LIONS INSIDER

Where does the roster stand in terms of needs?

Posted Apr 9, 2014

Tim Twentyman recaps free agency moves and predicts how the position groups might change in the next month.

Normally around this time in April, teams are starting to gear up for the NFL Draft. But with the draft being pushed back two weeks to the beginning of May, a transition period has been created between free agency and the draft.

The Lions have the opportunity to start their offseason training program two weeks early, but there's limited contact between coaches and players until the minicamp at the end of the month.

So here we are, a month from the start of free agency, with a month to go until the draft.

Seems like a good time to recap where the Lions' roster is and where it might be heading in the next month.

Quarterback:

Dan OrlovskyQB Dan Orlovsky (Photo: AP Images)

Matthew Stafford now has a playbook and is getting to work learning Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi's offense. The team signed veteran Dan Orlovsky this offseason to compete with Kellen Moore for the backup role.

Orlovsky's signing was important for the Lions because Moore's never played in a regular-season game, despite the fact that he's entering his third season with the team. Orlovsky knows Caldwell and that probably gives him a little security.

Stafford has played in 49 consecutive games, including the 2011 playoff game. Don't put it past general manager Martin Mayhew and Co. to draft a quarterback in the middle to latter rounds of the draft.

Running back:

This might be the most set position on the roster. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell (signed a $9.3 million contract right before free agency began) are as solid a 1A and 1B the league has. The Lions are very high on second-year player Theo Riddick, who does a lot of different things for them.

Mikel Leshoure and Montell Owens seem poised to compete for the fourth spot. Owens brings more to the table as a terrific special teamer, but Leshoure is a former second-round pick, who Mayhew wants to see succeed. Stay tuned to see how that competition plays out.

Speedster Steven Miller spent last year on the practice squad and will compete for a roster spot. The team added a traditional fullback to the roster in Jed Collins, a position they haven't featured since Jerome Felton left in 2010.

Receiver:

Calvin Johnson, 28, had procedures done on a knee and a mangled finger this offseason. Having to carry most of the load the last couple years has started to take a toll on him. The Lions needed to get him more help, so they went out and signed Golden Tate, 25, to a five-year, $31 million deal with the expectation he'll be their No. 2.

Don't think for a second the Lions are done adding to this position because of Tate's signing, however. The Lions want to completely revamp that unit and will add another receiver in the first few rounds of the draft. They had six receivers on the 53-man roster Week 1 last year, so, if history repeats itself, it will leave Ryan Broyles (who could start season on PUP), Jeremy Ross, Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Corey Fuller, Patrick Edwards, Carlin Isles and Cody Wilson to compete for three spots.

Tight end:

The Lions made re-signing Brandon Pettigrew a major priority this offseason and secured his services for another four years with a $16 million deal. Pettigrew gives them a versatile player to match with the more specialized skill sets of Joeseph Fauria, Michael Williams and Matt Veldman.

Williams spent his entire rookie season on IR, so the Lions are eager to see what he brings to the table. They're also expecting more production from Fauria inside the 20-yard lines. With Pettigrew under contract, this doesn't seem like a huge position of need.

Offensive line:

One of the really great surprises last year was the play of this unit. They had question marks heading into the season with three new starters but ended up being one of the best units in the NFL -- allowing the second fewest sacks (23) and paving the way for the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004.

The starting five for most of the season remains intact with Riley Reiff, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle. The Lions also have tackle Corey Hilliard signed for one more year and he gives them an experienced player who can push Waddle for a starting spot on the right side in camp.

J.B. Shugarts, who the team signed last week, will try to win the fourth tackle spot. The team is very high on guard Rodney Austin, who was promoted to the active roster late last year so the team wouldn't lose him to another team on the practice squad. Is he ready to push Sims for a starting spot? The team signed free agent Darren Keyton to give them some depth at both guard and center, but expect the team to look to the draft to find their center of the future. The Lions could add a tackle and an interior lineman in the draft.

Defensive line:

A very talented unit with a very uncertain future. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are potentially entering the final years of their contracts. The Lions are expecting a big season out of Fairley after they opted not to pick up his fifth-year option as motivation for him to have a strong 2014.

C.J. Mosley is a very solid No. 3. Andre Fluellen, Corey Irvin and Martin Vaughn were all signed this offseason to compete for a fourth spot, along with Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Xavier Proctor. The uncertain future of Suh and Fairley also opens up the possibility for the Lions to select a defensive tackle next month.

On the edges, the Lions are pretty strong with Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones and Devin Taylor. Jones can play both inside and outside, but there are some question marks about his durability coming off major knee surgery. If he's not the same player then this certainly becomes a position of need. The team also expects free-agent signee Darryl Tapp to give them some versatility as an outside linebacker/edge rusher.

Linebacker:

The Lions return all three of their starting linebackers – Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer. This will be a huge year for third-year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis. Can Whitehead push Palmer for a starting spot? Can Lewis earn more time? The team could also add another player like Tapp, a versatile Sam linebacker/defensive end-type who can blitz and rush off the edge. Corey Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn, Jon Morgan and Julian Stanford will also compete for a roster spots and special teams roles.

Cornerback:

The Lions have a lot of young talent they hope can take a giant leap forward under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. The team signed just one veteran corner this offseason, Cassius Vaughn.

Chris Houston had a rough 2013 and the team needs him to bounce back in a big way. They're also expecting second-year player Darius Slay to come in and play like a starter right away. Bill Bentley played well in the slot last year, and he has the edge to fill that role again in 2014.

Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green will compete for roles. Greenwood has a huge upside after finally getting to play some last year, but time is running out on the term "potential." He has to show it on the field and be a contributor right away. The Lions aren't likely done adding talent to this unit. Expect them to add another corner in the draft.

Safety:

The Lions really shook up the position this offseason with the signing of veteran strong safety James Ihedigbo and moving veteran Glover Quin from strong safety to free safety. In Quin and Ihedigbo, the Lions have two smart, reliable players with experience in the back end of their defense. Add another veteran player in Don Carey to the mix, and the Lions have a pretty nice top three at safety.

Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah will compete for the fourth spot. The Lions could add to this group via the draft too, possibly looking for their strong safety of the future to eventually replace Ihedigbo.

Special teams:

The team is set at long snapper (Don Muhlbach) and punter (Sam Martin), but needs to figure out their replacement for David Akers at kicker. John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio will get first crack at earning the job.