Ten glaring questions for Lions
The Detroit Lions found their playmaker at running back in Reggie Bush and upgraded their secondary with safety Glover Quin.
But there’s still a lot of make-or-break work to do before the season opens. Here are 10 questions that have to be answered:
1. Who will be the pass-rusher to replace defensive end Cliff Avril, now with Seattle?
This is easily the biggest void that has to be addressed. You can’t win in the NFL without pressuring the quarterback.
The Lions added Jason Jones from the Seahawks, but he’s more of a power guy than a speed rusher off the edge.
Detroit, which finished tied for 20th in the league in sacks last season, could use its No. 5 pick overall in the draft on BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah, Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan or LSU linebacker/end Barkevious Mingo.
2. Who will be the starting left tackle to replace retired Jeff Backus?
Based on the current roster, it would be Riley Reiff, last year’s first-round draft pick out of Iowa.
But the Lions also could go for a top-rated tackle in the draft such as Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. Both are better long-term prospects than Reiff, who went 23rd overall.
3. Who will be the starting right tackle to replace Gosder Cherilus, now with Indianapolis?
If the Lions draft one of the offensive tackles then Reiff probably moves over to the right side.
The other options are Corey Hilliard, who didn’t play in a game last year but is entering his seventh NFL season, and Jason Fox, an often-injured fourth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Miami (Fla.)
4. Who will be the right guard to replace released Stephen Peterman?
The top choice right now is probably Bill Nagy, claimed off waivers from Dallas last year and coming off a broken ankle. Other possibilities include Rodney Austin, an undrafted free agent from Elon University, or Dylan Gandy, who has 19 starts in his seven NFL seasons.
Reiff also could move inside if the Lions draft a tackle and the options at guard aren’t working out.
5. Who will be the starting outside linebacker for Justin Durant, now with Dallas?
If the Lions don’t draft a linebacker-type such as Jordan, Mingo or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, the in-house candidates start with Ashlee Palmer, who has been one of the team’s top special-teams players.
Two of last year’s draft picks — Tahir Whitehead (fifth round) and Travis Lewis (seventh round) — also could be in the mix.
6. Who will be the No. 2 cornerback opposite Chris Houston?
The Lions could take their much-ridiculed secondary to an even higher level by drafting Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round.
But they’re more likely to lean to someone at a value position — pass-rusher or offensive tackle — with such an early pick.
The returning candidates at corner are Bill Bentley, a third-round pick who missed much of his rookie year because of a shoulder injury; Jonte Green, a sixth-round pick who exceeded expectations in his first year; eight-year NFL veteran Ron Bartell, who started the final game of the season; or Chris Greenwood, a fifth-round pick who missed all of his rookie year following abdominal surgery.
7. Will kicker Jason Hanson return for his 22nd season?
Hanson confirmed he wants to play another year after contemplating retirement. But the club has salary-cap concerns and Hanson is going to have to take a pay cut.
The two sides haven’t reached an agreement on a contract, but probably will do so before training camp.
8. Who will be the punter to replace Nick Harris?
They signed Blake Clingan, who hasn’t punted in a game since his senior year at Central Florida in 2010. It’s not just a question of whether he’s talented enough, but also whether he can handle the pressure in the NFL.
Detroit might have to consider using a late-round draft pick — UCLA’s Jeff Locke, Oklahoma State’s Quinn Sharp (also a kicker) or LSU’s Brad Wing? — to fix a glaring problem.
9. Who will be the return specialist to replace Stefan Logan?
Running back Joique Bell (kick returns) and receiver Mike Thomas (punt returns) split the duties when Logan got demoted for the final game. There’s also been speculation the Lions might consider using Bush at times. Two players coming off injuries — receivers Ryan Broyles and Patrick Edwards — also have return experience.
It’s quite possible, however, that the role will be filled through a free agent still to be added or a draft pick.
10. Who will replace released receiver Titus Young?
The Lions brought in Darrius Heyward-Bey, released by Oakland, for a visit this week. He could provide another big-play threat with his speed on the opposite side of the field from Calvin Johnson.
Another direction the Lions could go is a little one-stop shopping at some point in the draft for a receiver/return specialist.