Five storylines to follow heading into OTAs

Posted May 20, 2014

Ndamukong Suh's arrival tops the list of Tim Twentyman's five storylines to follow heading into OTAs.

The Detroit Lions begin the OTA portion of their offseason training program on Tuesday.

Over the next four weeks, the Lions may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.

The Lions’ OTA dates are May 20-22, May 27-29 and June 2-5. The team will then finish the offseason training program with a mandatory minicamp June 10-12.

Here are five storylines to follow heading into OTAs:

Head coach Jim Caldwell has been in contact with Ndamukong Suh through texts and phone calls and is expecting him to participate in team activities for the first time this offseason starting Tuesday.

Suh’s absence from the first two phases of the offseason training program isn’t anything new. This is his typical offseason regimen, a schedule that’s earned him three Pro Bowls in his first four years.

He’s received criticism for his lack of attendance in Allen Park, nonetheless. The Lions were afforded an extra minicamp because they have a new coaching staff and most of the other veterans – including Calvin Johnson – attended, but not Suh.

The Lions are also implementing a new scheme on defense and some think Suh, as a captain last year, should have made an effort to be at that minicamp.

Instead, Suh stuck with the offseason program that’s worked for him the last four seasons and he has every right to that decision with the Lions’ offseason program being voluntary.

The team will open up Wednesday’s OTA practice to the media and there will be availability afterward. It’s yet to be determined if Suh will address the media afterward.

The rookies are fresh off their minicamp and now get to run with the big boys.

The biggest thing for the rookies is to not slow the veterans down. They need to be studied, know the playbook and get themselves acclimated to how the veterans practice.

It’ll be interesting to see where some rookies are slotted at the beginning. Is Kyle Van Noy among the top three linebackers at the start or does he have to earn that distinction by beating out veterans Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whitehead?

Will Travis Swanson begin his Lions career competing for a starting spot at both guard and center? Swanson said he worked both in the rookie minicamp.

Where will Nevin Lawson get the majority of his reps to begin with? Will it be in the slot or outside?

Rookies usually fit in where they can and there’s an adjustment period that takes place. The ones who adapt the quickest see the field earlier and more often.

There were a number of players who missed the voluntary minicamp last month because of nagging injuries.

Joique BellRB Joique Bell (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Players like Johnson, Chris Houston, Joique Bell, Jason Jones and Ziggy Ansah all sat out as they were rehabbing injuries.

Caldwell told reporters this weekend that he didn’t know if Houston would be ready for training camp after undergoing toe surgery last week, let alone OTAs.

Bell recently go into a little hot water with general manager Martin Mayhew after an Instagram photo showed his left knee wrapped with a pair of crutches next to him with the caption: “Be (back) in no time.”

Ansah has been rehabbing most of the offseason after shoulder surgery.

Will Johnson, Jones, Ansah, Bell or any of the other rehabbing Lions take part in OTA practices?

The offense and defense isn’t going to look much like the ones we’ve seen the last five years under the old regime.

Matthew Stafford and Co. has been learning a whole new offense under new coordinator Joe Lombardi. What will it look like? Will two tight ends be prominently featured? How much of a role will the fullback have? Will it be up-tempo, possibly even no huddle?

On the other side of the ball the Lions are switching to an open and closed end concept and plan to play the SAM linebacker closer to the line of scrimmage. How will it all come together with the personnel they currently have?

It’s expected that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will be much more aggressive with his linebackers and secondary and will play more man defense than zone. How will that look and how might some players benefit more than others from the new scheme?

The real competition starts in training camp when the pads come on and the hitting starts.

That being said, some players can put themselves in good shape for the start of training camp with an impressive next four weeks.

The competition should be stiff at cornerback, right tackle and receiver, in particular.

Can anyone really say who the Lions’ top two cornerbacks are right now? Darius Slay has a great chance to lock down one of those spots, but the other one seems fair game for a number of players.

LaAdrian Waddle has a terrific chance of winning the right tackle spot, but Corey Hilliard isn’t going to just give it to him and the Lions are very high on rookie Cornelius Lucas, too.

After Johnson and Golden Tate, the rest of the receiving spots are wide open. Are veterans Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross in the plans? Can TJ Jones or Corey Fuller break into the top 53?

The Lions signed rookie defensive tackle Gregory Hickman after he impressed coaches and front office personnel at the rookie minicamp over the weekend.

The undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida International took part in the minicamp on a tryout basis.

Hickman (6-2, 280) lined up inside and outside on the defensive line for FIU and led the team in sacks (4) and forced fumbles (3) last year. He also had 44 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss.

He’ll compete for the Lions fourth defensive tackle spot.