LIONS INSIDER

Five storylines to follow heading into mandatory minicamp

Posted Jun 10, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman gives you his top five storylines to follow heading into mandatory minicamp.

The Lions begin their mandatory three-day minicamp on Tuesday, which will conclude the offseason training program.

After Thursday’s practice, the players are off until the start of training camp at the end of July. It’ll be up to them to take what they’ve learned over the last four months through the training sessions, OTAs and minicamp practices and keep it fresh in their mind for the start of training camp.

The next three days are a crash course for what training camp will be like in August.

Here are five storylines to follow heading into the minicamp.

SCHEME GAME

Matthew StaffordMatthew Stafford and Joe Lombardi (Photo: Detroit Lions)

It’s well documented how much of an adjustment its been for both sides of the football learning new schemes. As expected, the adjustment has been a little slower on the offensive side of the football.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and Co. are trying to grasp Joe Lombardi’s play-intensive scheme and there will always be some bumps in the road in that process.

“This is a play-intensive, verbiage intensive offense and it’s something that’s going to take time,” Stafford said during OTAs. “The biggest thing right now is making sure we’re lining up correctly, running correct routes and mastering it as we go, but at the same time making sure that we’re not thinking out there, we’re just lining up and playing.”

The defense is learning a new and more aggressive scheme under Teryl Austin, but it’s been an easier process for them this spring.

“It’s easier to learn a new defense than a new offense,” linebacker DeAndre Levy admitted. “We can just run around to the ball.”

The defense was obviously ahead of the offense in the first two OTA practices open to the media. The offense looked much better in the third open OTA practice last week, however.

Can the offense continue to make strides over the next three days? We shall see.

REP CHART VS. DEPTH CHART

Head coach Jim Caldwell had a nice antidote to a depth-chart question asked by a reporter during OTAs.

“One of the things you’ll notice about this, we did rotate in quite a few groups,” Caldwell said. “It should be looked at more as a rep chart than a depth chart. It doesn’t matter when you see them coming in. Don’t make any assumptions that that’s the role he’s going to play for us.”

Caldwell is right; jobs aren’t won in the spring, they’re won in training camp. Players can impress in the spring, however, and leave a lasting impression in coaches’ minds during the six-week period heading into training camp.

Especially rookies, who can leave their mark over the next three days that could potentially mean more reps earlier on in training camp.

Cornerbacks Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis have been taking most of the first-team reps this spring. Will that continue this week? Does that continue in August?

LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard have been splitting first-team reps at right tackle through OTAs. Do they continue to do that over the next three days? Does that continue in training camp or does one emerge early on?

The next three days could give us a good indication of who might be at the top of the depth chart and who could have the edge at certain positions when training camp begins.

ALL HANDS ON DECK?

The Lions had a number of players undergo medical procedures following last season which has limited their spring participation.

Some players have been able to do more than others, but the goal for everyone is to be ready for training camp.

Players like Ziggy Ansah, Joique Bell and Chris Houston haven’t practiced at all during OTAs and aren’t expected to participate in the minicamp either. Caldwell couldn't say with any certainty last month if Houston would be ready to participate at the start of training camp. Ansah and Bell are expected back in training camp.

Glover Quin, Jason Jones, Nick Fairley, Golden Tate and Chris Greenwood have also been dealing with injuries – in Fairley’s case a medical procedure to help with his sleep apnea – but have been able to  practice in at least a limited capacity (individual position work).

Could we see Quin or Fairley get some expanded practice time over the next three days? Will Tate be back working?

DRY RUN

The 19 rookies on the Lions roster have had a crash course on life in the NFL over the last month. That will be accelerated in training camp, when coaches will have little patience for players not knowing what they’re doing or what they're trying to accomplish.

It’s why the next three days are so important for the rookies. The mandatory minicamp is a dry run for training camp. The daily schedule is similar to the one they’ll have in training camp, right down to the nightly bed check.

This is an important three days for the rookies both on the field and off of it. The Lions are expecting big contributions from a few of their rookies and are hoping others turn into quality contributors. Rookies have been slowly weaned into the NFL over OTAs. The learning curve speeds up this week.

KICKING COMPETITION

The Lions aren't just going to hand seventh-round draft pick Nate Freese the reigns to the kicking duties without him earning them, even with his draft status.

The competition between Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio appears to be closer than some might think if the open OTA sessions are any indication. Freese was getting first reps in OTAs, but Tavecchio was getting equal reps, and actually out-performed Freese in the first open session.

The Lions need more consistency in their kicking game and are looking for their next Jason Hanson and Eddie Murray. Who will it be?