The Lions placed 23 players on injured reserve in the 2009 season, of those players only 13 remain on the 2010 roster. Some of the players aren’t expected to make the first cut while some are expected to play a pivotal role in the 2010 season and beyond. Here’s a look at each player, their current injury status and what is expected of them for the 2010 season.
T Kirk Barton – Kirk Barton has played in one game in his two year career and he is on his fifth team. He is a young prospect with good size but he hasn’t been healthy enough to prove anything in his young career. At this point, he is a young camp body facing long odds to make the roster. He would need to unseat Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus, Jason Fox or Jon Jansen at tackle. He may have the potential to land on the practice squad.
S Daniel Bullocks – Bullocks is on the mend after a serious knee injury robbed him of two of the last three seasons. He was a limited participant in the early stages of the offseason conditioning program, but he has been fully participating in OTAs.
Bullocks was a second round pick that burst onto the scene in 2006 with a strong rookie campaign. He injured his knee early in the preseson in 2007, started 15 games in 2008 and then had complications with his knee. Bullocks was starting to come into his own as a hard hitting tackle machine, but he needs to develop a better nose for the ball. He hasn’t forced or recovered a fumble or picked off a pass in his career.
Bullocks is expected to compete with Ko Simpson, Marquand Manuel and Marvin White for the strong safety position in training camp. Since two of those three are also on this list, the winner may ultimately be decided by who gets back to 100% healthy fastest. That player will have more time and opportunities to show the coaching staff what they can do.
DE Jared DeVries – DeVries ruptured his Achilles; tendon in training camp and missed the entire 2009 season. The Lions released him earlier this year to avoid paying him a roster bonus while they made sure his recovery was on schedule. Once they checked him out and cleared him medically, he was resigned and the money he lost on the bonus was inserted into his new contract. He needs to make the opening day roster to collect on it though.
DeVries is a versatile lineman that has the high motor this coaching staff craves. He can play outside at defensive end on running downs and kick inside to tackle in obvious passing situations. DeVries is fully participating in OTAs so it is safe to assume he is fully recovered. The Lions made significant additions to the defensive line in the offseason and DeVries isn’t a complete lock to make the team.
The Lions have eight defensive ends on the roster with Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Turk McBride and Willie Young all serious candidates for roster spots. DeVries has 11 years of NFL experience, but Avril, Hunter, McBride and Young have youth and upside. I expect DeVries to bring home a roster spot if he shows no ill effects from the injury and either start or be one of the top rotational ends.
WR Eric Fowler – Eric Fowler has been bouncing between the practice squad and active roster for the last two seasons. He has played in three games, but hasn’t logged a catch and mostly appeared on special teams. He faces an uphill battle to make the team with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams ahead of him.
CB Eric King – Eric King was expected to solidify the nickel corner position in 2009, but instead found himself pressed into action as a starter for one game and then landed on injured reserve with an injured shoulder after playing four games. King is fully recovered and he is the only cornerback on the roster that has experience in the system.
King is going to face competition from Jonathan Wade and possibly Dante Wesley, while Chris Houston and Amari Spievey will most likely start. The coaching staff is well aware that King is best suited for the nickel role as he was out of place playing outside the numbers last season.
The coaches like versatility, so King needs to be head and shoulders better than other cornerbacks in the nickel and on special teams to earn a roster spot. That being said, I expect King to make the team and earn the nickel job.
DE Copeland Bryan – Bryan played sparingly on defense last season despite the number of injuries at the defensive end position. Bryan earned some playing time and played pretty well before injuring his knee against the Packers.
Bryan is a solid special teamer but he is an undersized defensive end in a crowded position group. He wasn’t offered a restricted free agent tender immediately after the new league year began because he wasn’t medically cleared yet. Once he passed a physical the Lions tendered him and he has been participating without any significant limitations. I don’t see him making the active roster, but he could find a home on the practice squad.
CB Jack Williams – Jack Williams’ 2009 season with the Lions consisted of one play. He came into the game for an injured Phillip Buchanon against the Vikings and blew out his knee.
Williams was claimed off of waivers when the Broncos cut him halfway through the season. He played one down and he has very little experience in the Lions’ defense. Oddly enough, I’m getting a sense that he may have a chance of making the team this year.
Whenever Coach Schwartz was asked about Kevin Smith and Brandon Pettigrew’s knee injuries, he would always mention Jack Williams’ progress in his recovery. Schwartz doesn’t voluntarily mention players unless he is impressed with them, so I’d say Williams may be worth keeping an eye on in training camp.
S Marquand Manuel – Manuel is a career stopgap player who has been unable to take his game to the next level. The Lions are his sixth team, but he has started 58 games in eight seasons. Manuel isn’t a playmaker as evidenced by his two career interceptions, but he is solid against the run and provides a veteran presence in the young secondary.
Manuel’s recovery in on schedule and he’s fully participating in OTAs, but shoulder injuries for defensive backs can be difficult to evaluate until they are in pads and hitting. Manuel is fighting with Bullocks, Simpson and Marvin White for a starting job and he has the edge in experience.
