Position summary: If there is one position on the Lions roster that is written on a Dry-Erase, it is at wide receiver.
While third-year player Roy Williams has been impressive during off-season workouts and mini-camps, everything (and everyone) else is a crapshoot. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is entering training camp with no preconceived notion about who belongs where, regardless of draft history, cap number or ego. Williams has the No. 1 receiver slot secured, but Martz will order the troops as he sees fit, forcing former top picks Charles Rogers and Mike Williams to work for their time on the field.
Unlike the latter duo, Roy Williams seems to be living up to his draft day billing. Although he didn't put up gaudy statistics within a shoddy, incompetent west coast offense the past two years (Williams managed 99 receptions, 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004 and 2005), he combines a powerful, physical build (6'2, 212) with tremendous speed and strength. If he is able to shrug off the occasional case of the dropsies, his potential in Martz's spread offense is second to none.
Currently, veteran free-agent acquisition Corey Bradford (Texans) makes the most compelling case to line up opposite Williams, joined by third-year player Scottie Vines.
Bradford is in his ninth year, but departed Houston after totaling 34 receptions and five touchdowns in just six starts last season. He has soft hands, an excellent relationship with receivers coach Kippy Brown (who coached Bradford in Houston), but perhaps the most noteworthy: experience. Instead of talk, Bradford has remained a consistent producer during his NFL tenure, which is more than can be said for Detroit's prima-donnas.
Speaking of production, third-year receiver Scottie Vines was the one player who capitalized on the ineptitude of Mike Williams and Rogers. A preseason cut last year, Vines re-signed with Detroit in late September and ended up starting 10 games. He finished third on the team with 40 receptions, including a nine-catch game at Minnesota in November.
Scottie Vines carried a
large portion of the load for
Detroit's receiver core last season
While Martz will go as deep as five receivers in his spread offense, he likes to keep it to three, and Vines is capable of finding a seam in the defense -- and showing up his first-billed teammates.
Both Rogers and Mike Williams face a crossroads in their respective careers. In their relatively brief time in the NFL, each has managed to develop reputations as likely busts and problematic. Head coach Rod Marinelli nor Martz will stand for that behavior or lack of desire. Williams was already asked not to attend an off-season training activity (Marinelli would not comment as to why), while Rogers has turned in less-than-impressive results during the mini-camps. If that continues, both will be in jeopardy of not only losing an opportunity to play, but a job.
However, if either player is able to wake up, realize his potential and commit to Marinelli's team-first philosophy, Detroit's starting core of receivers will surely reflect what vice president Matt Millen envisioned when making his previous three first round draft selections. But don't bet on it.
Pushing Rogers and Williams will be former Rams' player and Arena Football League star Mike Furrey and kick returner/wide receiver Eddie Drummond.
Both Furrey and Drummond are smaller in size, but package what Martz likes: clean route running, nifty open field ability and speed. Martz is familiar with Furrey from his last two years in St. Louis, where Furrey served as a wide receiver and return specialist before converting to safety. He started at free safety five games into the season, leading the team with four interceptions and lending credence to his versatility.
Before joining the NFL, Furrey was a standout in the AFL, setting the single-season touchdown record with 46 TD's in 2003.
Due to the lack of a pecking order, Drummond is finally getting his shot at receiver. There is an outside chance that Detroit opts to keep just six receivers, forcing Drummond to compete with Furrey for a job. However, given his storied return ability in addition to a new contract, it's likely that he won't have to worry about job security in 2006.
Glenn Martinez has spent the last few years in Detroit, but the Saginaw Valley State University standout has also spent the last of his time on Detroit's practice squad. Martinez will not be eligible in 2006, and will be forced to compete for a roster spot. He struggled during his regular season opportunities in 2005, accumulating just one reception in the five games that he played.
Paris Hamilton is an interesting talent that landed on the practice squad during his rookie season in 2005, but will likely find himself there again this year. And unless they wow during training camp, undrafted rookie free-agents Devale Ellis (5'10, 174), Brett Fischer (5'11, 199), and Shaun Bodiford (5'11, 187) will also compete for a practice squad position.
At tight end, Marcus Pollard returns for his second year in Detroit and 12th in the league. Because of his size and soft hands, he will again be a valuable asset in Detroit's offense. He will share time on the field with newcomer Dan Campbell. Campbell, a free-agent acquisition (Dallas), is a seven-year veteran with solid receiving skills but is also now Detroit's best blocking tight end. He will be used frequently by Martz, who loves his versatility.
Casey FitzSimmons will also likely have spot on the team. FitzSimmons provides the type of blue-collar work ethic that Marinelli and Martz both crave, and he has above average receiving and blocking skills.
It isn't likely that second-year player Sean McHugh will make the roster, but he is eligible for the practice squad. McHugh dressed three games with Detroit last year. Darius Williams, Kori Dickerson, and Val Barnaby will battle it out for a crack at the practice squad.