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3 Detroit Lions position battles to watch this training camp

Competition is fierce

Ameer Abdullah #21 of the Detroit Lions lowers his shoulder as he prepares to be tackled by Winston Guy #27 of the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of the game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Ameer Abdullah #21 of the Detroit Lions lowers his shoulder as he prepares to be tackled by Winston Guy #27 of the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of the game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions opened training camp Friday in Allen Park, and with that kicks off the unofficial start of football season. 

Led by new head coach Matt Patricia, the Lions look a little different than they did one year ago. 

Here are the top three position battles to watch for as the Lions get their season underway.

Fourth-string running back

Free agent addition LeGarrette Blount is set to be at least the 1A to rookie Kerryon Johnson's 1B in the Lions running back room this season. 

Veteran Theo Riddick will continue to be a pass-game specialist out of the backfield, so that leaves just a few players for the fourth-string spot.

It's really starting to seem like fourth-year running back Ameer Abdullah is on his last chance to make a lasting impression with general manager Bob Quinn and company. He started out the 2017 strong, but ultimately finished with just 552 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Zach Zenner is another player to watch for. He has huge upside on special teams and is a change-of-pace back compared to Johnson and Riddick. He only played in eight games in 2017 due to injury, but keep an eye on Zenner solely because of his consistent play on special teams.

The Lions could opt to keep two running backs, which would give Dwayne Washington a shot to crack the lineup, but that is still up in the air and will be something we find more about later in the preseason.

Starting cornerback

There is no question Darius Slay is the No. 1 cornerback on the team, but who is right behind him?

Competition is expected to heat up between second-year cornerback Teez Tabor, newcomer DeShawn Shead and 2017 started Nevin Lawson.

According to local reports, Shead was playing with the first-team defense to begin training camp, with Tabor on the second-team. Tabor was drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft and was a superstar with the Florida Gators, but didn't play much right away his rookie season. He started just one game -- Week 16 against Cincinnati -- and totaled 12 tackles.

Shead enters his first season with the Lions after spending his first six years in the league with the Seattle Seahawks. He played in only two games last year due to injury, and has never played an entire 16-game season. His best season was in 2016, where he played in 15 games and had 81 tackles, 14 passes defended, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble.

Lawson started 15 games last year in Detroit, totaling 47 tackles, four passes defended and one forced fumble.

Backup quarterback

Whether you like him or not, Matthew Stafford is your starting quarterback. Who Stafford's backup is, however, is up for debate.

Third-year quarterback Jake Rudock is competing with veteran Matt Cassel for the backup job, and as of now it seems neck-and-neck. I wouldn't expect to know the answer to this question until the last week of August, when both will have extended playing time in the fourth week of preseason games against the Cleveland Browns.

Rudock's only game action of 2017 came against the Baltimore Ravens. He was 3-of-5 for 24 yards and 1 interception. Cassel played in two games for the Tennessee Titans last season and complete 25-of-42 passes for 162 yards, 1 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.