Allen Park — Often sugar-coated by the neutral phasing of "next man up," the cold reality of football is one man's injury is another man's opportunity.
In the preseason opener, the Detroit Lions lost wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in brutally uncomfortable fashion. A defender's missed tackle led him into Kearse, who was facing the other direction, breaking the receiver's leg and ending his season.
While nothing was locked down, Kearse was trending toward a key role on the roster. He was in line to be the team's primary backup at the position, thanks in large part to his to his ability to play both outside and in the slot.
Now the Lions need a new solution. But at this point, the next man up is unclear. And given Kearse's versatility, it might take more than one to step in and fill the role.
"Unbelievable guy, talking non-stop and obviously a big part of what we’ve been doing so far," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think the other part of it is all of those guys out there in the wide receiver position, we’ll try to cross train as many of them as we can to have position flex and position alignment abilities."
Of the players currently on the roster, the Lions have a slew of young options competing for roles. There's a trio who got a taste last year — Andy Jones, Brandon Powell and Chris Lacy — veteran newcomer Tommylee Lewis, and a number of rookie contenders, led by sixth-round pick Travis Fulgham.
Combined, the group of eight contenders have caught 42 passes in the NFL, led by Lewis' 20 receptions over three seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
Of those players, Lacy has been an early standout on the practice field. He's seen a bump in workload, both due to Kearse's injury and the closely managed workload for starter Marvin Jones as he returns from last year's season-ending injury.
During Sunday's practice, Lacy had a couple of good battles with Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, something that routinely happened last season, according to Slay.
"Honestly, to tell you the truth, he's made me a better player because he's on a lot of scout teams, playing the number one receiver, and I was following him," Slay said. "He works me every day and I work him every day. My goal was to just, I'm going to push you, man. I want you to be a player for us. He pushed me. He did a great job at it and it's paying off for him."
In recent years, the Lions have carried as few as four receivers and as many as six. It's likely the team will enter Week 1 with at least five on the roster this season.