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Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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The Lions announced they made tender offers to three of their four restricted free agents.

Linebacker DeAndre Levy received a second-round tender, while defensive tackle Sammie Hill (fourth) and offensive tackle Corey Hilliard (sixth) received original-round tenders. The Lions are not tendering linebacker Ashlee Palmer, their fourth restricted free agent.

Levy, a third-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2009, said he plans to sign his tender soon.

"I'm happy to be back," he told the Detroit Free Press. "I think last year was an important year for us and, hopefully, we have enough guys back that we can continue building on that and finish what we started, however long it takes."

TEAM NEEDS

Secondary: The Lions do not have a cornerback signed beyond next season and the lack of depth was exposed late last season after starter Chris Houston, nickel back Aaron Berry and free safety Louis Delmas were injured.

"We didn't finish well, particularly in the secondary," Schwartz said. "We gave up a lot of points and a lot of passing yards."

Schwartz reiterated what he said during Super Bowl week, that it was injuries and a lack of depth that torpedoed the defense in the second half of the season, not the schemes or the system.

"Go back to about Week 10, we lost Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young and Chris Houston and Louis Delmas and we had sort of a revolving door at nickel," he said. "We don't just have 11 players on defense, we like to rotate 15 or 16 guys through, and we had a significant portion of those guys out.

"When you look at where we are and the steps we need to take, our depth wasn't as good as it will be and that showed."

Offensive line: Starting left tackle Jeff Backus will be 35 and center Dominic Raiola 34. Backus is expected to sign back for at least one more season and Raiola is entering the final year of his contract. Right guard Stephen Peterman will be 30 next season.

Like it or not, the Lions have to start developing some young lineman. Corey Hilliard (27) is the top backup at tackle and Dylan Gandy (30) is the primary interior backup. Left tackle Jason Fox faces a make-or-break summer and training camp. He has shown that he's able to handle the position, now he has to prove he can be available and healthy to do so.

Running back: The Lions are optimistic that both Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles) will be ready to play, but there are no guarantees. Of the two, Leshoure seems more likely to be ready. Best still hasn't been cleared for contact.

"Both are progressing and we're getting good reports, but it's hard to project," Mayhew said. "We really want to make sure we focus on what's important and that's having them ready for the season. This is something we want to do, do it right and put it behind us. There is no rushing on either of those two."

The fact that Mayhew is interested in re-signing Kevin Smith is an indication that he wants to make sure he covers his bases at this position. Expect him to draft another running back, perhaps in the second or third round.

MEDICAL WATCH

--RB Jahvid Best (concussion), according to an ESPN report, has been cleared to work out. Citing an unnamed source, Best has been cleared to participate in OTAs in May, mini-camps in June and, barring any setback, training camp in August. Up to this point, Best was doing only basic conditioning work. Best suffered two concussions last season, the second against San Francisco on Oct. 16. He was placed on injured reserve in November.

FRANCHISE PLAYER
DE Cliff Avril (tendered at $10.605 million).

TRANSITION PLAYER
None.

TRANSITION PLAYERS
None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--LT Jeff Backus will be 35 in September and he's coming off a season that was bracketed by surgeries - torn pectoral muscle before training camp and a torn biceps in the playoff loss to the Saints. But all indications are that he will be back for at least a 12th season and possibly one more beyond that. Negotiations have been positive and productive, which is a good thing since there is no other left tackle on the roster ready to replace him.

--OLB Bobby Carpenter isn't expected to be re-signed. The Lions learned the same lesson about Carpenter that the Cowboys learned. He is built like a Pro Bowler. His football IQ is off the charts. But something is missing. The more he played last season, the more he struggled. By the end of the season, he was playing mostly on special teams. The only defensive package he was part of was the four-linebacker goal-line package.

--S Erik Coleman was lost for the season after Week 4 and the way things turned out last season, with the late-season injuries to Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey, that proved to be a huge blow. Coleman will be 30 in May and he will have to convince teams that he's healthy and hasn't lost any more speed. It wouldn't cost the Lions too much to bring him back, but that's probably not their first option.

--OG Leonard Davis won't be back. The Lions brought the veteran former Pro Bowler in last season for three reasons - as insurance against injury, to push starter Stephen Peterman and to take an extended look at him to determine if he'd fit in the plans for 2012. It appears the answer to No. 3 is no, he does not fit.

--WR Rashied Davis was a stabilizing force on the special teams once he got healthy. He was also a stabilizing and at times hilarious presence in the locker room. But, he will be 33 and that will give the Lions some pause. Still, it is a good bet they bring him back.

--LB Isaiah Ekejiuba was another vital special teams player who was lost early; in Week 3. He will be 31 in October and it seems like there's still a lot of good football left in him, but the Lions are expected to revamp their linebacker core again and will be looking for younger special teams aces.

