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. Scout.com 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