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Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange
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The Lions made a trade Tuesday to bolster the sagging cornerback core. With Chris Houston nursing a sprained ankle and rookie Bill Bentley's recent erratic play at right corner, they acquired fourth-year Kevin Barnes from Washington for a conditional draft pick (rounds 5-7).

"He's a young veteran and he's got very good size," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's got good straight-line speed. He's got experience and he's also played inside and outside. He can play in the slot; he played a lot of slot for the Redskins last year. We value that kind of multidimensional ability. There's a lot that intrigued us there."

The Lions last week moved to shore up the special teams' coverage units by signing receiver Kassim Osgood, a three-time Pro Bowler on special teams.

As for the other cuts, there weren't any real surprises.

Among the players cut Monday were receivers Dominique Curry, Jarett Dillard and Terrence Toliver, running backs Stephfon Green and James Bryant, offensive guard JC Oram, cornerback Isaac Madison, linebacker Slade Norris (waived-injured) and defensive tackle Bobby Skinner.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Sean Jones was among the first wave of cuts on Monday. He was brought in to compete for a starting job with Erik Coleman and Amari Spievey, but never seemed to get acclimated to the Lions' system. With Louis Delmas out all camp and with Spievey struggling, Jones barely earned second-team reps. "The safety position here is a little different," Schwartz said. "For us, movement skills are more important than the in-the-box play. It just didn't work out. We were not a good fit for Sean's strengths. His strengths are different than what we were looking for."

--C-G Rodney Austin, from tiny Elon University in North Carolina, has been one of the pleasant surprises this summer. He was so impressive, in fact, that they released another young, talented interior lineman, Jacques McClendon, to keep around.

--Rookie cornerback Chris Greenwood (abdomen) will also start the season on PUP.

--OT Jonathan Scott (knee) was placed on the season-ending reserved-injured list.

--C-G Bill Nagy (ankle) was also placed on the season-ending reserved-injured list.

--PK Jason Hanson, 42, won his battle and will commence his 21st season with the Lions. Rookie Derek Dimke was among the first cuts.

MEDICAL WATCH

--RB Jahvid Best (concussions) was, as expected, placed on the reserve-physically unable to perform list and will have to sit out at least the first six weeks.

"That is within the range of where the doctors wanted him to be," coach Jim Schwartz said. "That made it an easier decision to make."

If Best can come back after six weeks -- that would be the Oct. 22 game at Chicago -- he would have been out a year and six days.

"That's the time frame (the doctors set) for a potential return," Schwartz said. "We just have to wait and see. He's looked extremely good in all his physical stuff. As soon as he can get back and get cleared, we will."

It was nearly a full year before NHL great Sidney Crosby was able to return from his concussion, as well. He tried to come back after 10 months but the symptoms returned. Two months later, he was cleared again.

--DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (knee) isn't expected to play in the exhibition finale, thus, he has missed the entire preseason. He is expected to play in Week 1.

--RB Kevin Smith (ankle) will sit out the finale, as well, but he said he will be ready for Week 1.

--CB Chris Houston (ankle) has not been seen on the practice field this week. He won't play Thursday and Schwartz said he was optimistic, but not certain, he'd be ready for Week 1.

--S Louis Delmas has not returned to practice since having his left knee scraped on Aug. 7. His status for Week 1 is cloudy.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK

Rd. 1/23, OT Riley Reiff, Iowa -- He's been impressive all summer but not good enough to unseat starting LT Jeff Backus or RT Gosder Cherilus. He will be the primary backup at both spots.

Rd. 2/54 WR Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma -- Nine months removed from major knee surgery, he's made steady progress. Still, his impact will likely come in the second half of the season. He's still not running at full speed.

Rd. 3/85, CB Bill Bentley, La.-Lafayette -- He has shown flashes of brilliance and is still in line to start either at right corner or in the slot. His steady growth will be pivotal for this unit.

Rd. 4/125, DE Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma -- He was drafted to be one of the leaders on special teams and after an indifferent start, he has come on strong. He is on all four special teams units.

Rd. 5/138, OLB Tahir Whitehead, Temple -- He has tapered somewhat after a rousing start. He will see significant playing time in several packages, including special teams.

Rd. 5/148, CB Chris Greenwood, Albion -- Abdomen surgery has kept him off the field. He will start the season on PUP.

Rd. 6/196, CB Jonte Green, New Mexico State -- He is exactly what they thought he was -- an extremely raw but talented athlete. He has the speed and the size, but he is a long way from mastering the position. His playing time will come mostly on special teams early.

Rd. 7/223, LB Travis Lewis, Oklahoma -- He has been sidelined with a quad injury for two weeks. Before that, he was making a strong impression, playing both middle and outside linebacker. Still expected to make the 53-man roster.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS
Starter -- Matthew Stafford; Backups -- Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore.

Stafford, in his first full season of work, threw for more than 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last season. The only issue with him was his health and he's put that behind him. Hill is considered one of the best back-up quarterbacks in the business, which is why the Lions worked hard to re-sign him to a two-year deal. With Moore, the undrafted rookie from Boise State, the hope is to put him on the practice squad. The Lions don't want to keep a third quarterback on the 53-man roster.

