By: Tony Ortiz
With just over five weeks to go before training camp begins for the Lions in Allen Park, here’s five storylines to watch for in the coming months.
- Where will Riley Reiff play? His versatility was on display during OTA’s and mini-camp, as he lined up at both right tackle and left tackle. With Jason Fox still battling injuries, Reiff getting a shot at both tackle spots should continue into the training camp and the pre-season. He’ll likely be given every chance to unseat Gosder Cherilus at right tackle – especially since the former first round pick is entering the final year of his contract – but Cherilus had a solid off-season, and looks to be ready for the challenge. By the way, if you’re looking ahead at the who might make the 53-man roster for Opening Day; Fox isn’t a lock to earn a spot. If you count the five starters, plus Reiff and incumbent reserve Corey Hilliard, that leaves just one spot which is (usually) reserved for a back-up center / guard.
- Who wins the job as the #1 back-up at linebacker? This competition likely features second-year linebacker Doug Hogue battling rookie Tahir Whitehead, both of whom were solid in OTA’s and mini-camp. Hogue could hold the advantage, since he has a year’s experience in the Lions defense. That #1 back-up job is important – remember, that’s the role that was held by Bobby Carpenter last season, before he signed in the off-season with the New England Patriots.
- Who returns punts for the Lions this fall? Even with Stefan Logan on the roster, Titus Young (more on him in a moment) got some looks as a punt returner during OTA’s and mini-camp. Another name that’s in the mix is rookie Patrick Edwards, who was a very good kick returner at the University of Houston. That’s not saying that Logan won’t end up there (or in another special team’s role) this fall, it’s just that he’ll have some serious competition in training camp and in the pre-season. After a somewhat disappointing 2011 season, we’ll see how he responds.
- Who looks like he’ll have a breakout season this year? At the top of the list is Young, whom three different people – including Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson – have said is ready to take a major leap forward in 2012. If he returns punts (see point #3 above), he’ll have a chance to have an impact in two different phases of the game. Another name to watch is Mikel Leshoure, who looks like he’ll provide the Lions a physical running attack. His presence will also help Jahvid Best, who should more effective with a lighter workload.
- Which draft pick (outside of Reiff) could make an impact for the Lions this fall? Cornerback Bill Bentley, coming off a solid mini-camp, could provide that impact, especially during training camp and the pre-season. He’ll challenge Aaron Berry for the other starting spot opposite Chris Houston. Don’t count out Whitehead (see point #2), or the Lewis’ – Ronnell and Travis – who look like they’ll get some opportunities to provide some impact on a special teams unit that struggled last year. Ronnell Lewis has been compared by some to Zach Follett, who earned a following among Lions fans with his hard hitting style on special teams. He’ll be one to watch, once the hitting begins in training camp.