10 Questions with Twentyman: Training Camp Edition

Posted Jul 17, 2013

Tim Twentyman answers 10 pressing questions heading into training camp, which kicks off one week from Thursday

The veterans report to training camp one week from tomorrow and that will kick off the official start of the 2013 season for most people.

With football right around the corner, let's take a look at 10 questions facing the Detroit Lions this training camp.

1. How much of a focal point will Reggie Bush be in the offense?

20man: The Lions didn't wine and dine Bush the first few hours of free agency to then go out and not use him. The team views a player with Bush's skill set as the biggest thing missing from their offense last year. They need a big-play threat in their run game and an explosive receiver out of the backfield.

In fact, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Bush could catch anywhere from 60-80 passes this season.

If Bush stays healthy all season, I can see him leading the team in carries and he could have the second- or third-most catches on the team, also.

Megatron is still the focal point, but Bush has a big impact in 2013.

2. How much better is the defense?

20man: On paper, much better.

The addition of safety Glover Quin was huge for this defense and his impact will be felt right away. The Lions are deeper and more talented in the secondary with Quin.

This is probably the most talented group of defensive backs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has had since he took over the defense in 2009.

Ndamukong Suh is dominant, but the key to the defensive line will be Nick Fairley. He has the chance to be a Pro Bowl player if he wants to be. 

The line is bigger and more athletic on the edges, but there are some question marks there. Jason Jones is getting his first chance to be a real starter on the left side since 2011 and we still don't know how good Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah and Willie Young can be.

The signing of Israel Idonije was a good one for this defense because of the versatility he brings. Also, don't sleep on the impact C.J. Mosley can have in that defensive tackle rotation.

The Lions ranked 27th in points allowed, 13th in yards, 14th in passing yards allowed and 16th in rushing yards allowed a season ago. Obviously, what needs to drop significantly is the points allowed, but I think we see a drop in all those numbers with the added athleticism and talent they now have on defense.

3. Will the offensive line come together?

20man: This is obviously important with three new starters, but it's not going to be as big a chore to accomplish as some might think.

Let's not forget that Corey Hilliard is entering his fifth season with the Lions and Jason Fox his fourth. These guys aren't new to the scheme or the other players they'll be playing next to along that line. Whoever wins that right tackle spot will fit right in.

Riley Reiff played 326 snaps last year and started at left tackle on Thanksgiving. He's played enough football alongside left guard Rob Sims to know what's going on and for Sims to know a little bit about him.

The only real adjustment, in my opinion, would come from rookie third-round pick Larry Warford winning the right guard spot. There's an adjustment that will come with a rookie learning the game, his opponents and the scheme all at the same time.

This is really an important question, though, because the offensive line will be the key to the whole operation on offense. The weapons are assembled everywhere else. It's on the line to give the skill positions time and the running lanes to do what they do.

4. Who steps up at No. 2 receiver?

20man: The Lions use so many different formations and personnel groupings that it's tough to pin down a true No. 2 receiver on this team. I think when it's all said and done, Ryan Broyles will have the second-most catches among wide receivers behind Calvin Johnson, but tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Bush are going to be high on the list of receptions, too.

The have a nice mix of explosion and possession at the receiver position with Johnson, Broyles and Nate Burleson, who looks 100 percent recovered from that broken leg suffered last season.

5. Are the second-year cornerbacks ready for breakout seasons?

20man: If they are, the Lions are a lot deeper in the secondary than initially thought.

Bill Bentley came into training camp last year the most polished of the three drafted cornerbacks – Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green being the others – and earned a starting spot.

A shoulder injury suffered in the preseason hampered him early on and limited him to only four games. He may be undersized, but he's one of the fastest players on the team and plays bigger than his size (5-10, 176). He's going to be in the mix for that starting right cornerback spot and the nickel corner slot.

The great unknown is Greenwood, who missed training camp and all of the regular season as a rookie because of an abdominal tear. Veteran Ron Bartell called Greenwood the "most gifted" player in the secondary.

Green is the toughest and most physical of the three, and was able to play a lot of football last year.

If Bentley comes back strong and Greenwood ends up being as good as Bartell and others think he can be, the Lions could be very deep in the secondary.

6. Can special teams become a weapon?

20man: The Lions have completely retooled their special teams from the top on down.

New special teams coordinator John Bonamego is a fundamentals-based teacher; so don't expect to see some of the silly mistakes that plagued this team last year.

The Lions drafted punter Sam Martin in the fifth round and he is an immediate upgrade over Nick Harris. Martin has a big leg that can flip a field.

David Akers has a stronger leg than Jason Hanson did -- the benefit of that will be mostly felt on kickoffs -- but he hasn't shown the consistency year-in and year-out that Hanson did.

If he has a season like he did in 2011 when he made 44 field goals, then the Lions did a good job filling that role. That one's up in the air for me a little bit, since I have yet to see Akers kick in practice.

The return game is where the Lions could see the biggest benefit. They ranked 31st in kickoff return average and 22nd in punting return average in 2012.

They have a number of candidates vying for both jobs, including: Steven Miller, Patrick Edwards, Broyles, Bush and others. There's an explosive element in the game of some of those players and I anticipate the Lions being better there.

Quite frankly, there was more room up the ladder of improvement than there was down entering this season.

7. How many rookies will start Week 1?

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20man: I see 4, if you include punter Sam Martin.

I think first-round pick, Ziggy Ansah, starts at right defensive end. I don't think I've ever seen a player explode out of a three-point stance quite like him. The guy is physically gifted.

One of the toughest competitions will be for that right cornerback spot, but I think second-round pick Darius Slay ultimately wins the job. He's a perfect blend of size and speed and he's fearless.

The Lions drafted Warford to upgrade the interior of their offensive line and I can see him winning the right guard spot.

Add Martin to the mix, and the Lions have four rookie starters Week 1. That's a pretty good draft if it comes to fruition.

8. Does Stafford have a bounce-back season?

20man: I could list 20 things I'm more concerned about on this team than the quarterback position.

Obviously, it's important for this team for Stafford's touchdowns to increase from the 20 he put on the board last season, and he'd be the first one to say he'd like his completion percentage to increase, but Stafford is going to be fine.

I actually think the addition of Bush is going to be a huge help for him. I see Stafford's interceptions dropping considerably with Bush as a safety valve. No need to force the ball down the field when you can dump down to Bush and have just as good a shot at a big play.

9. Can Calvin Johnson be even better in 2013?

20man: Why not? I've been covering the Lions exclusively since 2009 and Johnson never ceases to amaze me. The way he works, I wouldn't put it past him.

It might be hard to match his 1,964 yards from last season, but we should see his touchdowns increase from five last year. I see double-digit touchdowns in 2013.

If the Lions run game is improved and becomes something teams have to prepare for, then Johnson should have some opportunities for big scoring plays.

10. How many wins will the Lions have in 2013?

The most important question is saved for last.

I'll say this: if I was a gambling man (and I'm not per NFL policy), I would take the over on Vegas' 7.5 wins line.

I just think this team added the right pieces this offseason and retained some other key pieces.

If the key parts stay healthy, the Lions should be playing meaningful football the final three weeks of the season.