Postcard from camp: Lions
Mikel Leshoure's season-ending injury was a big blow to the Lions
Matthew Stafford looks sharp so far, but the Lions need him healthy
Despite Brandon Pettigrew's high reception total in 2010, he needs to play better
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
At Lions camp in Allen Park, Mich., site of their permanent training facility. A few hundred fans ring the south and southwest sides of the practice fields. They're enthusiastic at the right times, like when Matthew Stafford finds Calvin Johnson, but on this warm morning it's a pretty sedate crowd.
1. A pall came over the day when Mikel Leshoure went down for the year with an Achilles injury. "That was a gut punch,'' coach Jim Schwartz said after he learned Leshoure was gone for the year. I'd just watched Leshoure, the second-round running back from Illinois, take a swing pass and sprint powerfully up the left sideline. Then poof. The Lions picked Leshoure to give them something Jahvid Best didn't -- the ability to break tackles and make yards after first contact. Best is not a powerful runner. He was one of only three backs in the league with less than two yards per run after initial contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Now the Lions will make do without Leshoure. Best's 3.2 yards per rush encourages no one.
2. The Lions are confident Nick Fairley will be ready for opening day. He has a month for his stress-fractured foot to heal, and coach Jim Schwartz told me he thought he'd be fine for the regular season. "This gives him time to heal the right way, and to be fully confident of everything on defense by the time he gets back in the lineup,'' Schwartz said. That's one way of looking at it. The other way is that he won't have time to mesh with Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams and figure out the proper tackle rotation.
3. Matthew Stafford looks in midseason form. He threw one of the prettiest balls I've seen on my tour so far, a 25-yard rainbow into the hands of Calvin Johnson, in perfect stride, with a corner and safety draped on him. Goes without saying, but the Lions will be in the hunt for respectability -- the playoffs, even -- if Stafford can stay upright, which he hasn't been able to do.
Brandon Pettigrew, tight end. When you hear 71 catches (his 2010 output), you think Pettigrew had a great year. But 10.2 yards per reception is not great. Twelve drops, which he had, is awful. And his 10 penalties ... way too much. The Lions need Pettigrew to deliver at a first-round level, and he has shown flashes. They'd better hope a rising tide lifts all receiving boats and the return of Stafford will help Pettigrew.
Cornerback Eric Wright, who came in free agency from Cleveland, was the Lions' big signing to help a weak group. He lost his starting job in Week 12 for the Browns last year and was a declining player in the eyes of Eric Mangini. No wonder -- according to the aforementioned ProFootballFocus.com, quarterbacks had a 121.5 rating when throwing at Wright. I'll just say this about the Lions corners, who will probably be Nathan Vasher, Chris Houston and Wright at the top: They inspire no confidence in me.
If Detroit can survive the first four with a 2-2 mark (at Tampa, Kansas City, at Minnesota, at Dallas), they go on a three-game homestand (Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta) and then have winnable games against Denver and Carolina among the next three games. The Lions have the Packers twice in the last six weeks, including a New Year's Day game at the tundra. What's good about that is the Pack could have nothing to play for then if they've got a playoff spot clinched, and the Lions could have everything to play for.