Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
It was a Happy New Year’s Day for nine players, as the Lions signed them to futures contracts. What that means is that the player is tendered for the 2013 season after ending the 2012 season not on an active NFL roster. It’s most common with practice squad players or street free agents who fill a niche, and that pretty well sums up the players the Lions signed.
Rodney Austin, G/C, Elon–was an undrafted rookie who spent the year on the Lions practice squad. Guys he practiced with and against on both sides of the ball praised Austin’s ability, and he figures to have the early leg up on the top interior reserve lineman gig. It’s interesting to note that George Yarno, who was let go yesterday, was the person primarily responsible for coaching Austin. For those of you who like to concoct mock drafts, consider Austin the equivalent of a 5th round pick as a guard/center. He is the most likely of this group to actually make a dent in the NFL.
Carmen Messina, LB, New Mexico–another undrafted free agent rookie, Messina survived to the final cut and spent the entire season on the Lions practice squad. He will compete again for a reserve LB spot and special teams role in 2013.
Devin Moore, RB, Wyoming–Moore is an older player, originally an undrafted free agent in 2009 who signed with the Colts and made a brief appearance on their active roster in 2010. He is small but speedy. Moore is probably best known for staging his own personal workout just outside Lucas Oil Field during the Combine when he wasn’t invited to the 2009 event. He does not have practice squad eligibility going forward, so he will either make the active roster or hit the street.
Troy Burrell, WR, Wayne State–The diminutive local product was an early cut in training camp, released when the team signed QB RJ Archer (remember him?). He remained on the street until November when the Lions brought him back. With a strong offseason he could challenge to make the roster as the backup slot receiver. A word of advice for Burrell: work on return man skills, that’s a clearer path to making it in Detroit.
Conroy Black, CB, Utah–Black spent most of the season on Detroit’s practice squad. Speed is his calling card, as he is a former track star originally from Jamaica and their vaunted youth running program. In pre-draft workouts Black ran 4.37 twice and once ran the 100 meters in 10.27. He is essentially a rawer, less physical version of Jonte Green but has legit developmental upside. One coach I spoke with midseason told me Black had improved quite a bit in the short time they’ve had him. He has an outside chance at being the #6 corner but will probably spend all of 2013 on the practice squad as well. As I would advise Burrell: learn to return, Mr. Black!
Lance Long, WR, Mississippi State–This is probably the most familiar name on the list for Lions fans, as the Vanilla Gorilla was signed late in the year when Ryan Broyles got hurt. He didn’t make it to game day active status, but Long’s local status and catchy nickname brought him notoriety. Like Moore, Long no longer has practice squad eligibility, which is why he was on the street and out of football for the first 3 months of the season without even getting a tryout.
Dominique Curry, WR, California PA–Curry is a bigger wideout at 6’2” and 225 pounds who saw limited action with the Rams as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2010 and was a gameday active for all 16 games in 2011, though he never saw a pass thrown his way. He was in camp with the Lions last summer but was cut after the third preseason game. Wideouts that can’t break 4.6 in the 40 don’t have much hope in the NFL.
Ross Weaver, CB, Michigan State–The Southfield, MI product and Spartan has bounced around rosters and practice squads since going undrafted in 2010. Coaches like his size at 6’2” but he lacks great speed and burst. In referencing my pre-draft notes on Weaver I noted “lacks awareness” more than once, which simultaneously makes him a logical signing for this particular team and makes him a longshot to actually stick.
Lionel Smith, DB, Texas A&M–Smith is a Katrina émigré to Houston who has the body of a corner but the skills and attributes of a safety. At TAMU he was very good at blitzing from the slot and has some return experience even though he lacks great speed. He spent the season on the Lions practice squad