It's that time of the football year once again. The time that veteran NFL'ers hate, rookies learn to hate and fans enjoy. It's training camp, the pad pushing, drill barking start to every football season's long journey that hopefully concludes with a Super Bowl.
After last year's 10-6 record and playoff appearance, the Detroit Lions enter 2012 camp with plenty of additional excitement. The offseason from hell is finally over, and the team can focus on important issues in between the lines. Heading into camp just prior to preseason, there's several key areas fans should watch that will be of interest this season.
1. The Cornerback Position. With Aaron Berry out of the fold and Eric Wright gone, a few key contributors from last season are missing. In what role will free agent addition Jacob Lacey play? What, if anything, will the Lions get out of rookie cornerbacks Jonte Green and Dwight Bentley? Can Chris Houston duplicate last season's sterling performance and keep progressing as a solid NFL defensive back? As always, cornerback is the preseason question mark in Detroit. This time, though, there figures to be many reasons for optimism floating around.
2. The health of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Last season, the running game lacked obvious punch. This was due in part to the failing health of Best, who went down with a mid-season concussion and Leshoure, who never made it past training camp after being felled by a knee injury. How will each of these young players bounce back, and will they be up to proper game speed in camp? The offense will figure to be even more dynamic with Leshoure churning out yards, and Best's game breaking speed will add another dimension to the passing game. Getting both on the field and contributing is vital in 2012, and the first steps will be taken in training camp.
3. Offensive Line. Quietly, the area which has been the biggest weakness for the Lions recently might have become the biggest strength. There is finally some continuity on the offensive line, and Detroit added rookie Riley Reiff in the draft, who was impressive in early rookie mini-camps. Can Reiff continue his development and remain on the fast track to a starting position? What role will Jonathan Scott, just added for depth, play? Jason Fox, a young tackle once counted on to become a contributor, needs to take the next step as well. Will he emerge from the injury shadows to do so? Last year, the group played well as a unit and kept Matthew Stafford upright. In camp this season, they need to talk about how to open some holes for the running game.
4. No Funny Business. This offseason wasn't just terrible for the Lions; plenty of other NFL teams had players detained for alcohol violations and other problems as well. Despite this, the persistent problems of Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure, Aaron Berry and Johnny Culbreath kept Detroit ahead of the pack with regards to bad team behavior. Not only that, Titus Young and Louis Delmas scuffled at a voluntary mini-camp earlier this year, raising questions about team focus. During training camp, the Lions need to be squeaky clean in order to prevent further questions about commitment and discipline from lingering into the regular season. That means when the contact with teammates gets monotonous in August, there can't be any ugly scrums, nor can there be any irresponsible carousing around. Hopefully, the release of Berry and Culbreath sent a message that players are expendable if rogue behavior remains a pattern.
5. Injuries. Though you never want to say the "I word" this time of year and jinx things, it's the unfortunate part of training camp that every coach, player and fan must worry about. Yesterday, the Bengals nearly lost Dre Kirkpatrick for a long time due to a freak injury before camp. Last year, Leshoure was lost for the entire season due to his training camp knee injury. Every day, fans have to watch the injury report and wonder who got nicked up or if any contributor was critically hurt thanks to a random fall or accident. This is always undesirable, but must be monitored nonetheless.
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