Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/10/13
Can Riley Reiff protect Matthew Stafford’s blindside?Jeff Backus was much-maligned by many casual fans, but he was a rock of stability. He was not elite, but he was steady.He would struggle against the truly elite pass rushers,  but he did a good job against the majority of the NFL. He’s gone now -- in his stead is the young Reiff.Reiff was an excellent run blocker last season, but he only had one start last year, replacing an injured Backus, and he struggled.Still the Lions liked his talent enough to draft him and give him what amounted to a red-shirt year to learn.He is short-armed, but very technically skilled. The Lions just gave a ton of money to Stafford. And they need Reiff to make sure it’s not all in vain.     Who will win the starting spot at weakside linebacker?The Lions have open competition for this spot between Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis. All three are big, fast guys who have shown potential. Palmer has the inside track as he has some starting experience, but the two younger guys will certainly push him this fall.Who will start at cornerback opposite Chris Houston?There are a bevy of candidates to choose from. Darius Slay is an electric combination of size and speed, but he is just a rookie. Bill Bentley showed flashes of being a starter last preseason, before going down with a season-ending injury, but his size may be better suited for the slot. Jonte Green started off rough last season in his rookie year, but progressively got better as the season went on, and looked like a viable option at the end of the year.Chris Greenwood is probably the most athletic player on the roster (besides Calvin Johnson), and he has impressed in limited time, due to injury.And finally, the wily vet Ronald Bartell (fellow Detroit Renaissance High School alum) is in the mix, and is the only candidate to have played at a high level in the NFL before, although we are a few years removed from that now.All of these guys will have a shot to contribute next year.Who starts at defensive end?The Lions have an interesting assortment of players. Jason Jones and Israel Idonije look like they will get the majority of the early down work, as they are run-stuffing ends. Then look for them to kick inside at times on passing downs to spell Suh, Fairley and Mosley in the middle.There is also 2013 No. 5 overall pick Ezekiel Ansah, who the Lions will certainly look to get on the field whenever they can. Willie Young is also in the mix, as the Lions hope he reverts back to hi 2011 form, when he was a terror to QBs.There is undersized, but athletic, end Ronnell Lewis whom the Lions are trying to mold into a pass rusher in his second season. And finally there is another rookie, 5th round pick Devin Taylor, who has great size and athletic ability, but will likely be a special teams contributor.  This race is wide open, and you’ll see a nice amount of all these players except probably Taylor.Is Matthew Stafford elite?Stafford has the physical tools, the pedigree, the toughness and the weapons to be a top 5 QB in this league. The Lions would probably settle for top 10, honestly.Stafford has all the talent but inconsistent mechanics, and poorly-timed bad decisions seem to forever keep Stafford back. The Lions have given Stafford a dynamic weapon in Reggie Bush, as well as provided him with a younger and more athletic offensive line.This is the year Stafford must step up and silencce all of the doubters with his play.
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