Lions mailbag: Looking at LB options, Washington's potential

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — After a bad loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Detroit Lions are 1-1 and early-season optimism is fading rapidly. I'm here to hopefully provide some balance and perspective to the team's mixed start in this week's mailbag.

DeAndre Levy is dealing with a quad injury.

@Justin_Rogers Using your "1 year from now" crystal ball: Who is starting on the Lions offensive line in week 3, 2017?

— Big Biting Pig (@BigBitingPig) September 19, 2016

Impossible to answer, but that won't stop me from trying. The only lock is Taylor Decker at left tackle. Everything else is up in the air. Two players, Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, have expiring contracts, which only complicates this projection. At the right price, both could be back, but with Joe Dahl, Corey Robinson and Graham Glasgow being developed on the practice field, the Lions won't overpay.

At left guard Laken Tomlinson is struggling, but I could see him at right guard in 2017 if Warford isn't retained. That's where Tomlinson played in college and it might be a more comfortable fit. And at center, Travis Swanson is showing notable improvement and could easily retain his job long-term if his arrow continues pointing up.

All that to set up a stab-in-the-dark prediction of Decker at left tackle, Dahl at left guard, Swanson at center, Tomlinson at right guard and the re-signed Riley Reiff at right tackle.

Laken Tomlinson

@Justin_Rogers what can Tomlinson do to improve?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) September 19, 2016

There's no magical elixir. His technique has been shaky and he's getting beat off the snap. It's going to sound boring, but he simply needs to keep his nose down and work hard, both on the practice field and in the film room. He has talent, he's just lacking consistency right now.

@Justin_Rogers do you think cutting Quarless could be an indication Pettigrew is close to coming back? If not, why cut him?

— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer) September 19, 2016

Those two things are unrelated. The Lions clearly felt comfortable with the mix of backup tight ends they have in Khari Lee, Cole Wick and Orson Charles.

As for Pettigrew, he can't come of the physically unable perform list until Week 7, at the earliest. I'd think it would be a couple of weeks beyond that as he shakes off some of the rust on the practice field.

@Justin_Rogers do you think the refs are biased against the lions?

— JJ (@ODramaKeemLaden) September 19, 2016


@Justin_Rogers How do national reporters get more information about injuries then local reporters? Shouldn't locals get that info first?

— Tim Smith (@tims987) September 19, 2016

It's different than it was 20 years ago. Many teams spend excessive time and energy trying to stop leaks to local reporters by limiting access. Lack of access hinders the ability to build relationships. National reporters sourcing is just different. Many of them work for the league, have worked for the league or work for a league partner like ESPN, Fox and CBS. NFL officials provide much of that information directly to those reporters. Another source of information is agents. The representatives of star players prefer to disseminate information to a handful of national guys as opposed to dozens of local reporters. It's simply more efficient. In some cases, national reporters actually share agents with NFL players and coaches, so there is a vested interest in information in leaking information to their client.

Lions' Ameer Abdullah cuts his way into the end zone but the play is called back on an offensive penalty in the first quarter.

@Justin_Rogers What do you think is Abdullah's ceiling? 100+ yards and 5.6 YPC in limited snaps. If healthy I could see 1100

— Jake Cullinan (@JustJake981) September 19, 2016

Ceiling is probably between 4.5-4.7 yards per carry, but I wouldn't count on him for much more than 225 carries, even when healthy. That makes a 1,000-yard season possible. When you factor in his potential to do some damage as a receiver, he could rack up 1,500 yards from scrimmage playing all 16 games. Basically, Reggie Bush's 2013 season.

@Justin_Rogers Will we ever find out what Levy's REAL injury is??

— John Popovits (@Thurfir_Hawat) September 19, 2016

It's currently a quad injury. The Lions aren't stupid enough to lie on an injury report and risk a hefty fine and potential loss of draft picks.

@Justin_Rogers what are the Lions going to do defensively with all of those injured starters especially at linebacker?

— Jerry Taylor (@jtabc10news) September 20, 2016

Since weeping in the corner would be frowned upon, they'll make due with what they have. Obviously, if there's long-term concerns about the current injuries to the linebacking corps, they'll add a player or two to the mix. They could grab a guy like Zaviar Gooden, who was with the team in camp. There's also the option of promoting Steve Longa off the practice squad, although I'm not sure more youth is the right answer right now.

And if you're into blasts from the past, Travis Lewis and Ashlee Palmer are looking for work and I'm sure either would jump at the opportunity.

@Justin_Rogers Can you play linebacker? The lions need bodies.

— Brandon (@BB_GoBlue) September 20, 2016

I've been bulking up the past few years, but it hasn't been muscle. I'm more of an out-of-shape cornerback.

@Justin_Rogers With 1/8th of the season in the books, what would you say our biggest needs are for next years FA/draft? DE, LB, RB, CB?

— Jake Cullinan (@JustJake981) September 20, 2016

Oh, we're talking draft already? Fun. Only slightly less appealing than a root canal.

