The Lions were sharp in the preseason opener against the Bengals, something that won't dissuade anyone from considering them to be one of the NFC's improving clubs. QB Matthew Stafford threw two TD passes and departed, stage left, no worse for wear.
If only the Lions had such good injury fortune with their rookies earlier in training camp. The Lions' top three draft picks — DT Nick Fairley, WR Titus Young and RB Mikel Leshoure — have been injured to varying degrees, with Leshoure's Achilles tendon injury ending his season.
The departure of Leshoure is no small subtraction from the Lions' offense, the way we hear it. He was expected to fill a key role: converting short-yardage downs. Also, he had made a positive impression early in his Detroit career, we're told.
Leshoure surely would have received a good deal of carries relieving starter Jahvid Best. With Leshoure out, those carries will be taken by other reserves, so overworking the fast but slightly built Best is not a major concern, according to a daily team observer. But there is no clear-cut heir to Leshoure's role as the short-yardage hammer. Ex-Browns RB Mike Bell (6-0, 225), signed after Leshoure's injury, has the build and running style to earn a role in short-yardage situations, but he rushed for 99 yards on 47 carries in 2010 and doesn't have Leshoure's playmaking ability.
Nevertheless, we're told Bell has a good shot at making the club. The same goes for Jerome Harrison, for whom Bell was traded last season. Harrison is of a similar size to Best but not as explosive. Another reserve back, Maurice Morris, has missed time with a broken wrist, but we hear his experience helps his cause to make the team, too, even after the additions.
Fairley, the Lions' first-round pick, suffered a broken foot in early August, had surgery on the injury on Aug. 3 and was "expected to miss a significant portion of training camp," the club said at the time. The Lions' DT depth is solid, however, though obviously much better with the talented Fairley.
Young, whose speed is his greatest asset, missed much of the early portion of training camp with a leg injury, reportedly a hamstring ailment. The Lions drafted him to be their No. 3 wide receiver.