Projecting the winners of training camp battles without seeing players perform on the field in game situations first may seem like fools work, but in the interest of giving fans some players to watch as the Detroit Lions take on the New York Jets Friday night, we're prepared to look like fools in the process.
After the intense, one on one action of training camp, which players hold the upper hand in the battles to start at several positions? With the exception of punter and cornerback, where Sam Martin and Darius Slay look like virtual locks to start, here's some of the first guesses, in order from the most important, intense battles on.
Left Outside Linebacker: Ashlee Palmer vs. Tahir Whitehead
- As Gunther Cunningham stated, Travis Lewis shows as more of a middle linebacker, meaning he's probably out of this competition. Right now, it's tough to imagine the Lions not going with Palmer, given he is a veteran and a steady team contributor. Whitehead could earn the job with a solid preseason, but for now, Palmer's the guy. Winner: Palmer.
Offensive Guard: Larry Warford vs. Dylan Gandy vs. Rodney Austin vs. Leroy Harris
- In this four man race, the rookie Warford seems to have a leg up with the staff given he's earned plenty of first team reps in camp. Still, with veterans like Gandy and Harris in the fold and other problems along the line, it's possible the Lions will go with someone possessing more experience at an important spot. As it stands today, Detroit will have new starters at both tackle positions, placing an extra premium on interior protection. Knowing that, Jim Schwartz will surprise and first go with Harris, a veteran he knows from Tennessee. Winner: Harris
Right Offensive Tackle: Jason Fox vs. Corey Hilliard
- Both have looked good in practice. Apparently, Fox will be given the first shot against the Jets on Friday night, but if he stumbles, Hilliard will be there to pass him by. Don't bet on it happening, as Fox, starting for the first time, locks down the job quite convincingly. He'll probably have his struggles, but Fox will be given the first shot out of preseason. Winner: Fox
Kick Returner: Steven Miller vs. Michael Spurlock vs. Theo Riddick vs. Patrick Edwards vs. Cody Wilson
- During the past few weeks, all have gotten their shot to star in practice, and it's tough to tell who's got the inside track, given all have been used extensively. Most impressive and interesting have been Miller and Riddick, who's smaller stature allows them an ability to get lost in the pile and quickly spring free. Edwards will probably make the roster as the fourth wide receiver, so they'll likely protect him from the extra contact. Riddick has been impressive as a runner, so the Lions will try to keep him in the fold by using him as the kick returner. Winner: Riddick
Kicker: David Akers vs. Havard Rugland
- Each have had their moments and inconsistencies in practice, but Akers has looked healthy and will have the benefit of kicking in a dome. That helped extend Jason Hanson's career, and it should help Akers as well. Rugland comes with plenty of excitement given his YouTube video and impressive leg, but Akers is a known commodity. Winner: Akers
Third Tight End: Michael Williams vs. Joseph Fauria vs. Matt Veldman
- Perhaps the toughest battle to call, given both Williams and Fauria have excelled in multiple roles during camp. Fauria has looked fantastic as a receiver with multiple big catches in the red zone, and Williams has shown his strength in both the running and passing game. The Lions will find a way to keep both, as each could be considered a tight end of the future with uncertainty at the position in a few years time. Williams makes the roster, but Fauria is stashed away on the practice squad and will also become a major contributor in the future. Winner: Williams and Fauria
Fifth Wide Receiver: Chaz Schilens vs. Michael Spurlock vs. Kris Durham vs. Mike Thomas vs. Matt Willis vs. Corey Fuller
- As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press wrote yesterday, this is perhaps the most contentious, competitive battle nobody is talking about. Each player brings different intangibles to the table, as Schilens and Durham have incredible size as red zone targets, while Thomas and Spurlock bring the shiftiness dynamic to the table. Willis has had an outstanding camp, and few are talking about Fuller, making him a candidate to impress during the preseason. With Broyles and Edwards likely in the fold, Detroit will have the smaller burners to stretch the middle of the defense, meaning more size will be key. The Lions go with Durham, given his relationship with Matthew Stafford and the fact that he was a quality player near the end of last year. They'll keep someone on the practice squad, though, likely Spurlock or Fuller. Winner: Durham
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