Detroit set to lose Hill to free agency?

QB Shaun Hill (Andrew Weber/USP)

Although they might make one last run, the Lions might lose backup QB Shaun Hill via free agency. Also: Detroit's running game will receive a boost in 2012.

A few weeks ago in this space, The Tip Sheet opined that the free agency market could be a healthy one for backup quarterbacks, perhaps better than in previous seasons because of the dearth of viable starting opportunities in the league, and that theory hasn't changed.

But the flaw in the note was that it primarily focused on former starter-level quarterbacks -- like Chad Henne, Jason Campbell, even Rex Grossman -- who might be cast into No. 2 roles.

And it largely ignored guys who already are backups and might be attractive to some clubs.

One such veteran backup who could attract considerable interest is Shaun Hill of Detroit.

The 10-year veteran has appeared in only 32 games in his NFL tenure, 26 of them as a starter, and he registered just three attempts in 2011.

But if his name doesn't exactly create much buzz among fans, it is popular right now in some league circles, as the clock winds down toward the Tuesday start of free agency.

The Lions may make one more push toward re-signing Hill before Tuesday, and that would be understandable, since the team's other veteran backup, Drew Stanton, is also a pending free agent.

His big numbers in '11 aside, starter Matthew Stafford has a history of injuries, the Lions want a veteran backup, and the overwhelming preference is Hill.

In stints with Minnesota (2002-2005), San Francisco (2006-2009) and Detroit (2010-2011), Hill has completed 61.7 percent of his attempts, has a solid ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions (29-23), and has compiled an 84.7 passer rating.

Hill started a career high 10 games in 2010, when Stafford was injured, but teams view him as a guy who would be very good if forced to make two or three starts.

Lions could see boost in run department

Although the Lions statistically ranked as the No. 5 offense in the league last year, they were also one of the most lopsided attacks. While fourth in passing, Detroit was only 29th in rushing, as 66.4 percent of the Lions' snaps were pass plays and nearly 77 percent of the team's gross yards were accumulated through the air.

The coaches want to be more multi-dimensional in 2012, to provide Stafford some run-game support, and so far the news has been good in that regard.

Former first-round tailback Jahvid Best (2010), who missed 10 games last season because of concussions, has been granted clearance to begin working out and has experienced no setbacks.

Last year's second-rounder, Mikel Leshoure, who was supposed to provide Detroit a solid 1-2 punch at tailback, is nearing 100 percent recovery from an Achilles injury that sidelined him his entire rookie campaign.

The Lions, the only franchise in the NFL in 2011 that didn't have a 400-yard rusher, would also like to bring back Kevin Smith, a pending unrestricted free agent.

Smith, who was signed off the street after the Lions declined to make him a restricted free agent tender last spring, ended up starting four games after being added in November.

Even without Smith, the Detroit running game, non-existent in 2011, could get an instant boost -- and potentially a nice complementary duet, if Best the sprinter and the more physical Leshoure -- if the two return.

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