ALLEN PARK -- Coach Jim Schwartz already had a borderline crisis on his hands along the injury-ravaged offensive line, and now he has lost one of the key ballcarriers expected to run behind that unit before the first preseason game has even been played.
Rookie running back Mikel Leshoure went down with a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon Monday. He had been drawing raves from teammates on both sides of the ball for his rugged style and surprising burst through the hole.
Leshoure's injury also opens the door for Ian Johnson, who was facing an uphill battle to unseat Morris for a roster spot. Johnson has been impressive, and now could land the third running back role if he is able to flash during exhibition games. If he doesn't, the Lions also moved quickly to add veterans Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell, who were traded for each other in a deal between Cleveland and Philadelphia last season.
|Rookie running back Mikel Leshoure is the latest of a Lions roster that was been decimated with injuries in training camp. Leshoure will miss the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon. (Leon Halip/ getty)|
In training camp on Thursday, Harrison, Bell and fellow running back Aaron Brown all exchanged moments with the second and third-team offense.
And then there are the issues along the line.
Left tackle Jeff Backus, who has 160 straight starts under his belt, will miss most of training camp with a torn pectoral muscle. Starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus, coming off microfracture knee surgery, had not practiced with the team until the middle of this week.
Jason Fox, in his second season, was getting all the first-team reps at left tackle before leaving practice Sunday with a foot injury. Although it won't require surgery, he could still miss significant time.
That left veterans Corey Hilliard and Tony Ugoh, recently-signed Isaac Sowells and rookie seventh-round pick Johnny Culbreath as the only healthy tackles in camp. To shore up the position, the Lions inked veteran tackle Kirk Chambers on Thursday. They waived injured guard Jeff Maddox to make room on the roster.
"Obviously, it's not ideal, but it's early yet," Schwartz said. "The guys that are healthy are going to get a lot of reps and they have to make the most of them."
General manager Martin Mayhew said he would continue to look for ways to upgrade the roster, with perhaps a keener eye on offensive linemen.
"We are looking to upgrade the roster at several positions," Mayhew said. "We want to improve our depth across the board. With the exception of quarterback we could probably make a move at any position to make ourselves better."
Injuries have been the only negative through an otherwise spirited and high-tempo first week. The Lions have yet to get a look at their top two draft picks. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the 13th overall pick, will miss all of camp with a broken left foot and second-round pick wide receiver Titus Young has been out with left stiffness.
Fairley injured his foot on the second day during a special teams drill. He had surgery in Charlotte, N.C. last week Wednesday.
Mayhew, though, isn't trying to fool anybody. He knows it's going to be a while before he gets the impact he was hoping for from his top two picks.
"With the rookies (across the league), you are going to see a lot of those guys not make an immediate impact who would have had the ability to make an immediate impact with an offseason," he said. "It's going to be a different year for rookies."
Linebackers on a one-year plan
"We knew we had to address the linebackers and secondary, but we didn't want to jump out on Day 1 and be on somebody's door step," he said. "We felt like the market would come to us, and it did. I would like to have signed Stephen Tulloch to a multi-year deal and Eric Wright to a multi-year deal. Those guys wanted to do a one-year deal. They felt like there'd be a better market for them next year. So we signed them for a year and we may be able to address that before the season is over or shortly after the season. We will try to get them locked up."
CB Chris Houston picked the wrong year to be an unrestricted free agent. Not only was the market flooded and the time frame condensed, it was also top-heavy in cornerbacks. Still, signing back with the Lions (two-year deal) didn't seem like a bad consolation prize. Thus far in training camp, he's been starting with the first team across from free-agent acquisition Eric Wright.
"There's no bitterness about anything," he said. "It all worked out to the best of its ability and I am ready to get back to business. You always want to see what's out there for you, but I knew the Lions are up and coming. I'm familiar with the coaches and the scheme, the players and the town. In the end, I wanted to be somewhere I am familiar and comfortable."
- OG Rob Sims was pressed into emergency duty at right tackle at practice Saturday. To say it didn't go well would be an understatement. He lasted one play. DE Willie Young blew past him almost before he left his stance. Offensive line coach George Yarno immediately told him to go back to guard.
- WR Demario Ballard has raised some eyebrows. An undrafted rookie from Western Oregon, Ballard is 6-6, 220 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.55. He caught everything thrown to him the first couple of days, but this is a former basketball prospect who only started playing organized football in 2006. He would be a good candidate for the practice squad.
- WR Nate Hughes was claimed off waivers from Jacksonville. He is one of 12 WR in camp.
- OG Greg Niland was signed off waivers from Arizona. He will have a hard time unseating top reserves Dylan Gandy and Donald Thomas in the middle of the offensive line.
- DL Greg Banks, an undrafted rookie from Michigan, was signed to fill in after DT Nick Fairley (foot) was injured.
- OT Isaac Sowells, a four-year vet, was signed last week after three other tackles went down with injuries.
- TE-FB Preston Dial, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, has been impressive, both in how fast he's picked up the system and his versatility. He can play fullback, tight end and special teams.
- RB Ian Johnson, who spent last season on the practice squad, is a long-shot to win the third running back spot, but he's been impressive. He could steal a spot from veteran Maurice Morris with some flash moments in the exhibition games.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: There are essentially eight receivers in camp fighting for possibly one spot. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and return specialist Stefan Logan are safe. Derrick Williams presently appears to be ahead of Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall. Second-year Tim Toone has also been impressive.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: There is a lot of competition for the cornerback spots. Although Chris Houston would have to have a poor camp to lose his job, Aaron Berry, Eric Wright, Alphonso Smith (injured), Prince Miller, Maurice Leggett, Brandon McDonald, Nathan Vasher and Paul Pratt, plus undrafted rookie Jamal Robinson are all getting reps.
OT Johnny Culbreath is getting more reps than he could have ever dreamed of, thanks to injuries to three of the top four OTs. He is still raw and struggling with his technique, but he is an imposing physical specimen (6-5, 322).
- LB Doug Hogue is going to have a hard time getting any run with the defense, but he looks like he could be valuable on the coverage teams. He's a much better athlete than linebacker right now.
- RB Mikel Leshoure (Achilles) will miss the entire 2011 season.
- WR Titus Young (rookie) still out with leg stiffness. Expected back next week.
- DT Nick Fairley (rookie) out 4-5 weeks with broken left foot.
- RB Maurice Morris out indefinitely with a broken right hand.
- FS Louis Delmas is out three days after a pin from an old surgery was removed from his hand.
- OT Gosder Cherilus (knee), out all week, is still listed as day-to-day.
- OT Jeff Backus (chest) is still on the non-football injury list.
- CB Alphonso Smith (foot) is on the non-football injury list.
- OT Jason Fox (foot) is out indefinitely but will not require surgery.
- DT Andre Fluellen (broken hand) out indefinitely.