Five storylines to follow heading into voluntary minicamp

Posted Apr 21, 2014

The Detroit Lions begin their voluntary, three-day minicamp at Allen Park on Tuesday. Tim Twentyman offers a look at five storylines to follow.

The Detroit Lions begin their voluntary, three-day minicamp at Allen Park on Tuesday.

It’ll be the first time this offseason head coach Jim Caldwell and his coaching staff will be on the field at the same time as the players.

Players will be able to take what they’ve learned in the meeting room the first two weeks of the offseason training program and implement it on the field in front of coaches.

For the coaching staff, it’ll be their first opportunity to evaluate what they’re working with.

There’s a lot to gain for both players and coaches the next three days.

Here’s a look at five storylines heading into minicamp.

1. Will Ndamukong Suh take part?

A lot has been made of Suh’s absence from the player-only conditioning portion of the first two weeks of the training program. It’s been a little overblown, in my opinion.

Historically, Suh has never taken part in that portion of the program and he’s always reported in better shape than he has the previous season.

That being said, the next three days are the first in which coaches and players can be on the field together. It’s something Suh should want to take a part in.

He has the same defensive line coaches he had last year in Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek, but the team will see for the first time what Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme will look like as a whole. Suh should be in Allen Park for that.

2. What will Joe Lombardi’s offense look like?

We’ll get our first glimpse of what the new offensive coordinator’s offense will look like. How many three- or four-receiver sets will we see? How often will we see two backs? Will the fullback play a big role? Where will we see Golden Tate line up the majority of the time?

The offense is expected to have a lot of different elements in it from the different schemes the offensive coaching staff has been a part of over the years.

“The offensive coaching staff is a pretty impressive group so you’re going to see elements of the Colts and Ravens that coach Caldwell knew,” Lombardi said at a town hall meeting with season-ticket holders this month. “There are some things they did here last year that I think are really good that we’re going to keep in the system.

“Then you’ve got (assistant head coach/tight ends coach) Ron Prince and some things he did at Rutgers and (wide receivers coach) Robert Prince and some things he did at Boise State.”

Let’s not forget a lot of things Lombardi will bring over from an explosive Saints offense over the years.

What will the new “Lions” offense look like?

3. New Faces

We’ve mentioned the new schemes under Austin and Lombardi, but there was other significant turnover to the coaching staff. We’ll start to see how some of these new position coaches run things compared to their predecessors. How will practice run differently?

Also, what will a practice look like under Caldwell?

We’ll also get to see how receiver Golden Tate fits into the offense. How does James Ihedigbo fit into the defense alongside Glover Quin? Is Darryl Tapp a linebacker or a defensive end or a combination of both? How will that role in the defense develop? What role will fullback Jed Collins play in both the run and pass game? Where does Cassius Vaughn fit into the cornerback rotation?

4. Old faces

Nick FairleyDT Nick Fairley (Photo: Gavin Smith)

During his first team meeting April 7, Caldwell told every player in that room he’d be offered a clean slate and a chance to make a first impression.

Those first impressions start Tuesday.

One player who’ll be looking to make a big one is defensive tackle Nick Fairley. The Lions have opted not to pick up the fifth-year of his rookie contract, potentially making Fairley a free agent after this season. It’ll be interesting what kind of shape he’s in and how motivated he’ll be to have a terrific 2014 campaign.

How about second-year cornerback Darius Slay and veterans Rashean Mathis (re-signed last week) and Chris Houston? There are three potential starters for two spots. And where does Chris Greenwood fit into the mix?

How about tight end Joseph Fauria? He became a terrific red zone weapon for the Lions offense last season, but will he be more involved between the 20-yard lines?

Can backup quarterback Kellen Moore impress the coaching staff and front office enough that they don’t consider drafting a quarterback next month?

5. Stafford’s comfort level

For the first time as a professional, Stafford has a new coach, different offensive coordinator, new quarterbacks coach and is learning a new offense.

Stafford is a smart guy, so learning the terminology of a new offense won’t be difficult. However, learning an offense and feeling comfortable in it are two different things. How long will it take for this offense to become second nature to Stafford, much like Scott Linehan’s offense had become the last couple years?

Stafford has the benefit of having a lot of returning weapons in Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and the entire starting five on the offense line.

He’ll begin to build a rapport with Tate and figure out the things he likes to do. That’s a process that begins Tuesday.

NOTE: After this week’s minicamp, the team will begin phase II of the offseason training program next week. During phase II coaches are allowed on the field and wor­kouts may include individual player instruction and offensive or defensive drills, but still no competition against the other side of the ball (i.e. offense vs. defense or receivers vs. cornerbacks).