Summer NFL checkup

Summer NFL checkup

Mikel Leshoure
Detroit Lions

Injuries plagued the running back last season as the primary ball carrier. Through the first week of training camp, the Champaign native is locked in a battle with Joique Bell to serve as Reggie Bush’s backup. The Centennial grad reported to camp 5 pounds lighter than last year and has shown a burst in camp Lions fans didn’t see during his debut in 2012.

Akeem Spence
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The rookie defensive tackle was told prior to training camp that he had a legitimate chance to win a starting job. So far, he’s on the fast track to making that a reality. The fourth-round pick has impressed Buccaneers coaches and teammates with his strength. “He’s a mini-Hercules,” Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. The 307-pound Spence is in a battle with eight-year veteran Gary Gibson to play alongside McCoy.

Michael Hoomanawanui
New England Patriots

Aaron Hernandez is in jail and Rob Gronkowski is recovering from June back surgery, so there are reps to be had at tight end in New England — and the former Bloomington Central Catholic star is taking advantage. Hoomanawanui has caught just about everything thrown his direction, including a nifty one-handed catch Monday. He’s also playing some fullback, and his familiarity with the Patriots’ system is a plus.

Rashard Mendenhall
Arizona Cardinals

After an unceremonious exit from Pittsburgh, where he was deactivated late in the season for inconsistent play, the running back entered camp as the Cardinals’ starter, according to first-year coach Bruce Arians. After a pedestrian start, the sixth-year pro has shown the form he did in back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in Pittsburgh and has started to separate himself from Ryan Williams, who has been hampered by injuries.

Whitney Mercilus
Houston Texans

After cracking the defensive rotation halfway through his rookie season in 2012, the outside linebacker entered camp as the starter at weakside linebacker for the Texans, who are among the best defensive units in the NFL. Mercilus was impressive early, though he aggravated a hamstring Monday. The injury isn’t significant. Mercilus, who had six sacks and two forced fumbles last season, has the potential to be a breakout star.

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