Core of Lions' 2015 roster is set

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Between now and September, the Lions roster will look a little different, but for now, the core pieces are in place for 2015.

As it stands now, the Lions will return 17 of 22 starters from 2014, eight on defense and nine on offense — assuming they run more packages with two tight ends than a fullback. And that number could rise if the team re-signs free agent cornerback Rashean Mathis and left guard Rob Sims.

Nearly a week into free agency, the Lions haven't made many notable upgrades, but the amount of returning players should give the team confidence in the continuity as it prepares for a second season under coach Jim Caldwell.

The Lions still have work to do and will search for bargains on the free-agent market with unfilled needs at cornerback, guard and defensive tackle, but for the most part, the projected starting lineup shouldn't change much.

In addition to having limited turnover on the roster thus far, the Lions appear to be targeting players with playoff experience as they did the past two years in free agency when they added running back Reggie Bush, wide receiver Golden Tate and safety James Ihedigbo, who had all won a Super Bowl before coming to Detroit.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, whom the Lions acquired in a trade from the Ravens, has a Super Bowl ring and extensive playoff experience. Five of the free agents the Lions re-signed — kicker Matt Prater, defensive end Darryl Tapp, linebacker Josh Bynes, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus and wide receiver Jeremy Ross — have been a part of at least one playoff win. And defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker, whom the Lions signed last week, was on a Saints team that won a playoff game in 2013, though he was inactive.

Caldwell and general manager Martin Mayhew have talked in the past of the importance of having players who know what it takes to have postseason success, and there's no doubt Tate and Ihedigbo helped provide championship-level leader for the Lions in 2014.

With 65 players signed to the 90-man roster, there will be plenty of moves before the offseason program begins. But here is a breakdown of the current rosters:

Quarterbacks (3): Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky, Kellen Moore

Where they stand: The Lions brought back the same quarterbacks from 2014, and considering both Orlovsky and Moore are making more than a minimum salary, it's a safe bet they'll both back up Stafford again in 2015.

What's next: Look for the Lions to bring in an undrafted rookie to take reps in the offseason program, but he'll face an uphill battle to make the team.

Running backs (4): Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, George Winn, Emil Igwenagu

Where they stand: With Bell as the primary runner and Riddick a receiving threat, the Lions have a serviceable tandem. Igwenagu is the frontrunner to replace fullback Jed Collins.

What's next: The Lions should draft a running back, though it likely won't be in the first couple rounds because of other needs.

Tight ends (4): Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Jordan Thompson

Where they stand: Ebron, a first-round pick in 2014, should be a much bigger part of the offense in 2015, and Pettigrew will likely remain the primary blocker. Fauria should be a red zone threat.

What's next: When adding undrafted players, a block-first tight end could join the group.

Wide receivers (8): Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller, Ryan Broyles, TJ Jones, Andrew Peacock, Skye Dawson

Where they stand: After Johnson and Tate, everyone will be competing for playing time and possibly a chance to be a kick returner.

What's next: Unless the Lions think Jones can be an impact player, the Lions will likely draft a receiver in the middle rounds with return skills.

Offensive tackles (4): Riley Reiff, LaAdrian Waddle, Cornelius Lucas, Michael Williams

Where they stand: The team isn't sold on Reiff as the long-term answer at left tackle, and it's unclear what would happen to Waddle or Lucas if Reiff moved to the right side.

What's next: The Lions will likely draft a tackle early who projects as a left tackle.

Guards (3): Larry Warford, Rodney Austin, Darren Keyton

Where they stand: Warford is the starter at right guard, but nothing else is set as the other two are unproven.

What's next: The Lions should sign a veteran like Justin Blalock or re-sign Rob Sims to play left guard and draft a long-term replacement.

Centers (3): Travis Swanson, Braxston Cave, Taylor Boggs

Where they stand: Swanson became the starter as soon as the Lions decided not to re-sign Dominic Raiola.

What's next: Likely nothing, but don't be surprised if the guard the Lions draft takes snaps at center in the offseason.

Defensive ends (8): Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones, George Johnson*, Darryl Tapp, Devin Taylor, Larry Webster, Phillip Hunt, Kerry Hyder

Where they stand: The deepest position on the team should remain strong unless a team prices out the Lions for Johnson.

What's next: Hunt will probably be the last notable acquisition for the group.

Defensive tackles (6): Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, Caraun Reid, Roy Philon, Xavier Proctor, Jermelle Cudjo

Where they stand: Currently, Ngata and Walker project as the starting replacements for Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

What's next: The Lions could re-sign C.J. Mosley or Andre Fluellen or another veteran, but will also look for a defensive tackle early in the draft.

Linebackers (8): Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Bynes, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Jerrell Harris

Where they stand: With only three starting spots, the Lions have a surplus of linebackers. All of them can play special teams. The battle between Whitehead and Van Noy for the strong-side spot will be a key battle in camp.

What's next: This group is likely set besides maybe an undrafted rookie.

Cornerbacks (5): Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson, Mohammed Seisay, Crezdon Butler

Where they stand: Considering the frequency with which cornerbacks are hurt, this is the shallowest position on the roster. Bentley or Lawson can play the slot, but the Lions need two more players who can compete for the outside job opposite Slay.

What's next: The Lions will sign at least one veteran like Rashean Mathis and probably draft a long, rangy cornerback in the early rounds.

Safeties (5): Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Don Carey, Nate Ness

Where they stand: This group is unchanged from 2014 with the re-signing of Abdul-Quddus.

What's next: The Lions are confident in Quin and Ihedigbo for 2015, but could use a draft pick for a long-term replacement for Ihedigbo.

Specialists (3): K Matt Prater, P Sam Martin, LS Don Muhlbach

Where they stand: The Lions re-signed Prater and Muhlbach to keep continuity on special teams for the first time since the 2012 season when they had Jason Hanson, Ben Graham and Muhlbach.

What's next: Some young players will likely join the team to take reps from Prater and Martin.

*-Restricted free agent who received an original-round tender of $1.54 million.