5 Players Key to the Lions Success in 2013

8/8/13 in NFL   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Jul 30, 2013; Allen Park, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) during training camp at Detroit Lions training facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY SportsLast year wasn’t quite as frustrating as the 0-16 season for Lions fans, but it presented a new set of frustrations that we weren’t quite used to.  For the first time in over a decade, the Lions were coming off a playoff season, a 10-6 year where the Lions became one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league.  But last year’s 4-12 disaster quickly shot down a lot of the hope in Mo-town, so now in 2013, it’s time for the Lions to prove whether they’ve got what it takes to compete in the NFC or if the 2011 season was just a diamond in the rough.
 
And here are the 5 players that hold the greatest significance to the team this season:
 
5. Darius Slay
 
The team’s second round pick out of Mississippi State is the current favorite to start opposite #1 cornerback Chris Houston this year.  Word out of training camp is that Slay has been one of the most impressive members of the defense, offering a great combination of quickness and physicality on the edge.  The Lions have consistently had one of the worst secondaries in the league the past 10-or-so years, but with the addition of veteran safety Glover Quinn and the assumption that Houston continues to deliver, a #2 corner could go a long way in improving the defensive unit as a whole.
 
Jul 26, 2013; Allen Park, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles (84) during training camp at the Detroit Lions training facility. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports4. Ryan Broyles
 
Filling in that #2 spot behind Calvin Johnson has been a problem ever since Megatron’s emergence onto the scene - which really makes his career feats all the more impressive.  Nate Burleson really works better as a third or forth receiver with his inconsistent play and the Titus Young operation blew-up before it ever really began.  On this year’s roster, the only player with the potential to become a truly special #2 receiver is second-year pro Ryan Broyles.  He’s got tremendous hands and excels as a move-the-chains receiver.  Injuries have been the main concern for him since an ACL tear ended his college career early, but if he’s on the field, expect him to give everything he’s got for the team.
 
3. Offensive Line Fill-ins
 
The weakest overall unit on the Lions isn’t the secondary this year, it’s undoubtedly the offensive line.  Question-marks fill 3 of the 5 positions and the team’s inability to find more capable replacements to their offseason loses is extremely troubling.   The young and unproven Riley Reiff will start at left tackle, despite primarily playing on the right in college, while career backups Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard will compete for the starting right tackle spot.  Then the right guard position will also feature a battle of former backups Dylan Gandy and Jake Scott.  So whether newly acquired running back Reggie Bush and up-the-gut specialist Mikel Leshoure can provide adequate yardage for the team this year will quite possibly depend more on the blocking in front of them than their own performance levels.
 
2. Ndamukong Suh
 
Quickly turning from one of the most hopeful defensive players in the league to one of the most scrutinized, a big year is up ahead for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.  Detroit’s defensive line was a humongous disappointment last year despite solid play from now-departed defensive end Cliff Avril and the improvement of defensive tackle Nick Fairley.  With the addition of 5th overall pick Ziggy Ansah on the end, the Lions now have 3 defensive lineman drafted in the top 13 since 2010.  The talent is there, so now it’s time for the unit to produce, and it all starts with #90.
 
Aug 2, 2013; Allen Park, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during training camp at Detroit Lions training facility. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports1. Matthew Stafford
 
Two things really stuck out last season from Matthew Stafford’s production: his inability to find receivers in the endzone (20 touchdown passes compared with 41 the previous year) and his inability to put games away.  Stafford helped the team become the ‘Comeback Kids’ in 2011, and while he helped lead a few comebacks early on in 2012, what he really needed to do was help the team become a 60-minute team.  Too often were possessions wasted or solid drives held to just 3 points.  Five of the team’s last seven losses were by a touchdown or less last year, but if Stafford can make the most out of every opportunity that comes his way this season, a lot of those losses could turn into wins.
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