Obviously, you can never have enough pass rushers. Kerry Hyder's emergence has been nice, and Lions can easily retain his services in 2017 as an exclusive rights free agent, but Devin Taylor and Wallace Gilberry are scheduled to be free agents. If you can't re-sign Taylor, you'll need more depth at that spot. The Lions could also potentially use a safety, offensive tackle (defending on what they do with Reiff) and a cornerback.

Now can we get back to talking about the 2016 season, at least until the Lions are officially eliminated from postseason contention?

@Justin_Rogers I'm flying across the country to go to the GB game. Wanna hangout in Green Bay. How's that for interesting/creative?

— Bryce Olsen (@_olsen10) September 20, 2016

No, that sounds awful.

Plus, I already have to babysit Wojo.

@Justin_Rogers how did the lions lose the home opener to a weak team? Bad offense on our part or better defense on their part?

— JW (@jmwhitejmwhite) September 20, 2016

Missed opportunities more than anything. If you look at the box score, the stats are nearly identical across the board, but the Lions floundered in the red zone, settling for field goals on two of their three trips. Yeah, the officiating hurt them with that phantom offensive pass interference call against Eric Ebron, but they had two more cracks at it on that drive and committed legitimate infractions.

And then, with a chance to put the game away late in the third quarter, inside the Titans' 10-yard line, up nine, under two minutes to go, they stalled out.

@Justin_Rogers wouod u agree with me that golden Tate had a terrible game

— Dee (@Derek_Brown10) September 20, 2016

Yep. Two drops, two penalties, just two catches for 13 yards. Is someone really arguing otherwise?

@Justin_Rogers What is the best price-per-ounce whiskey to get me through this season?

— Smitty (@racheryn) September 20, 2016

I'm a novice when it comes to whiskey, but my recommendation is for sale.

@Justin_Rogers currently all scoring plays are reviewed.. how about review or challengeable on penalty called in end zone negating TD?

— BPowley (@bpowd) September 20, 2016

No, we don't need any more rule changes based on something that happened to the Lions.

@Justin_Rogers ok, real question for the mailbag. Best, worst, and toss-up matchups going into Green Bay next week?

— Daniel De Felippis (@DGarraston) September 20, 2016

I like the way the Lions' outside receiving options match up against the Packers cornerbacks, even if Sam Shields is cleared to play. The worst matchup will be whoever the Lions have in the middle of the field against Aaron Rodgers. As for the toss-up, I'm looking forward to watching Jordy Nelson and Darius Slay go head-to-head.

@Justin_Rogers Stafford dropping shoulder and getting on the highlight reel is fun to watch, but is that a play we want our qb to make

— Ethan ZWB (@stEasyB) September 20, 2016

It made for an epic gif, but no, you don't want your franchise quarterback lowering his shoulder like that, unless he has to do it to pick up a first down during a deciding drive late in a game. I asked Stafford and Caldwell about it after the game and both said it's important to be smarter in those situations.

@Justin_Rogers are depth players not practiced enough in positions they're short in? Injuries shouldn't cause that much miscommunication.

— John Nelmar (@johnnelm9r) September 20, 2016

Everyone practices enough, but no matter how much your try, you can't simulate game speed and intensity on the practice field.

@Justin_Rogers how big a difference does IAQ make on this roster? Excellent in coverage and D played way better once he became a starter

— KuehnObservations (@KuehnObserve) September 20, 2016

Isa Abdul-Quddus was a nice fit in Teryl Austin's scheme, and having someone experienced in the system would have definitely helped in the back end, but wouldn't solve all the issues. The communication and physical breakdowns are much bigger than one player and his absence certainly isn't the reason for all the unnecessary penalties.

Still, you have to wonder, if it's Abdul-Quddus in there for that winning touchdown, does he make the pass breakup Rafael Bush couldn't?

@Justin_Rogers at what point, after 30+ years as a lions fan, should I just give up and punch my dad for this awful nightmare of fandom?

— Rollie Chalou (@rollie) September 20, 2016

Don't punch your dad, he's probably in his 60s.

Listen, I can't argue with any fan who wants to quit supporting this team. They have to be an unending source of heartache. Just understand, I don't believe any fan who tells me they're quitting. Somehow, they always manage to get reeled back in.

@Justin_Rogers Do you think the Lions will give RB Dwayne Washington 15 to 18 carries this week vs GB

— Annor. A (@Prince_Akeem17) September 20, 2016

That's probably too many. Somewhere in the 8-12 range feels more likely.

That said, if Abdullah's injury is a long-term issue, I could see Washington slowly becoming the primary ball carrier. The team can't risk handing it off to Riddick 20 times per game and wearing him down. Washington is big-bodied and can shoulder a heavier load. Zach Zenner will be in the mix for some touches as well.

What you have to love about Washington is his ability to take it to the house on any given play. He racked up a number of 50-plus plays in college and has shown the ability to break a big one in both the preseason and against the Titans. As long as he maintains his improved ball security, the future is bright for the seventh-round pick.

Twitter: @justin_rogers