LIONS INSIDER

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: How will new linemen help run game?

Posted May 18, 2018

Tim Twentyman answers 10 fan-submitted questions as the Lions continue their offseason training program.

From time to time this offseason Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: Good question.

This actually prompted some conversation between Mike O’Hara and I in the office. We both agree the tight end position is probably the most unsettled. Mike made a good point in saying there’s no “Alpha Dog” in that room, so the competition is wide open.

I’m very interested to see how things play out in the secondary. The Lions kept six cornerbacks and five safeties on the opening day roster last year. That’s pretty heavy in the secondary, and might need some adjustment this season if they plan to keep more linebackers than we’ve seen in year's past.

Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew and DeShawn Shead are all very capable players at cornerback. Who slots in where? Do they all make the roster? That makes six cornerbacks, though Diggs and Shead also have experience playing safety.

At safety there’s Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Tracy Walker and Miles Killebrew. What happens to one of these names if Diggs or Shead slots in at safety? I think the competition in the secondary for starting spots, playing time and even roster spots is going to be fascinating.

20man: I think the fact that both Frank Ragnow (first round) and Tyrell Crosby (fifth round) were very physical players in college is a good place to start.

Ragnow had the best percentage of negative run-block grades among centers last season by Pro Football Focus and a top five mark in the nation the season before. In 2016, he led the nation in percentage of positive run blocks, and ranked sixth in the same statistic this season before going down to injury. I expect Ragnow to play early on at either center or left guard.

Here’s the first line in PFF’s analysis of Crosby pre-draft: “Crosby is arguably the most physical tackle in the entire class.”

Most analysts had him as a plus run blocker entering the draft. The Lions look to be set at the starting tackle spots with Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner, but Crosby could certainly work his way into a swing tackle role, and add nice depth in case of injury.

I think both players could help the run game right away.

20man: This is a good question and a tough one for me to answer right now not having seen any of these guys play at this level alongside the vets just yet. I can’t wait for that first look at where guys line up, what the schemes look like, and of course, a first look at some of the young guys at next week’s open OTA.

Speaking just of the UDFAs, I always look at positions that could still use some bolstering as a good place to start when thinking of players who might have a chance to make the 53-man roster out of camp.

The Lions could still be on the lookout for depth along their defensive line. A good spring and training camp could earn guys like USC defensive tackle Josh Fatu or Arizona State defensive lineman JoJo Wicker a chance to make the defensive line rotation.

20man: I wouldn’t say it’s the weakest part of the team. I’d categorize it maybe instead as a position group with a lot of question marks. The talent is certainly there with Ziggy Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson, Kerry Hyder Jr., Anthony Zettel, Sylvester Williams and Da’Shawn Hand.

The questions are: Can Ansah stay healthy and regain his 2015 form? Is Hyder the same player he was in 2016 coming back from the Achilles injury? Does Zettel continue the upward trend we’ve seen from his two first seasons? Does Robinson reach his full potential in year three in a new scheme?

If the answer is yes to those questions, then the Lions are probably playing pretty darn well upfront in 2018. It’s not that Detroit is lacking talent along the defensive front -- though they could probably use more depth -- it’s just a matter of guys staying healthy, especially Ansah, and then reaching their potential.

20man:I expect it to be similar to that model. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia come from a team in New England that had a running-back-by-committee approach that’s been successful for a number of years utilizing individual strengths vs. certain matchups and keeping guys fresh.

20man: I could see rookie Kerryon Johnson and veteran LeGarrette Blount getting the bulk of the work early with Theo Riddick playing a third-down role. If I was to guess, I’d say Johnson ends up with the most carries, but Blount is the first Lions back to 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush in 2013.

I’m going with the vet over the rookie to break that streak because I could see the Lions getting a lead in the second half and using a trusted veteran like Blount to pound the rock, use up clock, wear down a defense and get himself to 100 yards.

20man: There will be a lot of change.

Again, that’s kind of a tough question to answer because I’m not sure what the scheme looks like just yet with the linebackers. Will we see more three-linebacker looks in base or four-linebacker looks?

I see Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard and Christian Jones having significant roles in any look. Ansah, Zettel or Hyder could stand up and move around and rush from different angles from a two-point stance. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a speed player with very good instincts, and I could see him having an nice sub-package role with the potential for more depending on how much muscle and bulk he put on this offseason.

This is really the one spot I’m most eager to watch and track at next week’s open OTA. Stay tuned for my observations from that practice.

20man: They do have cap space, but Bob Quinn has spoken about always wanting to leave a buffer for himself from a cap perspective heading into the season.

“I’m not getting into specifics about how much,” Quinn said earlier this offseason about the buffer. “But there’s practice squad salaries, there’s draft picks, there’s injury replacements during the season, there’s possible extensions in training camp.

“So, there’s a myriad of things that we always keep a buffer for. So, you’re never going to see us go close to the cap this time of year. That’s just not good business. You always have to keep that for contingency plans and for emergency plans during the year.”

That being said, if they can get a veteran defensive lineman at a team-friendly price that still allows them to keep their cap buffer, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised by such a move. Quinn is in the business of building competition and depth, and that’s an area he could look to bolster as training camp nears.

20man: Ragnow is a likely starter at center or left guard. Both of Quinn’s first two first-rounds picks (Decker and Davis) started from Day 1.

Johnson should get his fair share of carries, so I’ll consider him a starter, even if he splits a lot of carries.

I don’t have Walker penciled in as a starter right away. I do think he could be a valuable sub-package player early on, but for the sake of this question, I’m say no to him being a “starter.”

Da’Shawn Hand is an interesting one for me. Athletically, he has all the skills to be a starter. I have Robinson and veteran Sylvester Williams penciled into the middle of the defense right now, but not really knowing what the schemes upfront look like, that’s a guess. I say Hand starts out as a rotational player with a great opportunity to step into a starter role sooner rather than later.

The Lions are set at tackle with Decker and Wagner, so Crosby likely competes for a backup/swing tackle role.

Nick Bawden is the only fullback on the roster, but I see the Lions in more three-receiver, one tight end and one back sets than anything else based on the strengths of their skill position players.

So, I’d say two starters right away with the potential for one or two more sooner rather than later.

20man: I think Quinn loves competition at every spot. Quinn obviously has some experience with Cassel from their days in New England together. Cassel’s played in 106 games with 81 starts. Rudock’s played in three career games with no starts.

Rudock has the advantage of knowing Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme, but I suspect it won’t take a veteran like Cassel long to get up to speed.

I expect it to be a fair and open competition with the play on the field in training camp and the preseason being the determining factor.