10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Who needs to prove himself most?

Posted Jul 24, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman answers questions from his Twitter (@ttwentyman) account ahead of Monday's start to training camp

Training camp is just a few days away, which means questions about scheme, the depth chart and position battles will start to be answered.

Ahead of Monday’s first practice, I try to answer 10 good questions I’ve received through my Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

Who would you say needs to prove himself the most on the current roster? Himanshu Zambara (@HimanshuZambara)

20man: I’ll start this questions off by saying the Lions need Matthew Stafford to play like he did during the first nine games last year instead of the last seven. That really goes without saying, though. We all know Stafford is the biggest key to success in 2014.

Darius SlayCB Darius Slay (Photo: Associated Press)

I think another name high on that list would be second-year cornerback Darius Slay. The Lions didn’t make a lot of additions to the cornerback position this offseason, in part, because of the confidence they have in Slay’s abilities heading into year two.

Coaches think Slay will take better advantage of his size and speed playing in a man scheme, which the Lions plan to play much more of this year. Slay looked good during spring practices and he’s going to have to continue trending upward when training camp begins. The Lions don’t have a ton of options after Slay if he struggles.

If Suh and the #Lions don't reach a deal this summer and both he and Fairley have monster years, who do they try to resign? Joshua Smith (@CrayolaJosh)

20man: In that scenario, the Lions will still try to sign Suh for the simple reason that they can trust him. They can trust he’ll be a Pro Bowl-caliber player year-in and year-out. They can trust Suh will be in shape when he reports to training camp every year. They can trust he will give his all every time he steps in the building and between those lines.

When the Lions didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley’s rookie contract, they were essentially telling him they didn’t trust him.

Whether Fairley can change general manager Martin Mayhew’s opinion of him in 2014 and beyond is yet to be determined.

Which rookies will have a shot at making the biggest contributions this year? Evan Geishart (@8000FEETBBALL)

20man: The Lions return 19 of 22 starters from last year’s team so we're not talking about a lot of wholesale changes here and the need for an immediate infusion of young talent.

Tight end Eric Ebron and linebacker Kyle Van Noy are likely to be Week 1 starters. Travis Swanson, Nevin Lawson, Larry Webster and Caraun Reid are probably headed for reserve roles and TJ Jones and Nate Freese will have to win competitions to make the roster.

If Freese wins the kicking job over Giorgio Tavecchio, he’ll obviously be a big (and important) contributor.

When we talk about impact and statistics, however, Ebron and Van Noy should make the biggest mark.

Has Coach explained why he is starting camp so late? Apparently did this in Indy as well. What's the theory? Justin Conlon (@jucocon)

20man: I had one veteran player tell me this offseason that the biggest difference between Jim Caldwell and Jim Schwartz is that Caldwell treats them like professionals.

Veterans weren’t in the building for eight hours this offseason taking part in meetings all afternoon. Caldwell and his staff expected them to be professionals and get some of the stuff they needed to get done on their own so coaches could focus more of their time on the rookies and young players.

Training camp is long and it can take a toll on bodies, especially veteran bodies. Caldwell believes he can get done what he needs to get done in the time he’s allotted for camp. He’s a veteran-friendly coach and he doesn’t believe he has to grind on these guys more than he has to.

Which of the new position coaches are you most anxious to see work with his group, and why? Zac Harmon (@harmonator62)

20man: For me, it’s defensive backs coach Tony Oden. He and Alan Williams are both secondary coaches, but Oden handles the cornerbacks and Williams the safeties.

The Lions are going to be more aggressive with their cornerbacks and it’ll be interesting to see what affect Oden and his coaching philosophy has on them.

He was the secondary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year and is a 10-year coaching veteran.

He’s inheriting some other young players in Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green, who are entering their third season in the league, and need to prove they belong for the long haul. What affect will he have on them?

How did Stafford look this OTAs compared to the Schwartz era? Jeremy (@kingofhill21)

20man: That’s a little bit of an unfair question because this is the first time in his professional career Stafford is learning a whole new offense.

There were a lot more footballs hitting the ground this spring than in years past, but that’s to be expected when guys are thinking about learning a scheme instead of just playing.

There’s a lot of pressure on Stafford to have a good season and there’s no reason to believe he won't with the additions of coaches Jim Caldwell, Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter and pass catchers Eric Ebron and Golden Tate.

I’ve seen a lot of players look good in OTAs when the shorts are on and the pressure is off. Looking good in the spring means little to me, honestly.

Let's judge players by what they do in August vs. May and June. All eyes will be on Stafford early in camp and I expect him to be just fine.

Over the course of the preseason, what are some surprise cuts you think could happen? Leshoure comes to mind as one. Jack LaBelle (@Ja_LaBelle)

20man: Leshoure would be one that comes to mind. That will just depend if the Lions want to keep three or four running backs along with a fullback. Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick are in. It’s a numbers game for Leshoure.

I really don’t foresee a ton of big surprises with the roster this summer.

Receiver Kris Durham could potentially lose out on a spot at receiver. Quarterback Kellen Moore could find himself without a roster spot depending on how the competition goes with rookie James Franklin or if the Lions decide to keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster.

I don’t know if those would qualify as huge surprises, though.

How will the addition of Ebron effect Pettigrew's role in this offense? Jarrett James (@MrReDikkUlus)

20man: Pettigrew’s role won’t change a whole lot. He could see a few less snaps, however.

He’s going to be utilized as a pass blocker and as a pass catcher on short and intermediate routes. The Lions will play a lot more two tight-end sets this year and we’ll see both Pettigrew and Ebron on the field together a lot.

If Ebron makes a big impact early on it will be hard to keep him off the field in passing situations. It’s yet to be determined how that will ultimately affect Pettigrew in single tight-end sets.

Which player are you looking fwd to having a break out yr? Kirk Diggler (@Thelonius_Mark)

20man: I got burned by this prediction last year because of an injury, and this player would probably rather me not mention him here again, but I think receiver Ryan Broyles has a unique opportunity to make some noise in this offense as long as he stays healthy.

With Calvin Johnson, Tate, Ebron, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and others that defenses have to worry about, a savvy football player like Broyles can very quietly have a good season in the slot.

Quite frankly, the kid deserves it after suffering two ACL tears and a ruptured Achilles tendon the last three years.

The football gods owe Ryan Broyles one.

How much more aggressive will the defense be? Marcus Gignac (@Marcus_Gignac24)

20man: Gone are the days of playing 10 yards off a receiver on 3rd and 4. I know you guys love to hear that.

The cornerbacks are going to be up closer to the line of scrimmage, the Sam linebacker is going to be on the line of scrimmage and Teryl Austin is going to bring pressure from a lot of different places.

“You’ve got to be aggressive and this is an aggressive game, but you also have to take calculated risks as well,” Caldwell said this offseason.

“You just don’t want to be overly-aggressive where it creates problems, but we want to play smart. We certainly don’t want to play scared. We’re going to make some aggressive mistakes along the way.”