By: Jamie Samuelsen
Lions Training Camp starts in one day!
In case you weren’t sure, there’s another little reminder. Although my good friends Tony Ortiz and Ryan Wooley may have mentioned it a time or two in their updates over the past week.
The unofficial beginning to the end of summer comes Friday when the Lions hold their first official workout in Allen Park. This means daily updates about how Ronnell Lewis’ engine is running and how Louis Delmas’ knee is ailing. Pardon the sarcasm, but we’ve seen this act before. Wake me up when Labor Day rolls around.
But football does bring stories, and prepare yourself to read plenty in the next few weeks about Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Ndamukong Suh. Those will be the primary stars of the first days of camp as we try to determine whether this team is closer to the 10-6 playoff team of 2011 or the 4-12 dud of 2012.
I’m ignoring those stories to tell you the three names which hold the key to the Lions hopes this fall. Stafford is obvious. As is Bush. But to be honest, I expect both to be just fine. These other three guys will be the difference between the Lions taking a step forward or simply spinning their wheels.
1) Riley Reiff
Good news Lions fans! Jeff Backus is gone. Bad news Lions fans! Jeff Backus is gone. Backus isn’t a candidate for Canton or anything, but the man missed one game in twelve years and was one of the truly solid linemen in the NFL. Reiff played well last season in his role as the “sixth starter” on the offensive line. But he played poorly in his one start on Thanksgiving Day against JJ Watt and the Texans. It seemed like the Lions were angling for an offensive tackle in the first round of the draft. When all their guys were gone, they settled on defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Is that an indictment on Reiff? We’ll find out early on in the process.
2) Brandon Pettigrew
Most of you have already given up on the Lions’ enigmatic tight end. And who am I to blame you? This guy has the size, look and talent to be a stud in any offense. He just has that pesky problem of not being able to catch the ball in clutch situations. If Pettigrew could possibly put together a string of consistent games, can you imagine just how good this offense could be? Talk all you want about the importance of a secondary receiver like Nate Burleson or Ryan Broyles. I think Pettigrew could easily be that weapon that forces teams to lay off Calvin Johnson just a little bit. I’m still intrigued by Pettigrew and believe he could have a dynamic offensive season both for the Lions, and for a fantasy team.
3) DeAndre Levy
Four years ago, Levy appeared to be one of the rising stars in this league. Injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him ever since. With Justin Durant gone and Stephen Tulloch not getting any younger (or any taller), there’s a lot of pressure on Levy to become a leader in the linebacking corps. The success of this defense will be predicated by how effective the defensive line is. The secondary almost has to be better with the addition of Glover Quin and the return of Chris Houston and Delmas. But don’t sleep on the linebackers. They’re an undervalued part of every defense.
If those three can emerge as three of the best in the NFC North, then the Lions should be able to stay interesting well past Thanksgiving. If not, and we could already be scouting the 2014 Draft by Halloween.