The regular season at last is upon us. After 10 weeks of offseason training, OTAs and minicamps, after four more weeks of training camp and four exhibition games, the roster is finally set, the starting lineups are in place and now we can just settle in and enjoy the games.
The roster may be down to the mandatory 53 players, but it hardly seems settled, what with an extra receiver and only five linebackers. And maybe we know who is slated to start on Sunday against the Vikings, but it hardly seems all of those positions are locked in stone.
So, before the Lions return to work on Tuesday, let’s examine a few things we still aren’t completely sure about.
1. The roster
We know that running back and special teams leader Montell Owens will be placed on short-term IR today and will spend at least the next six weeks getting his injured right knee healthy.
So, that will open up a roster spot, presumably for a linebacker. The Lions released veteran Rocky McIntosh on Sunday. You wonder if they may wait until after Week 1 to re-sign him or another veteran player (like Livonia native Tim Shaw). Teams typically wait until after Week 1 to sign veterans to avoid having to pay guaranteed money.
A veteran’s salary is guaranteed if the player opens the regular season on the roster.
They may be waiting to do the same with a receiver. Right now, there are six receivers, but Micheal Spurlock’s primary role is on special teams, which makes Kris Durham the only extra outside receiver after Calvin Johnson and Patrick Edwards.
Also, the two slot receivers, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, are coming off major surgeries. Burleson appears to be all the way back but not Broyles.
It seems like there will be some more tinkering at that position.
2. The offensive line
It appears that rookie Larry Warford is going to start at right guard and Jason Fox at right tackle. But even though they started the last two exhibition games, they haven’t really played all that much together.
There is bound to be some inconsistency there early. Fox is in his fourth season, but Warford is going to have to go through some growing pains. He’s going to see defenses he’s not played against before (teams don’t show all their weapons in the preseason) and he’s going to go against elite, NFL defenders for four quarters — again, something he’s never done before.
The Lions will be patient, but only to a point. If either of these two scuffle too much, veterans such as Leroy Harris and Corey Hilliard could be thrust into the fray.
3. Riley Reiff
Some were concerned when Reiff had a couple of rough starts in the preseason. Hopefully a lot of those fears were allayed by his strong performances against the Patriots and Bills.
But there’s nothing like being thrown right into the fire. Reiff’s first test of the year will most likely be against Pro Bowler and longtime Lion killer Jared Allen.
It will be the first time in Allen’s career he’s played the Lions and not locked horns with Jeff Backus.
4. Matthew Stafford
It’s been the hardest preseason to evaluate Stafford’s play. Obviously, he hasn’t been sharp. He wasn’t consistently sharp even in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills throughout camp.
But what does that mean? He can still zip the ball. He can still throw it 60 yards on a rope. But, with the new offensive line and the other new pieces (Reggie Bush, Patrick Edwards), he never found any kind of groove.
Keep in mind, he played only two series the entire preseason with both Calvin Johnson and Bush on the field together. One of those drives produced a field goal. The Lions showed very little of what this offense is going to look like in the preseason.
Still, that’s no excuse for overthrowing a wide open Edwards on the first play against the Bills and for some of the other bad throws.
So, yes, there is some concern. But let’s keep it in perspective. This is still the same guy who threw for more than 10,000 yards the last two seasons. Let’s withhold judgment until we see him out there when it counts with all his weapons and the complete playbook at his disposal.
5. The defense
It’s hard not to be excited about the prospects. The defensive line is bigger, stronger and better. Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy both come into the season as healthy as they’ve been in a while. And there is no mistaking the talent upgrade in the secondary with the likes of Darius Slay and Glover Quin.
But there are nagging worries there, too. We will know on Wednesday, when the Lions send in their first injury report of the season, whether Ziggy Ansah has been dealing with concussion symptoms. After what the Lions have gone through with head injuries (Jahvid Best, Amari Spievey and others), that’s the last thing they want for the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Also, we will be on a daily Louis Delmas watch. The Lions did a superb job managing and treating his surgically-repaired left knee and getting him through camp. He will, unless something happened over the weekend, be ready to play Week 1.
After that, who knows?