There is a bit of a quarterback competition in the Detroit Lions backfield this offseason. It’s not for the No. 1 spot or No. 2, Matthew Stafford is the teams starter and Dan Orlovsky is the No. 2 (for now). The battle is for the No. 3 spot.
Former Boise State signal caller and college footballs all-time winningest quarterback, Kellen Moore has spent the last two seasons in Detroit, playing behind Stafford and back up Shaun Hill. Hill signed with the St. Louis Rams this offseason but the Lions brought back former fifth round pick, Orlovsky to back up Stafford.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew spoke at the NFL Combine, giving his reasons as to why the team wasn’t quite ready to give the No. 2 spot to Moore.
“I haven’t seen enough of him in actual games to say that you just roll with him and you feel good about it. He’s done a lot of things in practice that makes you feel like he’s very capable, so that’s kind of an open situation right now.”
Moore did show improvement in preseason exhibition games from 2012 to 2013, completing 62.5 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception.
Still the Lions signed Orlovsky, considering him a good value at $920,000 for one year and because he has experience starting in addition to having ties to Detroit.
In addition to adding Orlovsky into the quarterback mix, the Lions also signed undrafted rookie free-agent, James Franklin. Franklin is a duel threat QB offers a unique skill-set in his bid to unseat Moore as the Lions’ third quarterback.
Franklin rushed for 1,729 yards at Missouri, and eclipsed the 500-yard mark while leading the Tigers to the SEC championship game last year. Make no mistake about it though, Frankin says he is a passer first.
Franklin actually considers his running ability a crutch more than anything else. As he becomes more comfortable as a passer, he would prefer to improvise more through the air than on the ground.
“I like to throw the ball,” he said. “I switched over to quarterback my junior year in high school. I played receiver, so it was natural for me to run. So when things got a little hot, I’d just take off and run. But I like throwing a lot better.”
Despite playing everything from offensive line, to tight end, linebacker, safety, and wide receiver, Franklin believes his future is at quarterback, and knows his best shot at making it in the NFL is by molding himself into a passer-first.
Franklin got in some live reps during rookie minicamp, but did not see any 11-on-11 work during OTAs and minicamp. Those all went to Moore.
That would make it seem Moore is ahead of Franklin. But Caldwell said not to read too much into that. Franklin is still learning the position, and his role will expand once he has a better grasp of the system.
“James at this point in time is developing,” Caldwell said. “That’s one of the things that we look for in a guy in his position. They have to be able to learn without doing it. He’s a very smart guy. He works at it, he studies hard and so that’s what he’s going to have to do.”
Franklin’s athleticism seems to be well head of his arm at this point. He lacks elite arm strength, and his accuracy isn’t great either. He completed 62.1 percent of his attempts last year, matching his career average.
Then again, Moore doesn’t exactly have a rocket either.
Moore is however, more polished as a passer and has significantly more experience under center than Franklin, who ran a spread offense at Missouri.
Furthermore, even though Moore has experience in a pro-style offense, he did try to improve his footwork this offseason because the offense led by new coordinator Joe Lombardi will have different dropbacks.
Yet, Franklin is more athletic, rushing for 1,613 yards and 21 touchdowns the past three seasons. Before the draft, Mayhew said a quarterback’s arm is the most important feature, but would like to have someone who could “sling it” and be athletic.
One thing that could hurt Moore’s future with the team is he was effectively a project for former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who was fired along with coach Jim Schwartz after last season. The Lions showed confidence in Moore last year when they kept him over Thad Lewis, whom they traded to the Bills. Lewis started five games for the Bills last year.
Lombardi and new quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter might want to have their own quarterback to mold, which could be Franklin.
Also, while the Lions typically have kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, Caldwell said he’s open to keeping two and having a third quarterback on the practice squad.
Who do you think is the right guy for the job?