This year’s Lions training camp will be an interesting one. There will be competition at many positions, some of those, we never could have seen coming. Detroit added 10 new players in the draft, 12 undrafted free agents, and a trade yesterday adding Jon Bostic gives 23 new players a chance to play for this team. While each position does have competition, there are some where it will be a battle of being cut or making the team instead of figuring out if you will start or ride the bench. There are five key position battles to watch at camp that could have an impact on the upcoming season. Who will rise and who will fall this offseason?
1. Dan Orlovsky vs Jake Rudock
I believe that this is the most intriguing battle to watch at camp this year. Rudock, the rookie vs Orlovsky the veteran. Orlovsky is on a one year deal while Rudock’s deal, while unknown, is probably for three to four years. Rudock is the next Shaun Hill, a reliable backup who can come in and do the job, leaving the fans, organization and team worry free because he can step in and keep the team afloat. Rudock has a chance to knock Orlovksy off the team this year, and while a strong camp performance could do it, preseason is where that decision will be made. Worst case scenario here, Rudock holds the clipboard and learns from Orlovsky and Stafford, then he takes that backup role in 2017.
2. Riley Reiff vs Taylor Decker
This is the most important battle of them all. The future of the left tackle position in Detroit could rest upon this. Reiff has been the left tackle for four years, and has been on a decline the past two years. Taylor Decker was drafted to compete and possibly replace Reiff. Decker is already playing left tackle at the rookie mini camp, which Adam wrote about here. Reiff is in a position where if he doesn’t impress this year, he is out the door and Decker is there to take his spot. Decker could even do well enough to force Reiff to the right side of the line. Now if Reiff keeps his job at the left tackle spot, expect Decker to move to the right side and start. Detroit won’t let his talent be wasted on the bench.
3. Travis Swanson vs Graham Glasgow
Another offensive line battle. Travis Swanson seemed to be a center we could rely on in 2014, but 2015 showed us he doesn’t have a future at the position. Many mistakes and poor play by Swanson lead Detroit to draft Glasgow to compete for the starting gig. Detroit could have drafted him strictly as a backup now that Manny Ramirez is gone. I honestly don’t see it that way. I see this pick as a situation where a player wasn’t performing to expectations and the Lions draft someone to compete for that position immediately. This is somewhat like the Decker pick. While Detroit does need help on the right tackle spot, Decker could play left if needed. While Glasgow does have experience at guard as well and can provide depth in that, I see him battling Swanson for the center job at camp. This could also have a impact on the offense as the center and quarterback chemistry is important. If Swanson botches many more snaps, it could very quickly lead to his being replaced at the position regardless of how the position battle is otherwise shaking out.
4. Kyle Van Noy vs. Antwione Williams vs. Jon Bostic
We have battle between three people here. Detroit is giving Van Noy one more shot to be on this team since arguably being a bust for his position in the 2014 draft. He has produced very little and this is his best shot to fight his way onto the team. With Tulloch “leaving” Detroit has Whitehead, Levy and Bynes as the only starting linebackers. Detroit needs depth in the position and it is very possible that these three guys are the backups to the starters. That doesn’t mean Detroit has to keep them all, one could make it out alive of this battle, or two, or all three. Wouldn’t you like to know you are the best out of those three to lock up a roster spot though? Williams was drafted to possibly be a backup or maybe compete with Van Noy. Yesterday’s trade with the Patriots to acquire Bostic was a good move and makes it even harder for Van Noy to keep his job. This is a battle of depth and that isn’t a bad thing. Its certainly feels new for this team.
5. Don Muhlbach vs Jimmy Landes
Did you think going into Training Camp that Muhlbach would have competition? Nobody saw this coming. Muhlbach has been a great long-snapper for Detroit and now Detroit is having him fight to stay on the team. Landes was taken in the sixth round and even he was shocked he was drafted there. One theory is that Muhlbach has told the front office that this could be his last year and it would be smart to find a replacement. Now this could be entirely possible, and if it is, more respect towards the man by giving the front office a heads up and a chance to get ready for his departure. In the end, Detroit could repay him for being up front with them by cutting him. Landes could be the new long-snapper in 2016, or he could be on the practice squad until Detroit calls him up in 2o17. Time is the main factor in this battle, but it is still something to look at camp.