--DT Andre Fluellen was essentially the fifth defensive tackle and the emergency fill-in at defensive end during his four-year tenure with the Lions, but he was consistently productive when he was called upon. He's 27 and could also be looking for a larger role, which he won't get backing up Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill.

--P Ben Graham has earned a shot at competing for the job next season. The Lions haven't given up on Ryan Donahue, who beat out Nick Harris last season before being injured during the bye week. But Graham stepped in and stabilized what had been a shaky punt unit. His directional punting and ability to drop punts inside the 10 was a weapon for the Lions last season.

--S Chris Harris won't be back. If the Lions needed a run-stopping specialist, they would probably re-sign Harris without hesitation. But they aren't looking for one-dimensional defensive backs. Harris' inability to protect the back end against deep throws was exposed over and over last season - in Chicago and in Detroit.

--RB Jerome Harrison's football career is on hold after he had surgery last October to remove a tumor from his brain. Asked about Harrison's condition during the Combine, both coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew declined to comment.

--QB Shaun Hill will re-sign with the Lions unless there is a team willing to let him fight for a starting job. That scenario won't present itself until after the draft. But the Lions have an urgency to bring him back and he said after the season that he wants to come back.

--CB Brandon McDonald went from the starting nickel back in training camp to being released in Week 14 to being brought back for the final two regular-season games and actually played the entire second half against Green Bay. But the Lions are looking to upgrade the entire secondary so it's doubtful McDonald is in the plans.

--RB Maurice Morris' time in Detroit is probably over. After productive years in 2009 and 2010, Morris seemed to lose a step last year. His numbers were similar (4.0 yards per carry) but he was unable to take charge of the position after Best, Jerome Harrison, and then Smith were injured. He will be 33 in December and it seems likely the Lions will not re-sign him.

--LS Don Muhlbach had been just about perfect the past seven and a half seasons since joining the team in the middle of 2004. It is inconceivable that he wouldn't be re-signed.

--RB Kevin Smith is expected to be re-signed, which is somewhat of a surprise. The Lions essentially gave up on Smith because he couldn't stay healthy. He played well in his first two games after they re-signed him in Week 10, but again, he couldn't stay healthy. He battled through a high ankle sprain the rest of the season. But, with all the uncertainty around Jahvid Best (concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles), they need as much depth at running back as possible.

--QB Drew Stanton holds the cards here. The Lions would love to have him back. If Hill signs elsewhere, they would certainly step up their efforts to bring him back as the No. 2. But Stanton will be 28 in May. It's time for him to seek a situation that would afford him more playing time. As much as he loves it here, as much as he's ingrained in the community, he probably won't come back as the No. 3.

--WR Maurice Stovall won't be back. The Lions didn't get what they were expecting in Stovall. He didn't tackle consistently enough to be a force on special teams and by the end of the season was used on offense in run plays only. He caught just one pass all season.

--MLB Stephen Tulloch will command a significant raise over the $3.2 million he played for last season. The Lions want him back badly but may not have the resources to get it done. Unless wide receiver Calvin Johnson's contract is restructured, he may be too expensive. Expect the Eagles to make a big play for him.

--CB Eric Wright bounced back nicely after a rough 2010 season in Cleveland, but by the end of the year the Lions were much more comfortable playing Wright in the slot in the nickel package than on the outside. That would likely be his role if he were to come back, not the starting right cornerback spot. Obviously, if Wright is looking to get paid like a starting right corner, he's going to be disappointed and will probably end up elsewhere.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

--OLB Ashlee Palmer (not tendered as RFA), but there is slim chance they could re-sign himat a salary lower than what the tender would have been. He has been a key special teams player the last two seasons. The Lions didn't tender Kevin Smith when he was restricted last season and brought him back at the end of the season. Most likely, though, Palmer will play elsewhere.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--DT Sammie Hill (tendered at $1.26M with fourth-round pick as compensation) posted 80 tackles and four sacks playing part time the last three seasons. The only way he wouldn't be a Lion in 2012 is if he was used as trade bait. He has a lot of value and, because the Lions won't be able to do much in free agency, they are expected to be wheeling and dealing before training camp starts.

--OT Corey Hilliard (tendered at $1.26M with sixth-round pick as compensation) as of right now, he's the only backup tackle on the roster that has started games in the NFL. Though he has mostly filled in for Gosder Cherilus at right tackle, the Lions are confident he could handle the left tackle spot, too, if needed.

--LB DeAndre Levy (tendered at $1.927M with second-round pick as compensation). If the Lions don't re-sign Stephen Tulloch, there is a good chance Levy would move back to middle linebacker. General manager Martin Mayhew, though, said he liked what he saw of Levy on the outside last season. Either way, his versatility is hugely important to the Lions right now.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--LB Cody Brown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: None.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
None.

PLAYERS LOST

--TE Will Heller (released).

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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