Monday, May 19, 2008

Position Battles: RB/FB/TE

The Lions were weak in this area last season -- their only real TE threat -- Campbell -- was injured early. He isn't expected back until training camp. McHugh showed flashes, but wasn't spectacular. Combined with the fact they didn't utilize the run game, and had mostly injured RB on the roster, with varied success when they were used -- to say this position group needed to be tweaked would be like saying Social Security needs a couple of minor changes.

However, just as in other areas of weakness, the Lions went out and aggressively filled the void in the off season. Right now, they are at the point where they will be cutting good players out of the backfield after some intense competition. I included RB/FB/TE in one grouping because of the overlaps on the roster due to how the positions are used in the Lions' offense.

Last season, the Lions carried 2 TE (one whom was FB/TE), 2 FB (one of whom was also a hybrid FB/TE), and 4 RB, although usually 1 was inactive on game day. I am also including Moore, the WR/RB/PR/KR in this melee. (This positional flexibility thing is a bugger when trying to predict camp battles and see who is competing for what where on the roster. It also blurs how many of each position they are going to keep, forces competition pushing players to new levels, and frees up roster spots for specialists.)

Essentially, as of right now they have the following players listed on the roster at RB:

28 Bell, Tatum RB 5-11 213 27 5 Oklahoma State
29 Calhoun, Brian RB 5-10 208 23 3 Wisconsin
36 Cason, Aveion RB 5-10 204 28 8 Illinois State
39B Ervin, Allen RB 5-10 224 23 R Lambuth
44 Pinner, Artose RB 5-10 232 30 6 Kentucky
34 Smith, Kevin RB 6-1 217 21 R Central Florida
40 Bradley, Jon FB 6-0 301 27 5 Arkansas State
45 Felton, Jerome FB 6-0 246 21 R Furman

Bell: reports indicate he showed up at camp a bit overweight an out of shape -- not good for a player on a one year contract, with no SB, who spend a lot of last season inactive, and should be motivated to fight for a wide-open RB competition with a new scheme he knows well from Denver being integrated into the offense. Something tells me that unless he shapes up, he could miss his last opportunity to start in the NFL.

Calhoun: He injured his knee his Rookie season, then re-injured it after they rushed him back too early last season. Reports I'm reading now indicate he is full healthy, and has regained the speed and still has the vision that he displayed in college. Throw in the fact that, unlike Bell he seems motivated and that he played in a similar zone scheme in college, and he is my dark-horse candidate to be on the final roster. I'm not counting him out yet!

Cason: Sign. Cut. Resign. Cut. Injury to starter. Resign. Cason has been cut and resigned I swear more than any other player in Lions history. Unless he wins the battle at PR/KR -- which I think is unlikely with all the returners the Lions are bringing to camp to take shots at taking it away from him -- I see another cut in his future.

Ervin: Had a hard time finding info on this guy -- Click his name for the best article I could find. It's pre-draft, but sounds like the Lions may not have been the only team interested in bringing him in as an UDFA. While I'm not certain he's going to camp, I'm hedging bets that he will to compete for that returner spot. I'm also guessing that is why he signed with Detroit/why Detroit signed him -- because of the wide open competition for the returner spots and Marinelli wanting as much competition there as possible. I don't see him getting it as of right now, because the Lions are crowded at RB, and there may be other equally talented returners who can contribute either as a backup at more than one position, or have more impact on the field outside of returns. I could be wrong though, as his return skills are supposed to be quite impressive. He could be a practice-squad candidate if he can clear waivers.

Pinner: I liked Pinner when he was here, and wanted them to keep him over Bryson. While Pinner did well his one season in Minnesota, he was actually with Atlanta part of last season and out of football, essentially. He lost out in Minnesota when they drafted AP, and already had Taylor. Once again, he was the odd man out. He always seemed able to move the pile, but I don't really see him as a WR out of the backfield -- I can't recall how well he blocked specifically, but think it was about average. He may manage to find a spot on the roster as the 3rd RB because of his outstanding ST play. He's not a returner, which could hurt him, but he is good on both the return and coverage units and is known as a fast, hard hitter on ST. He is a good enough RB for the combination of that and his ST skills to get him a roster spot.

Smith: See draft analysis for more info. What more can I say other than I REALLY wanted the Lions to pick him specifically as their RB in the draft -- and I'm not usually into rooting for a single player in the draft. My gut says he's going to be a great player, and will win the #1 RB job by the end of the preseason, if not sooner. recently indicated that Kevin Smith is #2 on their list (behind Henne in Miami) in their ranking of draft choices who will have the biggest impact on their team this season. Forget special teams Kevin -- you'll have more important things to do.

Bradley: Converted from DT last season to FB. He played RB in High School, and was actually a highly sought after recruit at that position. However, he ended up switching to DT in college to help out the team, and stuck there into his NFL career. He seems to have a knack for knowing where/how the Dline is going to approach a play, and is good at keeping them from shedding his blocks, as his time as a DT gives him an instinct and knowledge as to what moves they will use when. This really helped the Lions run game up the middle, and he was in on many downs where Duckett got his most yardage last season. He acts more as an extra O-lineman in protection schemes, punishing lead blocker, and the occasional pass reception or run -- he is the traditional FB.

