Positional Analysis: Detroit Lions

A unit-by-unit analysis of the Jaguars next opponent, the Detroit Lions.

QUARTERBACK: Starter – Drew Stanton Backups – Daunte Culpepper, Drew Henson.

With Dan Orlovsky spraining his thumb, either Drew Stanton or the newly signed Daunte Culpepper could get the start. Culpepper hasn't played in nearly a year, and Stanton hasn't ever played in a regular season NFL game.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - HB Kevin Smith, FB Jerome Felton. Backups - RB Rudi Johnson.

Smith, a third-round pick, and Felton, a fifth-round pick, were the only rookies in the starting lineup for the opener. Smith has the vision and cutting ability to fit the Lions' zone scheme. Felton is a smart, physical blocker who always seems to be in the right spot. The Lions signed free agent Rudi Johnson and he's been getting the bulk of the carries.

TIGHT END: Starter - Michael Gaines. Backups- Casey Fitzsimmons, John Owens.

Gaines wants to show he can be the man, but he is known for his blocking. Fitzsimmons is the opposite, known more for his pass-catching than blocking. He has great value on special teams. Fitzsimmons can play fullback if needed, though he isn't as comfortable behind the line of scrimmage.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Calvin Johnson, Mike Furrey. Backups - Shaun McDonald, Brandon Middleton.

The strongest unit on the team. Johnson seems primed for a breakout year, after being slowed by a back injury virtually all of his rookie season. He can outrun, outmuscle and outjump just about any cornerback in the league. If opponents give him single coverage, look out. McDonald and Furrey led the Lions in catches the past two years under Martz. They won't do that again, but even catching fewer balls, they should have a role and provide solid depth. Furrey can play outside, if needed.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Damion Cook, C Dominic Raiola, RG Manny Ramirez, RT George Foster. Backups - OT Gosder Cherilus, G Stephen Peterman, OT Edwin Mulitalo.

Backus and Raiola are the mainstays of the line. Both have played all 112 games of the Matt Millen era. Backus has started them all, Raiola all but the first 16. Backus struggled under Martz and should benefit not having to hold up in pass protection for a long time down after down. Mulitalo played under Colletto in Baltimore and knows the zone blocking scheme well. Raiola is a fireball of a leader and athletic. The trouble is on the right side of the line. The coaches love Peterman's competitiveness but not his consistency. Foster has been better than he was last season, when he was benched multiple times. The offense is simpler and like the one he used to run in Denver. But Cherilus is expected to take over at right tackle at some point.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Jared DeVries, UT Cory Redding, NT Chuck Darby, RE Dewayne White. Backups - DT Shaun Cody, DT Langston Moore, DE Ikaika Alama-Francis, DE Cliff Avril, DE Corey Smith, DT Andre Fluellen, DT Landon Cohen.

Now that Shaun Rogers has been traded, the Lions have no defensive lineman over 300 pounds. They are lean and quick. Redding and White have played at an elite level for a portion of a season but now need to do it for a full season. DeVries and Darby are salty veterans who find a way to get the job done. Moore and Smith are role players who have a knack for making plays. Cody, Avril, Alama-Francis and Fluellen are all recent second- and third-round drive picks who need to develop and make an impact.

LINEBACKER: Starters - WLB Ernie Sims, MLB Paris Lenon, SLB Alex Lewis. Backups – Ryan Nece, Jordon Dizon, Gilbert Gardner.

Sims is a playmaker. The rest need to make more plays. The Lions tried hard to upgrade the middle and strong side in the off-season, but Lenon and Lewis are still the starters, respectively. The hope is that Dizon, a second-round pick, will learn quickly and be ready to start in the middle at some point, moving Lenon to the strong side.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Brian Kelly, SS Kalvin Pearson, FS Daniel Bullocks, RCB Travis Fisher. Backups - CB Leigh Bodden, S Dwight Smith, S Lamarcus Hicks, CB Keith Smith, CB Ramzee Robinson.

The Lions upgraded the secondary dramatically in the off-season. They acquired Bodden, who had six picks last season, as well as Tampa Two veterans Kelly, Pearson and Dwight Smith. They have better ball and man skills, and shouldn't play as much zone and as far off the line of scrimmage this season. Bodden was expected to start, but he has had to learn the scheme and Fisher has held him off so far. Alexander was pressed into starting service last year as a rookie after Bullocks suffered a torn ACL, and he looks solid in his second season, always in the right spot. Pearson has the ability to start at safety or play corner in a pinch. Bullocks would give the Lions another starting-caliber safety if he can get back into form after missing a year. Keith Smith has shown speed and improvement.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, LS Don Muhlbach, KOR/PR Shaun McDonald.

Hanson is still going strong entering his 17th season in Detroit. Harris has great touch, excelling at dropping the ball inside the 20, and Marinelli has emphasized "superior punting" this year. Muhlbach is one of the best in the business. The return game is suspect.


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