QUARTERBACK: Starter - Jon Kitna. Backups - Dan Orlovsky and Josh McCown.
Kitna, signed in March as a backup to Joey Harrington, has been the No. 1 quarterback since the day Harrington was traded to Miami. He has the experience needed for the job, has the necessary leadership qualities that have allowed him to make a quick connection with his new team and has the physical tools to move the Lions offense. Kitna will have some challenges, especially early in the season. He is playing with a new team, new receivers and learning the ins and outs of the Mike Martz offense as quickly as he can. He has never had the strongest arm in the NFL but Martz feels he is adequate to make all the throws necessary in a 260-play playbook. The only competition at the QB position has been for the backup job. Although McCown has by far the greater experience and the added dimension of scrambling ability, he was playing behind Orlovsky through much of training camp and the pre-season. Orlovsky is not particularly mobile but is less likely to bolt the pocket and has good arm strength. There is a chance Orlovsky and McCown could be used interchangeably in the backup role if needed.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Kevin Jones, FB Cory Schlesinger. Backups - RB
Shawn Bryson, RB Brian Calhoun, RB Arlen Harris.
The Lions will go into the regular season with a running back best described as still a work in progress. Jones, trying to come back from a disappointing second NFL season, has locked down the starting job and the hard-working Schlesinger quickly earned the respect of Martz and coach Rod Marinelli as the starting fullback. But the running game has been slow to come together, in part because the right side of the offensive line - guard Damien Woody (wrist) and tackle Rex Tucker (knee) missed most of training camp and the pre-season with injuries. Although the running game was overshadowed in Martz's Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, it is a necessary element in his offense and he is determined to make it work in Detroit. Bryson provides a quality backup at both RB and FB, Harris has experience in Martz's offense and looked good early in camp, and the Lions coaches like the potential they see in Calhoun's speed and quickness.
TIGHT END: Starter - Casey FitzSimmons. Backups - Marcus Pollard, Dan Campbell
FitzSimmons, who at times seemed to be hanging onto his backup position by a thread in his first three seasons in the NFL, has been a hit with the new coaching staff. He will still make his contributions on special teams but Martz likes his work ethic, his short-to-medium range as a receiver and moved him into the starting job, with Pollard being used primarily in the H-back role. Pollard is still the best receiver among the TEs and runs well for a 34-year old beginning his 12th NFL season. Campbell missed much of training camp with an elbow injury but gives the Lions the luxury of a pure blocking tight end for the first time in several years.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - WR Roy Williams, WR Cory Bradford. Backups - Mike Furrey, Eddie Drummond, Mike Williams, Shaun Bodiford, Scottie Vines (PUP).
Marinelli and Martz have been peculiar in their handling of the receivers. Aside from establishing Roy Williams and Bradford as the starters, the depth changed on almost a daily basis without explanation. Roy Williams' role is clear. He is the Lions' most dangerous big-play receiver and should prosper in Martz's system if he can steer clear of the bothersome injuries that occasionally bothered him in his first two NFL seasons. Bradford provides a veteran presence and is a role model for some of the younger receivers. Furrey's experience in Martz's system in St. Louis has made him valuable in the slot, with Drummond, the PR/KOR, also getting playing time there. The mystery of training camp was the status of Mike Williams and Charles Rogers, both former first-round draft picks who had fallen out of favor with the previous coaching staff and had to convince Marinelli's staff they were willing to work, arrive at meetings on time, stay healthy and stay clean. Rogers was cut in the final roster trimming.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Ross Verba, C Dominic Raiola,
RG Damien Woody, RT Rex Tucker. Backups - G/C Rick DeMulling, G Barry Stokes, T
Jonathan Scott, G Frank Davis
Once they are all healthy the Lions will have applied to much-needed patches to last year's offensive line. Verba, who sat out the 2005 season after escaping his contract obligations in Cleveland, has moved into the LG position between Backus and Raiola, and should make both of their jobs easier. The other newcomer to the OL is Tucker, whose experience should make him a steadier, more effective performer at RT than the released Kelly Butler, who was thrown into the job last year with virtually no experience in the NFL. The arrival of new OL coach Larry Beightol has also provided a lift. He's tough and demanding but has made a good connection with his players. Backus has not missed a start in five NFL seasons and has the security of a new long-term contract he signed earlier in the summer. The Lions are hoping he will lift his level of play with Beightol's focus on fundamentals. Raiola is too small to handle the NFL's big NTs but is effective when he's pulling and leading plays. Woody missed most of training camp and the pre-season with a broken wrist but when he controls his weight he can be very effective. DeMulling and Stokes are the most experienced and valuable of the backups.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Cory Redding, LT Shaun Rogers, RT Shaun Cody,
RE James Hall. Backups - DE Jared DeVries, DE Kalimba Edwards, DT Marcus Bell,
DE Bill Swancutt (IR), DT Tyoka Jackson.
