Lions Notebook: Pre-Camp Roster Breakdown

Calvin Johnson (AP Images)

Will Calvin Johnson get help in 2009? Just how formidable is Detroit's linebacking corps? We break down every position of the Detroit Lions roster as the July 30 report date looms. Much more inside, including notes and quotes.

One thing the Lions don't have to worry about entering training camp is signing their top pick. They signed quarterback Matthew Stafford to a six-year deal worth a maximum of $78 million before drafting him No. 1 overall in April.

So they can move down the list to their other first-round pick, tight end Brandon Pettigrew (20th overall). Detroit has already come to terms with rookies Dan Gronkowski (seventh round) and Aaron Brown (sixth), leaving seven total unsigned. With the camp report date of July 30 looming, they can also continue looking for ways to improve their roster.

Free agent defensive end Kevin Carter remains a possibility. If the Lions sign him, he likely would play end on running downs but move inside on some passing downs.

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Daunte Culpepper. Backups -- Matthew Stafford, Drew Stanton.

Culpepper is expected to enter camp as the starter, but Stafford could make a strong push as the preseason wears on. Culpepper should be much better than he was when he came out of semiretirement and joined the Lions midseason last year. He has lost more than 30 pounds. He knows the offense, which is run by his old offensive coordinator from Minnesota, Scott Linehan. He has every motivation to earn another contract. But Stafford was impressive after joining the offseason program. Not only were his physical skills as advertised, with his strong arm apparent, but he showed a quick grasp of the offense. Stanton is clearly in the No. 3 spot and needs to show he still belongs there.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Kevin Smith. Backups -- Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, Aveion Cason, Allen Ervin, Antone Smith, FB Terrelle Smith, FB Jerome Felton.

Kevin Smith showed some potential during the second half of his rookie season last year, and he has talked about his desire to be the "lead dog." But he was drafted by the previous staff because he fit a zone running scheme so well, and the Lions are now running more of a power-running attack. Smith will have to show he can fit that as well. Morris has an opportunity to play a bigger role than he did in Seattle. Aaron Brown, a sixth-round draft pick, is a skinny, speedy back who could offer a change of pace and help in the return game. Veteran Terrelle Smith has the edge at fullback over Felton, who lost the starting job as a rookie last year.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Brandon Pettigrew. Backups -- Will Heller, Casey Fitzsimmons, Dan Gronkowski, Jake Nordin.

Pettigrew was not a popular pick in Detroit. But the Lions took him at No. 20 overall because he was the most complete tight end in the draft, and tight end is an important position in Linehan's offense, not a luxury. Pettigrew has an opportunity to start immediately. Heller is known for his blocking, Fitzsimmons for his pass-catching and special teams prowess. Gronkowski, the second-to-last pick, needs to make an impression. He could end up on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson. Backups -- Dennis Northcutt, Ronald Curry, Derrick Williams, D.J. Boldin, Keary Colbert, Eric Fowler, Kenneth Harris, Adam Jennings, John Standeford.


Bryant Johnson (above) was brought in to assist Calvin Johnson, and it might be his last chance at success in the NFL for the underachieving former first-round pick. (AP Images)

Calvin Johnson can be one of the best players in the game. He put up spectacular numbers last year despite not getting the ball enough at times. But he needs help. Bryant Johnson has not lived up to expectations in his NFL career and has an opportunity to prove he can be a No. 2 receiver, not just a No. 3. Northcutt gives the Lions a solid option in the slot. Williams, a third-round pick this year, needs to develop for the long term and could help in the return game. But he's battling for time with a host of others.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Daniel Loper, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups -- T Jon Jansen, T Ephraim Salaam, C Dylan Gandy, C Dan Gerberry, G Toniu Fonoti, G Manny Ramirez, T Kirk Barton, T Damion Cook, T Lydon Murtha.