I think he will make the team even if he doesn’t win the starting job because he has enough experience to back up both safety positions and can contribute on special teams.
G Stephen Peterman – Peterman’s injury derailed the offense almost as much as Matthew Stafford’s injuries did. Profootballfocus.com graded Peterman out as the 13th best guard in the league last season. The Lions were running the ball well and Kevin Smith was just starting to get a little healthier when Peterman rolled his ankle against the Vikings and was lost for the season.
After Peterman went down the Lions pass protection suffered, the running game sputtered and the Lions couldn’t find anybody that came close to producing at Peterman’s level. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the offseason. The Lions don’t have a viable long-term back up plan if Peterman isn’t fully recovered or suffers another injury.
Peterman is expected to be back at full strength by training camp and barring any setbacks will be the starting right guard.
S Ko Simpson – Simpson was acquired from the Bills for a 2010 7th round pick after the Lions put Daniel Bullocks on injured reserve last season. Simpson took a few weeks to get acclimated to the playbook but found himself in the starting lineup before long. Shortly after that he found himself on IR too.
Simpson is recovering from one of the more serious injuries of any of the Lions. He had microfracture knee surgery which is a process that causes a “super-clot” to take the place of damaged cartilage by creating several small bone fractures within the knee joint. The surgery has a high success rate in civilians, but it is a difficult road to recovery for professional athletes. Microfracture surgery ended Terrell Davis’ career, but Reggie Bush had it prior to the 2009 season and was able to play at a high level (for Reggie Bush.)
Simpson is probably the best candidate to win the starting strong safety job if he is fully recovered. He is still rehabbing the knee and is several weeks away from being medically cleared. Microfracture surgery is still a fairly new procedure so the long-term effectiveness in athletes isn’t well known. Bullocks is also recovering from microfracture surgery, but his surgery was performed several months before Simpson’s and rumor has it that it wasn’t as serious as Simpson’s.
TE Brandon Pettigrew –Brandon Pettigrew was finally starting to “get it” as he was lost for the year on Thanksgiving Day. He missed significant time in training camp with various minor injuries and got off to a slow start to begin the season. Pettigrew was developing a solid rapport with Stafford for several weeks and was playing at the top of his game when he tore his ACL.
As far as major knee injuries are concerned, his was as best as you could hope for. Pettigrew had surgery shortly after the injury and he has experience rehabbing a torn ACL before. Pettigrew is an important cog in the Lions’ young offense, and the coaches aren’t going to jeopardize his long-term well being to rush him onto the field.
Pettigrew is working out in individual drills during OTAs and the offseason conditioning programs so he is running and cutting already, but he may not be cleared for contact until well into training camp. Pettigrew will most likely start training camp on the PUP list and make his way back early in the season.
He and Tony Scheffler will be a huge part of the offense in two tight end packages which will give the Lions’ offense several matchup advantages and hopefully help unleash Megatron in 2010.
RB Kevin Smith – Smith suffered multiple injuries to his knee on a freak play against the Ravens late in the season. He tore an ACL and sprained, tore or strained several other ligaments and tendons in his knee. As a running back his knee is more susceptible to re-injury than any other position,so the Lions will take it slow with him.
Coach Schwartz recently stated that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith on the field when training camp opens, but that is more a testament to Smith’s work ethic than a prediction of health. There are some that believe Smith will be on the PUP list at the start of the season which would keep him out of the first six weeks of the season.
Smith’s role in the offense will change with the addition of Jahvid Best, but he is still going to be a major asset and weapon once he returns. Smith has always reminded me of a poor man’s Marion Barber. He’s not going to break long runs, but he will fight for yardage, he is solid in pass protection and he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Knee injuries usually take two years for running backs to fully recover from, and Smith didn’t have the greatest speed or agility to begin with. Some are concerned that he may never be the same back again. I personally believe that Smith is a player that will overcome any odds because of his work ethic. He and Best will combine to form a solid one-two punch, but it may not happen until 2011.
QB Matthew Stafford – The concern with Stafford’s injuries aren’t the recovery, as he is already practicing without limitations, it’s the frequency. Stafford took a lot of punishment as a rookie and suffered two major injuries. He dislocated his knee cap on and illegal (yet unflagged) horse collar tackle by Adewale Ogunleye of the Bears, and then the epic shoulder dislocation against the Browns.
The Lions placed him on IR to protect him and shut him down as they closed out a season that was a lost cause. They wanted him to be fully recovered for the offseason programs so his development wouldn’t be stinted by rehabbing injuries.
Stafford has had some serious injuries in his past that may earn him the “injury-prone” label. However, Stafford has never played behind a strong offensive line and he has suffered some fluke injuries. Stafford is already at 100% physically, but he may still need some work to get in game shape. He will be the centerpiece of the Lions’ offense when they take the field in 2010, and with better command of the offense, more familiarity with his weapons and a better defense he hopefully will stay on the field for all sixteen games in his sophmore season.