It didn't help that Rogers fell and injured his shoulder in the opening days of training camp, missing virtually all of camp and most of the preseason. That meant he missed the conditioning, which is important to a man his size, as well as the indoctrination into defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson's system. That could mean a slow start for the 340-pound Pro Bowl DT but he can dominate when he gets it going. Cody stepped in nicely for DT Dan Wilkinson, who was released to take a job in Miami and Redding is coming off probably his best training camp in four NFL seasons, showing more pass rush ability than he had previously. Hall is what he is - a hard worker who is solid against the run and can occasionally get to the QB. Bell, Edwards and DeVries provide a solid defensive line rotation and Swancutt made progress as a backup in his second training camp.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Paris Lenon, MLB Boss Bailey, WLB Ernie Sims.
Backups - James Davis, Alex Lewis, LaVar Woods, Donte' Curry, Anthony Cannon,
Teddy Lehman (PUP).
The good news is that Sims, the Lions' No. 1 pick in the draft, progressed as Marinelli and Henderson had hoped. He's fast, he's a hitter and has good instincts. He moved to the starting WLB position before the third game of the season and they expect him to stay there for years to come. The bad news is that Bailey was slow coming back from off-season ankle surgery and Lehman, a projected starter, was even slower coming back from a foot injury. Bailey doesn't have prototypical MLB size but in Henderson's defense he can be effective because of his speed, athletic ability and his ability to make plays all over the field; he missed the first two pre-season games, however, and will be learning as he starts the regular season. Lehman might open the season on PUP, leaving the SLB job to Lenon with Lewis, Woods and Davis playing the primary backup roles.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Terrence Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups - S Daniel Bullocks, CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Keith Smith, CB Stanley Wilson, S Jon McGraw, S Idrees Brashir
The Lions should be better and deeper in the secondary than they have in recent seasons. Bly remains the leader and one of the team's most effective playmakers, good in coverage and aggressive going after the ball on interceptions. Bryant, who couldn't stay healthy his first two seasons in Detroit, made it through camp and the pre-season unscathed and has to play at a quality level. Bullocks, the Lions' second-round pick in the draft, is pushing Holt for the FS job but Marinelli feels he can use his top three safeties almost interchangeably with little concern of the free or strong designation. Fletcher is an experienced backup, as is McGraw and Brashir. Smith and Wilson are progressing but not necessarily at the pace Marinelli would hope for.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters - PK Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, H Nick Harris, LS
Don Muhlbach, KOR Eddie Drummond, PR Eddie Drummond. Backups - H Jon Kitna, LS
Dominic Raiola, R/KOR Shaun Bodiford, PR/KOR Brian Calhoun.
Hanson is 36 years old and entering his 15th NFL season but has shown no sign of losing either his leg or his consistency on field goals and extra points. Harris is dependable as Hanson's holder and is one of the NFL's best at dropping punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Muhlbach, a two-year veteran once described by Lions president Matt Millen as "the Nolan Ryan of long snappers," is fast and accurate delivering the ball on punts, field goals and extra points. Drummond, a Pro Bowl returner in 2004, did not play at the same level in 2005 and did not show the same burst in the pre-season this year. Rookies Sims, Bullocks and Cannon have been contributors on special teams coverage units.