Here is a close look at the Detroit Lions as they head into their season opener against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS:
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matthew Stafford. Backups - Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore.
Stafford, by all accounts, had a rough preseason although he only played two series with Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush together. His timing and accuracy with the other receivers was off. This offense is built around the strength of his right arm and the team can't succeed if he falters. Hill and Moore both had productive preseasons.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Reggie Bush. Backups - Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure, Theo Riddick, Montell Owens (IR-designated to return).
Bush has been as advertised. His diverse skill-set, particularly in the pass game, changes the dynamic of this offense and opens the field for Johnson and the rest of the pass game. Teams will be hard-pressed to put extra defenders on Johnson. Bell easily beat out Leshoure for the No. 2 spot. Leshoure has been reduced to short-yardage situations for now. Riddick, a rookie, will spend the season as Bush's understudy with a similar skill set. Owens will play on the rare occasions the Lions go to two backs and is one of the leaders on special teams.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Backups - Joseph Fauria.
It's a big year for both Pettigrew and Scheffler, in the final year of their contracts and coming off disappointing seasons. Pettigrew starts the season healthy for the first time in three years. Scheffler was virtually invisible this preseason. There is a chance the Lions use more three receiver sets with Bush as the fourth receiver this year. Fauria, an undrafted rookie, has impressed and at 6-7 is a big target.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Backups - Ryan Broyles, Patrick Edwards, Micheal Spurlock, Kris Durham.
Johnson, who nursed a bruised knee, only played two series in the preseason. Burleson and Broyles, who will share the slot position, are both coming off major surgeries. Burleson, 32, had a so-so preseason and Broyles may not be full-go until Week 3 or 4. Spurlock made the team as the primary return man. Edwards won the second flanker spot, though he didn't have an impressive preseason.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Riley Reiff, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Larry Warford, LT Jason Fox. Backups - T Corey Hilliard, T LaAdrian Waddle, G-C Dylan Gandy, G Leroy Harris.
There is uncertainty with three new starters -- Reiff, Warford and Fox. Warford is a rookie. But, once they work the bugs out, this should be a bigger and more athletic group. Raiola is playing 20 pounds heavier and Warford is 6-4, 333. Fox didn't lock up the right tackle spot until last week and he's still being pushed by undrafted rookie Waddle, who has been one of the most pleasant surprises of camp. Reiff started slowly but graded out high in the last two preseason games. Gandy will be the game-day backup at guard and center and Hilliard will be the swing tackle.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DE Jason Jones, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, DE Ziggy Ansah. Backups - DE Israel Idonije, DT C.J. Mosley, DT Justin Bannan, DE Willie Young, DE Devin Taylor.
This should be the most dominant and decorated unit on the team. The ends are all 6-4 or taller and much stronger. Suh and Fairley should have much more freedom to attack. They both can't be double-teamed. One worry at the start is Ansah, who sat out last week with what has been presumed to be a concussion.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Ashlee Palmer, MLB Stephen Tulloch, ROLB DeAndre Levy. Backups - OLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB-OLB Travis Lewis, LB Rocky McIntosh..
Tulloch is healthy after being slowed last year by knee soreness. He looks like he is back to be the sideline-to-sideline playmaker he was in 2011. Levy is a run-stopping force and he's steadily improved his cover ability. Palmer, maybe the hardest hitter on the team, will start for the first time. He easily beat out Whitehead and Lewis. With only five linebackers, look for the Lions to add another before the start of the season.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Chris Houston, RCB Darius Slay, Nickel Bill Bentley, S Glover Quin, S Louis Delmas. Backups -- CB-Nickel Rashean Mathis, CB Jonte Green, S Don Carey, S John Wendling, S DeJon Gomes.
There is more talent here than the Lions have had in a while, but there is also more inexperience. Slay is a rookie. Bentley is in his second year. But in Quin, Houston and Delmas, the Lions have a stable, veteran presence. Mathis will fill in at corner, nickel and safety. Delmas is still a concern because of his balky left knee. He and Quin provide a formidable back end.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK David Akers, P Sam Martin, LS Don Muhlback, KOR-PR - Micheal Spurlock. Backups - KOR-PR Patrick Edwards, Theo Riddick. PR Ryan Broyles. PR Reggie Bush.
The Lions boosted their special teams by drafting Martin in the fifth round. Not only can he flip the field, he has also shown himself to be a deft directional punter and he can handle the kickoffs. Akers, a proven vet healthy after dealing with hip and sports hernia issues last year, will replace the retired Jason Hanson. Akers is 38, meaning the Lions got three years younger at that position. Spurlock narrowly beat out undrafted rookie Steven Miller for the return job.