Felton: A short yardage specialist in college, his ability to gain tough yards when it matters is simply uncanny. over 80% of his runs were for 1st downs or TDs -- and he scored 63! TD's in college. Despite that fact that it was a short yardage or goal line situation -- and they knew he would be running the ball -- he still had that kind of success. He is not really fast, is an above average blocker. But he hwas what matters for a short yardage battering back: He knows how to get yards when the going gets crowded and the power and vision trump speed and finesse. TJDuckett only younger and better at what he does.

If you figure that the Lions will keep one FB/TE Hybrid from last year, that would leave 5 RB spots (1 FB, 4 RB). While this will change as camp progresses, I see:

#1 RB: Smith -- #2 RB: Calhoun (goin out on a limb here) -- #3RB: Felton as the short yardage specialist. #4RB: Bell, Pinner, or Ervin -- ST play will be the deciding factor. FB: Bradley

Moore, if Ervin doesn't win the return job, would be the 5th RB, 5th WR, PR/KR -- not too bad for one roster spot.

As for the TE/FB position, right now I'm projecting the Lions will keep 2 tight ends, and one hyrbid. The going is much easier in my mind here. Gaines and a healthy Campbell will win the two starting TE slots. That leaves Ftizsimmons and McHugh to battle it out for the FB/TE spot. I considered that the Lions wouldn't keep a third TE-type player on the roster, but with Campbell's reent injury history, it is prudent to do. Both Fitz and McHugh showed good flashes of talent last year, and both contribute to ST play. It should he a heated battle that is interesting to watch.

Pinner may make the roster as the TE/FB hybrid, but I wouldn't bank on it as I'm not so sure his pass-catching and blocking skills are up to the task.

What do you fellow fans think? Detroit Lions Depth Chart


CHIEFGER139 said...

already said
the locks in my oppinion of going into training camp are bell,smith,cason , bradly and felton
all will make it except for maybe cason who could be beat out as the kick returner-
bell and cason could be beat out later by calhoun.pinner but i see the ones as i picked as the training camp locks making the team and they might add pinner because he does well and can play special teams-i see calhoun being cut-just my thoughts-det fan 1979 may see favortism towards a player i dont see-but i think they will take into consideration how bell helped us early on and it was martz who had it in for him-if he tries i see him as smiths backup not calhoun.i also see us keeping 2 fullbacks unlike you-they will be part of our team now and we should see several plays now with 2 backs in the backfield-my oppinion.

Anonymous said...

I actually agree pretty with Chief all the way on this. Calhoun hasn't done much of anything in this league even though he's been given chances time and times again. Plus he doesn't do too much on ST.

I think Cason and Pinner will duke it out for 3rd RB with Cason probably winning due to his return skills.

Bell doesn't give much to the ST, but he has a lot of experience and he produced results in a zone-blocking scheme back in his Denver days. So long as he gets back in shape I think he'll make the depth chart no problem and may even be starting opening day if Smith takes a while to transition.

Here's my depth Chart:

RB: K. Smith, T. Bell, Cason

FB: Bradley, Felton (who will also play RB in GL situations)


Anonymous said...

I do not see Bell as a lock to make the team. The only locks barring injury are IMO Smith, Felton and Bradley. Smith for the obvious reasons will make the team. Felton is just like Detfan said a younger Duckett whom the coaches wanted to keep. Bradley is straight up power football. Maybe he can also be used in max protect situations.
As for the others, I think that the Lions like Calhoun and want to use him as a change of pace back.Bell is in control of his own destiny. He must show more dedication and hunger to be the starter. Even when he was with Denver he got beat out of the starting position by a rookie no less. Bear in mind, that once Smith becomes the starter these the other backs will have a more limited role on the team. Will Bell be OK with that for yet another year? I think he will accept being the backup however if he does not then the Lions will keep Pinner instead. They will not keep both Bell and Pinner though. So I hope Bell proves he wants it. Cason can be cut now as far as I'm concern I think he was only on the team because every else kept getting hurt. He is not all that as a RB and I think that Moore or even this kid Allen can do as good as a returner.
Therefore, here is my depth chart:
RB: Smith, Bell, Calhoun
FB: Bradley, Felton
TE: Campbell, Gaines, Fitzsimmons
KR: Moore or Allen with the loser as the fourth RB or practice squad.

Anonymous said...

It's Bell vs. Pinner vs. Allen

The winner joins Smith, Calhoun, Bradley, and Felton.

If Moore can't hang as the fifth wide out, it may get interesting.


Patrick said...

I think Moore hangs as that 5th reciever. He does not drop passes. Perfect for the slot which is where he would play if he actually did play. Sort of reminds me of Mike Furrey, except a little stronger. Calhoun, Marinelli already spoke highly of him, and said nothing about Bell. To me, that says a lot in itself. Anytime your Starting running back shows up to camp overweight, sends a message of a lack of committment. If Coach is big on committment, then I have a hard time seeing Bell make the cut...Coach has already cut people for the same reason, why not here as well. I think they will have 6 rb's. 4 TB and 2fb
Smith, Calhoun, Pinner(st) and Allen(st)
Felton(sy) and Bradley(starting fb)
For once the coaching staff has their work cut out for them...Having choices for talent on this team.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but what do you think about the Lions picking up Odel Thurman, recently released by the Bengals?

