These five guys must step up for Lions

Five Lions players could have a major impact if they can take their production to a higher level.

To go from the playoffs to 4-12 in one season, some individual performances had to regress significantly.

To go back the other way — and return to contention in 2013 — the Detroit Lions will need certain players to make a turnaround.

Here are five who could have a major impact if they can take their production to a higher level:
1. Cornerback Bill Bentley

The Lions improved their secondary with the addition of free-agent safety Glover Quin, but there's still that corner spot opposite Chris Houston that needs to be secured.

Bentley, a third-round selection a year ago, was receiving favorable reviews during training camp before injuring his shoulder in the next-to-last preseason game.

He tried to play through it and even started three of the first four games. But Bentley continued to aggravate the injury, eventually had surgery and missed the final 11 weeks.

Don't judge him solely on what you saw in those four regular-season games he played. He wasn't himself. He couldn't lift his arm properly to make a play on the ball.

It might be much different when he's healthy.
2. Defensive end Willie Young

Young, a seventh-round pick (213th overall) in 2010, had everyone praising him madly during the preseason, when he was all over the field making plays.

It was fool's gold that just didn't carry over. Young failed to make a sack in 16 games and ended up behind Lawrence Jackson in the defensive-end rotation.

The Lions now must replace both starting ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch (released) and Cliff Avril (signed with Seattle).

Jason Jones, a free-agent addition from the Seahawks, is expected to start on the left side for Avril. The Lions also could use their first-round draft pick on a pass-rusher.

But as of today, Young would be a starter because there's no one else.

Either way, even in a reserve role, he could make some timely contributions for a defense that needs to pressure the quarterback more if he lives up to the promise he has shown at times.
3. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew

Pettigrew went from 83 receptions in 2011 to 59 last year, partly because of injuries.

When wide receiver Calvin Johnson is double- and triple-covered, there's nobody that quarterback Matthew Stafford likes to go to more on third down than Pettigrew.

Pettigrew, however, dropped numerous balls that might have helped the Lions get over the hump in some tight losses.

If he can make those catches more consistently, the offense will extend drives that, ultimately, could result in touchdowns instead of field goals or punts.

See the ball, catch the ball.
4. Running back Mikel Leshoure

It's easy to forget that Leshoure was returning from surgery for a torn Achilles' tendon because he started the final 14 games after serving a two-game suspension.

It's only logical that a running back coming off that type of injury will need a year or so to get back to form.

The Lions signed Reggie Bush to add a big-play element, but they still need Leshoure to give them some power, too.

How will he respond with Bush and even Joique Bell around to push him and take his playing time away?

That should help bring out the best in Leshoure, along with being another year removed from the surgery.
5. Quarterback Matthew Stafford

Last, but not least, that's for sure.

Stafford passed for 4,967 yards but completed only 59.8 percent, down from 63.5 percent in 2011.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio also took a severe hit (20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, compared with 41 and 16).

Stafford's receivers certainly didn't help, dropping way too many passes. But it was still an up-and-down year for the franchise quarterback following his breakthrough season.

He's young, just turned 25 last month, and it's not unusual for even talented players to take a step back after their first taste of success.

Now it's time to take another leap forward. This could be a very revealing year in Stafford's career path.

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