10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Who benefits most from change in schemes?

Posted Jun 17, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman answers questions from his Twitter (@ttwentyman) account on breakout players, who benefits from the new schemes and more

From time to time this offseason I plan to answer 10 good questions I receive through my Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

Who are 2-3 breakout opportunity players and why/how do you think they can make an impact? Dixon (@dixonandr3w)


1. CB, Darius Slay: With Chris Houston now gone, Slay enters training camp as the No. 1 cornerback on the roster. He had a terrific offseason and his skillset seems to really fit Teryl Austin’s man-cover scheme. He’s big, fast and growing more confident in his abilities daily.

2. DE, Ziggy Ansah: No longer relegated to the right side all game, the Lions plan to move their versatile defensive end all around and even stand him up at times. I’d be surprised if Ansah didn’t join the double-digit sack club this year if he stays healthy.

3. G, Larry Warford: I know Warford had a really good rookie season, but don’t be surprised at all if the rest of the NFL catches on and we’re talking about Warford as a possible Pro Bowl candidate by the end of the year. The Lions certainly lucked out with Warford (third round pick) and LaAdrian Waddle (undrafted right tackle) making up the right side of their starting offensive line.

Will the lions sign a vet CB to replace Houston or go with what they have? Mike Myers (@lionsfan47)

Brandon FlowersCB Brandon Flowers (Photo: AP Images)

20man: The hot name out there right now, Mike, is Brandon Flowers, who was released by Kansas City the same day the Lions cut ties with Houston.

Flowers is a smaller guy (5-foot-9) and struggled in a man-cover scheme last year with a career-low one interception.

He is a veteran, however, and does have 17 career interceptions, which is why the Lions have probably poked around a bit. He’s not a guy that would come in and transform their secondary, though.

The Lions’ ultimate level of interest in Flowers will likely come down to his contract demands. His last contract was for five years and worth $50 million, so he’s not coming cheap and the Lions aren’t in a position where they’re going to overspend.

Also, the Lions like what they’ve seen from Slay, Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley – their top three cornerbacks – this offseason.

Beyond Flowers, I don’t see a ton of help out there that would be better options than Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Cassius Vaughn and Nevin Lawson.

Who has benefited most from the change in schemes? Charlie Hoover (@charlesjay24)

20man: Two jump out for me right away.

1. Calvin Johnson: If the Lions end up playing a lot of up-tempo (maybe even no huddle) offense with two tight ends, Johnson should really benefit from that. The addition of tight end Eric Ebron and receiver Golden Tate really gives Stafford options at the line of scrimmage in an up-tempo offense that will limit substitution packages by the defense. Ebron can be an on-the-line tight end and a big receiver (6-5, 250), which will put some stress on defenses. It’s unlikely Johnson will see some of the triangle and triple coverage he has in the past with Ebron in the slot or on the line on his side and Tate on the other side. If he does, defenses will pay for it.

2. The secondary: Austin is going to be much more aggressive with his front seven than the previous regime, who relied on the front four to get most of the pressure. The Lions are going to attack the quarterback with their linebackers much more this year, which should benefit the secondary if they can get home on some of those pressures. More interceptions are thrown in this league due to pressure than are made from good plays defensively from the cornerback or safety. It’s not a coincidence the Lions ranked 28th in sacks (28) and tied for 21st in takeaways.

Who's your pick of receivers that will make an impact other than Johnson/Tate? Justin Machiela (@MachielaJustin)

20man: Jeremy Ross has a chance to make some plays in the slot, Justin. I’m not sure how many opportunities he’ll have, but he has had an impressive offseason catching the ball as a receiver.

The knock on him when he first got to Detroit was that he was a double-catcher, meaning he didn’t always catch the ball cleanly. He was much better with that in OTAs and minicamp.

He’s going to win a roster spot because he’s such a dynamic return man, but if the Lions can get steady production out of him as a receiver in three-receiver sets, it certainly helps their 53-man roster and most certainly their 46-man game day roster.

Ross is big (6-0, 215) and can run after the catch. This offense is all about matchups and getting players in space. Ross in space can be dangerous.