KCLion Fan

Patrick said...

It is my understanding that he had a substance abuse problem and was already on probation. His cutting from CIN was because he was arrested last week for drunk driving and they were expecting the league to suspend him for a year. If he was not drunk and was not having a relapse, then maybe he would be a decent pick up, but who would we cut to make room for him?

Patrick said...

It is my understanding that he had a substance abuse problem and was already on probation. His cutting from CIN was because he was arrested last week for drunk driving and they were expecting the league to suspend him for a year. If he was not drunk and was not having a relapse, then maybe he would be a decent pick up, but who would we cut to make room for him?

Anonymous said...

I read they released him because he didn't show up to voluntary meetings they wanted him to be at, because of his Grandma dying.

I have to agree with Detfan1979 about Calhoun, if he stays healthy he should show up every one else and take the #2 spot. Something tells me that Bell is as good as gone.They say Calhoun has his speed back so we'll see. I hope we get to see what Felton has to offer quite often, because that will mean we are in a lot of 3rd and short situations, which will be a welcome change.

TW from OR

ClusterFox said...

I see 2 Battles:
1)Non-ST, Backup RB-Bell vs Calhoun And I just have trouble believing Calhoun could be an everydown back, We will need 1 reliable backup everydown back.

2)Pinner vs Cason- Which I really believe will be decided by whether or not Moore or Allen can handle the KR/PR job. because that is Cason's only value, Pinner is or can be on coverage units.

Side note-I like the sound of Allen and I don't believe we can count on him being on our practice squad. so I believe he would have to lose the KR job outright to not make the roster.

Another point of interest. Calhoun is/can be a great 3rd down back, but can we keep him on that merit alone?

Let me pose the question this way to see what you guys think. If Smith goes down who is your favorite to be getting the bulk of the carries? I'm especially interested to hear peoples reasoning on this issue

My thoughts-I like Calhoun and I'm not a huge fan of Bell especially when he's not showing dedication already. However if Smith were not getting the carries, I would have to go with Bell. Unless someone different all together steps up(Allen). Because I still see Calhoun as a change of pace back not an everydown guy.

DetFan1979 said...

Calhoun was in the sme type of Zone scheme for running in college. However, based on the look at the available players, lets see:

Assumption: If 24K is injured, who replaces?

Bell: He is serviceable, but tends to get out of shape and malcontetented when not used often -- he really doesn't contribute on ST so...

Calhoun in conjunction with Felton and either Pinner/Allen/Moore would be able to hande the RB situation until 24K was back good. On this score, we may be surprised to see that help Pinner get onto the team as he could be an every-down style backup, with Calhoun and Felton there for situtional/shared backfield. Yet, unlike Bell, he would be a major contributor to the coverage/return units.

Any way you slice it, I can see the evidence for what everyone is saying -- which as someone pointed out so well -- it is great the Lions have talent to compete for spots; cutting talent is hard and great all at the same time -- tough because talented guys are let go -- but great because it means everyone else on the team was more talented.

RB/FB/TE will be positions to watch as the offseason gets going!

DetFan1979 said...

redding is the leg injury -- Sims injured his shoulder. This is a correction of an earlier comment.

As for Thurman, there is more going on there than we are seenig -- someone (not sure the Lions) will give him a chance at minimum salary...but if no one does, then we will know that whatever it is we dont know is pretty major.

Anonymous said...

Not to get off track, but Moore is in a hell of a battle.

Last year's camp showed three guys that can really CATCH the ball. There was a huge battle with the 5th receiver spot.

Troy Walter was a vet and fitted the "Mike Martz mold". Bellamy and Middleton had hands like pine tar, and definately didin't lose the job. DeVale Ellis was on IR all year and may be better than them. Both DeVale and Brandon can return kicks (which probably leaves the ex-Wolverine Bellamy out of the mix). Walters wasn't re-signed, but Bellamy, Middleton, and Ellis will all be there, ready to challenge Moore for that 5th reciver slot.


JJLions20 said...

I see Calhoun as the key to the RB roster selections. If he looks good, then Bell could find the door.

If one of the backs gets nicked up you could see them go on PUP until midseason, and would be a mid season replacement if somebody else goes down.

The key is Calhoun. If he looks as good as Bell in preseason then Calhoun gets the #2 spot because of special teams. There is a possibility that it's Smith, Bell & Calhoun.

Bottom line is I think Calhoun makes the team.

The Lions may try to hide Moore as a WR in the preseason games, and only show him as a special teamer. It would be hard for somebody to pick him off waivers and give him a roster spot. So he will get waived and signed to the practice squad. A guy that can play multiple spots on the practice squad would be valuable, and if they need bodies later in the season they can bring him up.