The Detroit Lions have built one of the NFC’s best rosters in three years under Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell. They have top talent on the offensive line, improved depth in the secondary and a collection of young players expected to play key roles this fall.
Most of their starting lineup is set and only a handful of back-end roster spots emerge, but with training camp set to open Sunday, here are five of the most intriguing position battles to watch this summer — battles that could help determine the Lions’ success:
No. 2 cornerback
The Lions overhauled their secondary this offseason, signing veterans Cam Sutton, CJ Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency. Sutton immediately became the Lions’ top cornerback, and Gardner-Johnson will play as a safety/slot corner this fall. Moseley, meanwhile, will compete for the No. 2 cornerback job with Jerry Jacobs, one of the Lions’ few holdovers at defensive back.
Moseley should get the first crack at the starting job, but he is returning from a torn ACL and could face practice restrictions early in camp. Jacobs had a solid rookie season before tearing his ACL, then made eight starts when he returned last season. He won’t give up his starting role easily, and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn insists the best man will play.
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Regardless of who emerges as the starter, the Lions are finally in a good spot with some depth at cornerback.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai is back from back surgery and the frontrunner to fill the last starting spot on the Lions’ offensive line, but don’t count Graham Glasgow out of the mix. Glasgow has starting experience at guard and center and has been more durable than Vaitai throughout their careers.
Vaitai’s health — and the health of Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow, for that matter — could ultimately determine the makeup of the Lions’ front. Ragnow will get plenty of rest this summer for his recurring toe issues, meaning Glasgow will take plenty of center reps with the first-team offensive line.
If Vaitai has some setbacks or runs into more injury problems, it could open the door for Glasgow to start at right guard.
The Lions will have another new kicker in 2023 after making the surprise decision to release Michael Badgley on Thursday. Badgley put a temporary stop to the Lions’ revolving door at kicker when he made 20 of 24 field goals last season, but the Lions decided to go young at the position after he missed time with a groin injury in the spring.
Parker Romo and Riley Patterson, who the Lions reacquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars this spring, will battle for the job this summer. Romo has a rocket launcher of a leg, while Patterson is the more proven commodity after making 13 of 14 field goals for the Lions in 2021. Both were inconsistent this spring, and the Lions would owe the Jaguars a future draft pick if they keep Patterson.
The Lions also have a camp battle brewing at long snapper, but the Romo-Patterson competition will take center stage as they work to earn special teams coordinator Dave Fipp’s trust throughout the summer.
James Houston was unstoppable as a pass rusher down the stretch last season as he had eight sacks in 140 defensive snaps over seven games, but he spent most of the spring playing with the second- and third-team defense at outside linebacker.
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Houston needs to prove he’s ready for an improved role at quarterback, and even if he does, there’s no guarantee he’ll beat out Charles Harris for the starting job. Harris had a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2021 and was in the midst of a strong camp when he tweaked his groin last year. He missed 11 games with the injury and had surgery in November. He was back in a starting role this summer, and is the veteran in a three-man competition with Houston and Julian Okwara for snaps.
No. 5 recipient
More back-end roster spots are up for grabs this summer. No. 3 drives back. Swing offensive tackle. No. 5 security. And most of the playing group at the receiver.
Amon-Ra St. Brown is the Lions’ undisputed No. 1 receiver, but the pecking order behind him is anyone’s guess. Jameson Williams is serving a six-game suspension to start the year and barely played as a rookie. He’ll be in the rotation when he returns, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be an impact player.
Josh Reynolds played well at the beginning of last season before injuries hampered his play. Kalif Raymond is as professional as they come, albeit with limited upside. Marvin Jones is at the end of a productive career. The Lions just traded for New York Jets draft bust Denzel Mims. And rookie Antoine Green will try to make his mark as a seventh-round pick.
There are a lot of snaps up for grabs in the Lions’ receiving corps, and a little more than six weeks to see how they shake out.