren't expected to be in uniform, including defensive end Jared Allen (ankle). Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Desmond Bishop were also nursing relatively minor injuries this week and could miss the game. Coach Leslie Frazier has said that tailback Adrian Peterson will get some work in the preseason, but it's not clear if that will come Friday or at some other point. The rest of the starters could play as much as a quarter.

Focal point: We'll get our first real look at Joe Webb on the other side of his transition from quarterback to receiver/all-purpose playmaker. In training camp, Webb demonstrated excellent hands and catching radius but seemed to be laboring under the raw amount of running a receiver does in an NFL training camp. We all know he was an excellent open-field runner for a quarterback, but he won't have the advantage of surprising defenses anymore. Preseason games are important in this kind of situation. Webb must demonstrate enough playmaking capacity for the Vikings to use one of their 53 roster spots on him. Otherwise, it's difficult to carry a "developmental" player who is in the final year of his contract.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: How each NFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Chicago Bears: First, the new coach Marc Trestman must decide whether he thinks Jay Cutler is the team's long-term starter. Cutler's contract expires after the 2013 season, giving the Bears a chance to move on if Trestman is disappointed. Assuming he is not, the Bears must get Cutler signed to an extension over the next 12 months or be forced to use their 2014 franchise tag on him.

Of more immediate concern is Cutler's backup. Jason Campbell is a pending free agent, but the Bears might not want to devote the $3-$4 million in cap space it would require to re-sign him. Josh McCown, the 2012 third-stringer, could be an option.

Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford's $20.8 million cap figure needs to be lowered, and talks are underway on a contract extension. Regardless, he is the Lions' long-term starter. Backup Shaun Hill, 33, is signed through the 2013 season. He is a favorite of the coaching staff and is unlikely to be replaced by Kellen Moore, the 2012 third-stringer.

Green Bay Packers: Starter Aaron Rodgers' 2013 compensation of $9.75 million is well below market value and will lead to contract talks, but there is every expectation that he will play his entire career in Green Bay. Backup Graham Harrell played sparingly last season and could conceivably be challenged by 2012 draft choice B.J. Coleman.

Minnesota Vikings: Team officials have committed to Christian Ponder as their unquestioned starter, buoyed by his strong performance at the end of last season. Ponder will need a more consistent season in 2013 to generate "franchise" status, but the Vikings will give him every opportunity.

Backup Joe Webb will be forced to win his job back, probably in a training camp competition against a veteran to be acquired. Webb was thrown into an admittedly tough position as a surprise playoff starter, but his performance still cast doubt on whether he should be entrusted with the role moving forward.
The Detroit Lions aren't going to give us any hints about the status of quarterback Matthew Stafford this week, so we're going to have to take the clues we get and add them up at the end of the week to predict whether he'll play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Stafford
Stafford
Clue No. 1: Stafford did not practice Wednesday, according to reporters on scene. He rested a strained right leg muscle, an injury that forced him out of last Sunday's 44-41 loss to the Tennessee Titans, and watched as backup Shaun Hill worked with the first team. The other quarterback on the Lions' roster is rookie Kellen Moore.

It's not unusual for injured players to skip practice during the week and still make their regular start. All we know at this point is Stafford's injury is significant enough to make rest more valuable than practice time.

Stafford has started 19 consecutive games after missing 19 of the first 32 in his career because of injuries. He played through a broken finger in 2011, and I wouldn't come anywhere close to ruling him out for Sunday's game.

Some teams consider resting an injured player before their bye week, looking for two weeks of healing at the cost of one missed game. On the other hand, Stafford would have a full week to rest if he starts against the Vikings. The Lions' bye is next week. Stay tuned.

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