Four of the five positions on the offensive line seem secure: Backus at left tackle, Raiola at center, Peterman at right guard and Cherilus at right tackle. All four players are signed beyond this season, with Raiola and Peterman landing extensions in the offseason. Cherilus, a first-round pick last year, sometimes loses focus and could use some competition from Jansen, a veteran trying to prove he's still got it. Loper is a leap of faith at left guard, never having started a regular-season game in four NFL seasons, but he fits the Lions' new profile: big and strong. The Lions are going from a very simple zone running scheme to a more varied attack featuring power running. The hope is that will help a line that has looked bad in recent years look better.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Dewayne White, DT Grady Jackson, DT Chuck Darby, RDE Cliff Avril. Backups -- DE Ikaika Alama-Francis, DE Jared DeVries, DE Rudolph Hardie, DE Eric Hicks, DE Jason Hunter, DE Ryan Kees, DT Landon Cohen, DT Andre Fluellen, DT John Gill, DT Sammie Hill.

Avril has the most upside in the group. He has the speed and versatility to be an impact player, and the Lions plan to move him around to take advantage of his skills. White and DeVries are solid veterans. Jackson can still plug the middle, but he missed the offseason with a knee injury. Several others were brought in by the previous regime to fit the Tampa Two: Alama-Francis, Cohen, Darby, Fluellen. Hill has the size the Lions want in the middle at 6-foot-4, 329 pounds, but he's raw, coming out of Stillman College.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Ernie Sims, MLB Larry Foote, SLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- DeAndre Levy, Jordon Dizon, Zack Follett, Darnell Bing, Curtis Gatewood, Spencer Cody, Spenser Smith.

The Lions made a major upgrade to this unit by adding Foote and Peterson. Foote solidifies the middle, and Peterson gives the Lions a pass-rushing presence they sorely need. The hope is that Sims will be free to make plays instead of plugging gaps now that the Tampa Two is out. Levy will start out in the middle, and Dizon, who was drafted by the previous staff to fit the middle, will move to the strong side. The coaches like his speed, even though he is undersized at 6-foot, 229 pounds. Follett, a seventh-round pick, is a classic overachiever. But he'll have to keep overachieving to make the roster.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Phillip Buchanon, FS Louis Delmas, SS Daniel Bullocks, RCB Anthony Henry. Backups -- CB Eric King, CB Chris Roberson, CB Ramzee Robinson, CB Antonio Smith, CB Keith Smith, CB Dexter Wynn, S Tra Battle, S LaMarcus Hicks, S Marquand Manuel, S Kalvin Pearson, S Stuart Schweigert.

The Lions have overhauled their secondary again. Buchanon has an opportunity to be a playmaker and needs to haul in more interceptions. Delmas, a second-round pick, is a guided missile in the middle that picked up the defense quickly in the offseason. Bullocks can hit hard but must make more plays more consistently. Henry will start out at corner, and his performance will determine whether he will move to safety. Keith Smith could be someone to watch, because he has good cover skills that weren't always on display when the Lions ran the Tampa Two. Manuel and Schweigert give the Lions backup safeties with significant starting experience. Manuel could end up starting.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, LS Don Muhlbach.

Hanson is still going strong entering his 19th season in Detroit. Harris and Muhlbach are solid, unheralded performers. The big competition will be in the return game. The previous regime was conservative, more concerned about avoiding penalties than gaining yards. The new regime is aggressive. Buchanon and Northcutt are among the potential punt returners. Cason, Brown and Williams are among the potential kick returners.

Notebook:

  • Safety Stuart Schweigert missed almost the entire offseason program after tearing a calf muscle during the first part of the first practice of the first minicamp. He was happy to make it back for the final minicamp. "As everyone knows, there's a limit to how many people you can bring to camp," Schweigert said. "So I mean, I at least wanted to show the coaches that by training camp I would be 100 percent ready to go and let them know that I have a concept of the defense -- I know the plays, I know the calls, physically I'm going to be there. You can sit there and know every call in the classroom, but you've got to get out there and see it with live motion and bullets and players calling calls and all that type of stuff."
  • To prepare for getting hit, running back Kevin Smith has been doing some hitting himself. "I've been going hard, trying to stay disciplined to my diet and do different kinds of workouts," Smith wrote in his blog at smith34.com. "I do boxing sessions here and there just to get out of the element of football, football, football all the time. If you can box, you can play football, as far as discipline and conditioning go."

    Smith listed his five places to hang out in the Detroit area: MGM Casino (to play blackjack), Southern Fires (for soul food), Floods (for soul food), Somerset Mall (to shop) and his house (to chill).

  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "Football is football. When they blow the whistle, I'm 8 years old again." -- LB Larry Foote.

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