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Handicapping the Detroit Lions position battles
The offensive tackles: Decker vs. Reiff
In what will likely be a theme throughout this article, Detroit has an incumbent starter competing with a rookie.
Taylor Decker was the rookie taken in the first round this year from Ohio State. Riley Reiff was a 1st rounder in 2012. Decker stonewalled a number of top defensive ends during his time in Columbus and was a huge part of how they won their national title two years ago. Reiff has been starting since his second year in the league.
I've always thought Reiff would be better served on the right side where his mean streak and power would be better served. But I see Decker the same way. Michael Ola, who started half of last year at right tackle, also might have something to say about whether the loser of the left tackle spot starts at right tackle.
Prediction: Riley's experience wins out in the end. He knows the playbook better, and better understands the speed of the NFL game. So, Riley Reiff wins the left tackle spot, Taylor Decker wins the right tackle spot, and Michael Ola serves as the first lineman off the bench in case of injury.
Defensive Tackle: Mix of experience and youth
This is an intriguing combination of who will start next to 32 year old, former All-Pro, Haloti Ngata. Tyrunn Walker opened lasted year as the starter, before getting hurt in week 3. Caraun Reid, in his 2nd year, took over and the run defense actually improved. Stefan Charles was a veteran backup from Buffalo. Gabe Wright made a start last year, and was a rookie. And then they drafted A'Shawn Robinson, a former projected first rounder who slid to the second round, and virtually destroyed the interior lines of both Michigan State and Clemson. For Walker and Reid, they could go from starters last year to buried on the depth chart this year, and Wright and/or Charles could be out of a job.
Prediction: To me, Walker is a bit on the light side to start at DT, even in Detroit's one gap scheme. Seeing Robinson play in the college football playoffs, he reminded me of Suh, without some of the baggage Lions' fans have come to associate with him. While it's an uphill climb for him to beat out Walker and Reid to start, His natural talent and power will overcome in the end. Walker becomes more of an interior pass rusher, and Reid spells both Robinson and Ngata. Gabe Wright looks for another team.
Detroit is one of the few teams that uses an an old school, in box safety who strikes fear into the heart of the ground game, and receivers coming across the middle. Detroit lost both safeties from last year, and two career backups face off against a tackling machine rookie known for big hits.
Rafael Bush is a 29 year old journeyman safety with an injury history. Tavon Wilson is career backup for the Patriots. Isaiah Johnson is an former undrafted rookie free agent with size. And Don Carey has subbed all over the secondary for Detroit. And then there's Miles Killebrew, the 5th round draft pick from Southern Utah. Below is his highlight package. You're welcome.
Prediction: Wilson has the size and experience. Isaiah Johnson knows the playbook. I expect Tavon, signed to a two year deal this offseason opens the season as a starter. I also believe "Muscle Hammer" (Killebrew) is the starter by midseason. Everyone this guy hits goes one direction....backwards.
Center: Glasgow vs. Swanson
Travis Swanson is the returning starter from last year. Graham Glasgow is the rookie 3rd round pick. Swanson was pushed around a lot last year and struggled with the mental aspect of the center position, possibly a product of playing in simplified offenses in college. Glasgow is the former starter at center for the Wolverines, is heavier, stronger, and has more of a mean streak.
Prediction: Glasgow is nasty. Even as a Spartan fan, I can appreciate his tenacity and technique. The guy is relentless and mean. Not bad traits in a center.
Glasgow at the senior bowl
This is a unit in transition. Sadly, Calvin Johnson retired. The starters are set with free signee Marvin Jones and Golden Tate starting on the outside. But Detroit uses a lot of 3 receiver sets, meaning whoever wins the slot job will see a lot of action, if not touches. T.J. Jones is a third year receiver who came on last year. Corey Fuller was a raw size/speed combo guy who needs to step up this year. Jeremy Kerley is the veteran who escaped the QB purgatory known as the NY Jets. There are also a few undrafted rookies, such as Baylor's Jay Lee, looking o crack the roster.
Prediction: T.J. Jones has excellent run after the catch skills, making him ideal for the slot. He wins the job. This is a make-or-break year for Corey Fuller, step up or look for a job.
Darius Slay is set on one side. He was rated the number 2 cover man last year by Pro Football Focus, behind Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu. He just needs to increase his interceptions. The other side is where the competition resides. Nevin Lawson started down the stretch run after Rashean Mathis got hurt. Alex Carter is the former third round pick who was injured last year, but has the size (6'3") DC Teryl Austin likes at corner. Quandre Diggs showed skill as the nickel corner. Darrin Walls was signed from the Jets.
Prediction: Lawson holds off the field, and Diggs remains the nickel corner. Carter will see the field at some point given the likelihood of an undersized corner like Lawson (5'10) starting
DeAndre Levy is set at the weak side. The Strong side is a jack of all trades spot, alternating between rushing the QB and covering TEs while holding up at the point of attack against right tackles and TEs when the other team runs. Josh Bynes started last year for an injured Levy. Kyle Van Noy was injured his rookie year, and barely saw the field last year. Antwoine Williams is another 5th round pick from Georgia Southern who showed he could play with the big boys in games against Georgia. An intriguing possibility is former Bears 2nd rounder Jon Bostic, who we traded for this offseason. He may have been miscast as an inside linebacker, and could be utilized in Detroit on the strong side.
Prediction: Kyle Van Noy enters a make or break year. The fomer running mate of Pro Bowler Ezekial Ansah while they were at BYU, he needs to take this job now. Bynes is better suited on the weak side. Williams needs at least a year to learn the system. Bostic backs up MLB Tahir Whitehead.