Which side of the ball will have a better year this year? Stewart Hachey (@le_hache)

20man: If you look at talent on paper, it would be hard not to go with the offense on this one. If Stafford plays more consistently in 2014 (i.e. limits the turnovers), this has the potential to be one of the top five offenses in the NFL.

I’m not talking about one of the top five in terms of yards, either. Yards per game is kind of a garbage stat that is used too often in this league as a measuring tool. The Lions ranked sixth in total yards last year, but there were 12 teams who scored more points per game than Detroit. Points win games, not an abundance of yards.

The Lions have all the tools to be good between the 20-yard lines as well as in the red zone. Johnson, Ebron, Fauria and Bell are going to be tough to contend with in the red zone.

The defense should be much better this year. We’ll see increases in both sacks and forced turnovers, but it’s hard to imagine them being a top five defense at this point.

It’s not hard to think of the offense in that light.

If he can stay healthy, can Chris Greenwood contend for the starting CB spot opposite of Darius Slay? Garrett Elliott (@BigRed6810)

20man: That’s a really big if, Garrett.

Availability is just as import as ability in this league. No one questions Greenwood has ability, but if he’s not consistently on the field to show it, coaches have no choice but to look elsewhere.

Greenwood showed some promise when he got a chance to play last year, but he needs experience. He needs practice experience and game action. I think it would be very tough for him to pass Slay or Mathis in the starting lineup at this point, but he can be a role player and contributor on special teams if he stays healthy all of training camp and continues to progress.

Didn't hear much about Larry Webster from OTAs & Minicamp. How'd he look? Any chance to make the roster? Ron (@stamandron)

20man: He’s raw, Ron, but the Lions knew that when they drafted him. It’s a big jump from Bloomsburg University to the NFL.

He’s going to try and win that that fifth defensive end spot behind Ansah, Jason Jones, Devin Taylor and Daryl Tapp. He probably has the inside track for that spot because of his draft status and athleticism.

He could have a similar progression as Taylor did a season ago. It took an injury for Taylor to crack the game-day roster, but he showed flashes when given a chance because of his athleticism. It took a year for Taylor to learn how to use his hands and leverage to his advantage and Webster’s going to have to go through the same learning curve.

Webster has a lot to learn and he’s behind a number of good players to do exactly that. He just needs to work hard and listen and wait for his number to be called.

Any progress on the Suh contract front? Phillip Jackson (@PhilWOTG)

20man: There has been ongoing dialogue between both parties, but there’s no significant update I’ve heard of on that front, Phillip.

I just continue to remind folks that Stafford’s deal wasn’t done until mid-July last summer. There’s a lot of moving parts to a deal like this and I wouldn’t even pretend to know how complicated it might be.

Both sides continue to say they want a new deal, which makes me think a deal will be done before the season begins.

Any UDFAs that look good to contribute this year (I know it's early)? Greg Courter (@Grinner6)

20man: It’s really early, Greg. We haven’t even seen these guys in pads yet.

I wrote about three UDFAs last month I thought have a chance to make the roster. They were tackle Cornelius Lucas, safety Jerome Couplin and fullback Chad Abram.

None of the other UDFAs really stepped up this offseason and put themselves in the conversation among those three, but who knows what can happen when the hitting starts.

Abram is going to be in a tight competition with Jed Collins and Montell Owens in training camp for the one fullback spot. If he wins that job, he can probably have more of an impact than Lucas would have as a fourth tackle or Couplin as a fourth safety.

Will Bell become the Lions RB1 before mid season? Seems more durable & less fumble prone. William Cole (@willdcole)

20man: Don’t think of Reggie Bush as No. 1 and Bell as No. 2. That’s not how the Lions really view them. The Lions consider them 1A and 1B, with both serving a distinct and important role.

Bush struggled at times last year with fumbles (4), you’re right, but let’s not forget Bell lost three of his own. Also, Bell was the one who missed all offseason with a knee issue. Bush was present and accounted for.

Look, the Lions have two very good options at running back and they’d be wise to use both players – depending on the matchup – to keep both fresh and producing.