It's not every year the Lions release a player that's generally regarded as a solid player. However this year, it's likely to change.
The Lions have a plethora of potential at the running back slot. And when roster cuts come and the dust settles, the Lions will probably be without a RB that they would normally jump at the chance at acquiring.
Shawn Bryson was signed this year before the draft. He was a small, under the radar signing, but he could prove to be a very solid backup. He was the Bills starter up until he was injured, paving the way for Travis Henry to take over. Bryson is expected to make the team.
Rafael Cooper is a hold over from last year's squad. Signed last season, Cooper didn't show much up until he gained a career high of 50 yards on 8 carries against a stingy Tampa Bay defense. Cooper is on the bubble and will need to impress the coaches to make the final cut.
Autry Denson, a 2003 signing, is in Europe playing for the Rhein Fire. He's doing very well in the NFL Europe, however, and that could assure him a roster spot. The all-time rushing leader in Notre Dame history is on the bubble though, considering the players behind him.
Avon Cobourne, an undrafted free agent, is impressing coaches thus far. At 5'8, he doesn't have as much speed as you would like from a player his size, but still has good football skills. He's the all time leader in rushing out of West Virginia with 5,168 yards. He was coveted by many teams after the draft, and was subsequently one of the only undrafted players given a signing bonus. He is expected to make the team.
Fourth round pick Artose Pinner is a sure thing. He had an ankle injury coming out of college, hence his drop to the fourth round. He was regarded league wide as a first day pick, had it not been for the injury. But a solid player fell into the Lions' lap, and they picked him up. He is expected to be the backup to James Stewart if Stewart remains on the team. More on that later.
A year ago, the Lions drafted college's best running back in the seventh round. Luke Staley, given the Doak Walker award for being the nation's top running back, came out of BYU with records AND baggage. He was the nation's top scorer, averaging a whopping 17 points a game by himself. He broke many BYU records, but fell all the way to the seventh round with an extensive injury history. He has impressed a lot of coaches this year after coming off og the IR, however pulled his hamstring the first day of minicamp during the off-season. If he is to make this team, he needs a quick recovery and needs to return to the form he had in the previous camps.
And finally, there is James Stewart, the incumbent starter. He had over 1,000 yards last year despite various nagging injuries. He was also the team's leader in receptions. Without James, the offense would have been even more stagnant than it already was, which is a nightmarish thought. The sticking point is his salary, which is much too high. However, he may make the team anyway because of what he did for the offense last year, and the lack of experience behind him. There is a ton of potential waiting in the wings, but is it worth risking? The Lions aren't particularly strapped for cash either, so it may be wiser just to hang on to him whether they start him or not. Stewart's status is relatively safe.
Realistically, the only real threat Stewart has to his job is Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner. Luke Staley has everything you would want out of a running back in the west coast offense, but does have injuries. If he makes it out of camp and preseason healthy, he could enter the fray, however at this point it's far from a sure thing he will compete.
With all the talent at running back, the Lions will undoubtedly release a young, talented player into the pool. But rest assured, the Lions will have talent regardless.
Coming Soon: WR Battles from Adrian Donofrio