10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Who will be Lions' most improved player?

Every week during the regular season Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: This is an easy one for me – second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson.

We saw his potential right out of the gate last year when he caught six passes for 131 yards and a score Week 1 in Arizona. He didn't replicate that again as a rookie, but I strongly believe we'll see more performances like that again in year two.

Just go back and look at all the top 10 tight ends in the league and compare their rookie year of production to their second season. Hockenson caught 32 passes for 367 yards and two scores in 12 games last year.

Just for comparison's sake, the player I view as the best tight end to ever play, Tony Gonzalez, caught 33 passes for 368 yards and two scores in 16 games as a rookie. His second season he caught 59 balls for 621 yards and two scores. I think a similar jump from Hockenson should be expected, but I'll bet he has more touchdowns than two in 2020.

I'm not claiming Hockenson is going to go on to have a 17-year Hall of Fame career like Gonzalez, but that initial production leap is pretty common across the board for the position in year two.

Bevell wants to get the tight ends more involved in the offense in 2020, and I expect a big year from Hockenson.

20man: Bold bet, but I think you have a pretty good shot at keeping it.

Matthew Stafford was top five in yards (2,499), touchdowns (19) and passer rating (106.0) among all quarterbacks the first half of last season before he injured his back and missed the rest of the year.

He's in the second year of OC Darrell Bevell's scheme and looks extremely sharp. I've covered Stafford since he entered the league in 2009, and he had the best training camp I've ever seen from him this year. He's healthy, the arm in live, and he looked poised and comfortable. This offense really fits him with the weapons he has at the skill positions.

He has to stay healthy, obviously, but I'd be a little surprised if he's not among the top five quarterbacks statistically this season.

20man: Jeff Okudah will be fine, and yes, I expect we'll see him on defense against Chicago Sunday, as long as he's healthy (Okudah was added to the practice report Thursday with a hamstring injury).

What we have to continue to remember with Okudah, and all the rookies this year, is that this was a difficult year for them to join the league. They lost out on hundreds of reps in the spring with the cancelation of the offseason training program and rookie minicamp that are so important to acclimate them to the speed and physicality of the NFL game. This year, those players had to make those adjustments at the start of training camp, and they didn't even get a full training camp to do so.

From Day 1 to the last day I watched a full practice, Okudah's development was steady and measured.

He's got the size, speed, skill set and mental makeup to be a good corner in this league, and that's still my expectation.

20man: There are some unknowns there, especially at corner. How much will they miss Darius Slay?

Justin Coleman will be solid in the nickel, but the Lions will be starting two new cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Amani Oruwariye or Okudah. Can Trufant pick up where he left off last year with four interceptions in nine games? Are either of the two young guys ready to step in and play well?

I feel really good about the safety position, however, with Tracy Walker and Duron Harmon starting, and Will Harris also in the mix in three-safety sub packages. That's an experienced and athletic group. I think Walker is poised for a breakout year with national recognition. Harmon had 10 interceptions the last three years playing 60 percent of the snaps as the third safety in New England. He's ready for a bigger role and will get his chance in Detroit.

What will really help this unit out is if the front seven guys do a much better job of affecting and pressuring the quarterback. That makes everything easier in the back end.

20man: I expect some sloppy moments, especially from the defense in open-field tackling situations. September football in a normal year looks different/sloppier than later in the year as veterans get back into tackling mode and teams learn more about opponents from film.

More than any other year though, September football games in 2020 are going to be won by the teams and coaching staffs that make the best in-game adjustments because there's just a lot of unknowns about the opponents without the preseason tape to watch.

20man: Appreciate the support from across the pond! I truly believe this team can go however far its defense will allow it to go. I talked earlier about the stellar year Stafford was having before he was injured last year, yet the team was 3-4-1 at the time.

This defense ranked towards the bottom of the league in every major statistical category last year. The Lions had the lead in the fourth quarter in 10 games last year and were tied in another, but finished 3-7-1 in those contests.

Could the offense have picked up another first down or held the ball and milked the clock more or extended the lead? Certainly, but it's also up to the defense to step up in clutch moments and make a play. We didn't see enough of that last year. The defense needs to affect the quarterback more and get more hands on footballs in the back end.

They revamped that unit this offseason. We'll potentially see six new starters on that side of the ball Sunday. To me, if this defense can just be marginally better, this offense has a chance to be scary good, and the Lions should be in the playoff conversation, or at least be playing meaningful games in December.

20man: Second-year linebacker Jahlani Tavai had a solid camp. Like I talked about with Hockenson a little bit earlier, things really slow down for second-year players, and that's happening for Tavai as he continues to grow and understand what it takes to play a position that links the defensive front to the secondary and is really the glue on defense.

Tavai has a unique skill set. The Lions played him at every linebacker spot in camp, even outside rushing the passer as a JACK. He got great experience playing the amount of snaps he did last year, and he'll be in the rotation at linebacker.

That's become a pretty deep and versatile group with the additions of Jamie Collins Sr. and Reggie Ragland. It gives Matt Patricia and DC Cory Undlin some unique opportunities with personnel groupings. Don't be surprised at all if you see Tavai play both inside and outside in certain packages come Sunday.

20man: I expect Adrian Peterson to play, and for him and Kerryon Johnson to split most of the reps carrying the football. Peterson is familiar with the offense. Patricia has made it clear on multiple occasions he's in favor of a running-back-by-committee approach. D'Andre Swift is still coming back from a hip injury that made him miss significant time in camp, so I see this week falling more on Johnson and Peterson.

Johnson is healthy and ready to go, and I suspect at the end of the day Sunday, depending how the game goes, his and Peterson's carries will be pretty close, maybe with Johnson having a slight edge.

20man: The Lions had two big extension candidates this year – Taylor Decker and Kenny Golladay. Decker's deal came together rather quickly in a matter of a few days after the two sides started talking a couple weeks ago. They got the left tackle inked and now the focus is likely to turn to Golladay. I'd be very surprised if the two sides don't have something done by the end of the year.

20man: This is still very much Matt Patricia's scheme and overall philosophy, but Undlin certainly has added some of his influences and input into that side of the ball.

There are a few things I've noticed, like more four defensive line packages than I remember seeing in the past. Undlin will also be calling the plays, so how he sees it and calls it will naturally be different. Patricia will still have all the input he wants as the head coach.

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