ALLEN PARK - As the Lions head for the start of training camp later this month, there is a big unknown on the defensive side of the football. While offensive coordinator Mike Martz has two emerging talents that he can count upon on the offensive side of the ball, who will make the plays defensively?
Detroit knows that corner Dre' Bly is among the top players in that group in the league and that Shaun Rogers can be a dominating force in the interior line, but coordinator Donnie Henderson will need more than just a couple of individual players to put together a cohesive unit that is capable of stopping a good NFL offense.
Detroit used their first two picks to address the defensive side of the ball and both players, Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims and Nebraska safety Daniel Bullocks will likely be starters at their respective positions.
Detroit lost anchor Dan Wilkinson, who elected not to report to training camp and veteran Earl Holmes, who was the inspiration of a hard working unit. Now Henderson must count on injury proned Boss Bailey in the middle of the unit to provide veteran leadership and unproven Teddy Lehman, also coming off injury at the strongside.
There isn't much depth behind the trio with Alex Lewis (returning from missing most of the '05 season) James Davis and Paris Lenon as the rest of the playing group. The unit is so thin that Detroit might take a flier in the supplemental draft on Ahmed Brooks, a talented but troubled player who reminds some of a poor man's Ray Lewis.
In the defensive line, Detroit perennially has had trouble stopping the run but Henderson believes that is more scheme than production. He feels with Shaun Cody playing in the Tampa Two scheme favored by Marinelli that he can be an impact player they same way that Minnesota castoff Chris Hovan excelled in the scheme.
At the ends, James Hall will start at the right end, while Kalimba Edwards will fight it out with Cory Redding for the coveted left end spot. Look for Edwards to get the nod after getting a bonus baby contract and comparisons to to Tampa's Derrick Brooks in the offseason.
While Bullocks is likely to move Terrence Holt -- who struggled in '05 -- back to the bench, does he possess any more range and can he be any more productive? Kenoy Kennedy will be squarely in the spotlight after coming over from Denver as a free agent last year. Kennedy had a solid season but more is expected in terms of making plays, not just tackles in the secondary. Veteran Idrees Bashir comes over to provide some competition at the position.
The biggest question mark is at right corner where a finally healthy Fernando Bryant was the subject of rumors that the team might give up on him. Bryant has missed all of the last two seasons with injuries and needs a bounce-back year. Behind him are Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson. Smith looked close to claiming the job a season ago, while Wilson didn't see much playing time but has cover skills.
With a lack of depth in several areas, the last thing Detroit needs is injuries, but Henderson and Marinelli don't see it that way. They say the opportunities are there for players to emerge whether they are street free agents of high round draft picks. Both say that those who emerge will play.
But the question becomes is there enough talent on this side of the ball to field a solid NFL unit?