RUNNING BACKS
Starter -- Kevin Smith; Backups -- Mikel Leshoure (suspended for first two games), Keiland Williams, Stefan Logan, Joique Bell, Jahvid Best (starting season on PUP).

This position will remain in flux probably through the first half of the season. Smith, when healthy, gives the Lions what they need -- inside-outside running threat, pass catcher and pass protector -- but isn't the game-breaker he was before all the injuries derailed him early in his career. Leshoure could be more of a game-breaking threat, but he has been out of football for essentially two years.

TIGHT ENDS
Starters -- Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler; Backups -- Will Heller, Alex Gottlieb, Austin Wells.

As good a tandem as there is in the league, Pettigrew and Scheffler combined for 109 catches and 11 touchdowns. In many ways, Pettigrew, a mismatch against most defensive backs and linebackers, has served as the Lions' run game the last two seasons. The use Pettigrew in the short and mid-range passing game to compensate for a lack of a convention run attack. Heller, again, will play a huge role as the third tight end and H-back. The Lions do not carry a fullback on the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Starters -- Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson; Backups: Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Kassim Osgood, Maurice Stovall, Nate Hughes, Patrick Edwards, Lance Long, Wallace Miles.

This is a dynamic and diverse group, led by the Pro Bowler Johnson, who is coming off the best season of his career (1,681 yards receiving, 16 touchdowns). The big three -- Johnson, Burleson and Young -- can play all three receiver spots and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will move them around like chess pieces, including using Johnson in the slot, to gain mismatches. Broyles has shown the ability to get open against man and zone coverage, but he won't be at full speed until the second half of the season. The other two spots will be won by special teams players.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups -- LT-RT Riley Reiff, RT Corey Hilliard, RT-LT Jason Fox, C-G Dylan Gandy, C Dan Gerberry, G Rodney Austin, G Pat Boyle.

Experience and continuity, this will be the third season this unit has started in tact. Backus, Raiola, Peterman and Cherilus have been together now for four. None of the starters missed a game due to injury, despite the advancing age of Backus and Raiola. It is not the greatest run-blocking unit, but the Lions aren't a run-oriented team. It is, however, a solid pass-blocking unit. The depth is better now, too, with Reiff, Fox and Gandy.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starters -- DE Cliff Avril, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Corey Williams, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Backups -- DE Willie Young, DE Ronnell Lewis, DT Sammie Hill, DT Nick Fairley, DE Lawrence Jackson, DE Everette Brown, DE Ugo Chinasa, DE Edmon McClam, DT Andre Fluellen, DT Tracy Robertson.

This is flagship position group for the defense. Everything starts and ends with the first eight. If the Lions can roll two waves of fresh defensive lineman, they can disrupt the rhythm of any offense and make the holes in the secondary less vulnerable. There is no perceptible drop off between the first wave and the second. In fact, with Vanden Bosch and Williams aging, some could argue the second wave is getting stronger than the first.

LINEBACKERS
Starters -- OLB Justin Durant, MLB Stephen Tulloch, OLB DeAndre Levy; Backups -- OLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Ashlee Palmer, OLB Travis Lewis, OLB Doug Hogue, MLB Carmen Messina.

Durant and Tulloch are big-time producers when healthy. Durant has had concussion issues and Tulloch, who has never missed a game in his seven NFL seasons, has been bothered by knee tendinitis all through camp. Levy is still inconsistent, both in gap integrity and coverage. The Lions remove him in the nickel package, and they have utilized the nickel often. He makes a lot of tackles, but he's often getting there too late. Whitehead and Lewis could push for some playing time if Levy falters.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Starters -- LCB Chris Houston, RCB Bill Bentley, S Louis Delmas, S Erik Coleman. Backups -- CB Kevin Barnes, CB Jacob Lacey, CB Alphonso Smith, CB Jonte Green, CB Justin Miller, CB Ross Weaver, S John Wendling, S Amari Spievey, S Ricardo Silva, S Reshard Langford.

There is still uncertainty about the status of Delmas, who had knee surgery on Aug. 7 and hasn't practiced. If he's not ready, Wendling would start in his place. Coleman, the nine-year veteran, has beaten out Spievey, who started last season. At corner, Barnes, acquired on Tuesday, could end up starting, either at right corner or the slot. If he does beat out the rookie Bentley, Bentley would probably start as the slot corner. Lacey will also be in the mix in the slot. Smith, who has had seven interceptions the last two seasons, has just about played himself off the roster.

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK Jason Hanson, P Ryan Donahue, P Ben Graham, LS Don Muhlbach, KR-PR Stephen Logan, KR Justin Miller, KR Patrick Edwards, PR Ryan Broyles, PR Titus Young.

Hanson returns for his 21st season and remains as consistent as ever. The punting battle is going down to the wire. Donahue had the edge after two exhibition games, but he scuffled in the third one. Graham, a veteran directional wizard, may win the job simply by being steadier. Since Logan may play a bigger role in the offense, the Lions have been auditioning return men all camp. None have stepped to the front, though Miller, a former Pro Bowl returner, nearly broke one last Saturday. When it's all said and done, expect Logan to retain both the punt and kick return duties.

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

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