The third phase of the offseason training program begins this week for the Detroit Lions. It's an opportunity for the coaches and players to ramp up football activities.
This phase of the training program goes for the next four weeks in which teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or "OTAs". No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. The team can also hold a three-day mandatory minicamp (June 7-9) during this period. One in every three OTA practices is open to the media in its entirety, which this week falls on Thursday.
Here are five things to look out for during OTAs:
1. QB 1
Veteran quarterback Jared Goff is entering a huge second season with the Lions. Detroit general manager Brad Holmes addressed the weakest link on offense heading into free agency and the draft – talent and depth at wide receiver– with the signing of DJ Chark in free agency and the drafting of Jameson Williams with the No. 12 overall pick.
With Chark, Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus and others, the Lions now look to have good talent and depth at receiver.
Goff will also be playing behind arguably one the best offensive lines in football, with potentially three Pro Bowlers upfront for the Lions. He's got a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson, and a running back in D'Andre Swift who is trending in that direction. The Lions have assembled a lot of talent on offense.
Goff is signed through 2024, but the Lions can get out from the deal easier next offseason if they decide they want to go in a different direction at quarterback. Goff played really well to end last season with head coach Dan Campbell and Ben Johnson running the show on offense, and the Lions have kept that continuity by hiring Johnson as the team's new offensive coordinator this offseason.
Can Goff, 27, prove he's the long-term solution at the position? We'll get to see him play with most of his offensive weapons this week, and get our first glimpse of how he's operating Johnson's offense.
2. Hutchinson vs. veteran o-line
The No. 2 overall pick gets his first crack at the veterans during OTAs and minicamp over the next month. It's worth noting these are unpadded practices with very limited contact, which means it's hard to learn too much from the offensive and defensive line play, but it will be fun to watch how Hutchinson's speed and athleticism match up with left tackle Taylor Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell.
The veteran Decker is one of the most consistent left tackles in football and a top 15 player at the position. Sewell had a stellar rookie campaign and should be even better in 2022.
Going against those two on a daily basis with make Hutchinson so much better by the end of training camp. How much will going against Hutchinson make Decker and Sewell better? That's what I'll be watching for to start this week.
3. Chark fit
We won't see Williams (ACL) on the field yet, but this week will be our first look at how the veteran Chark fits in on the outside in Johnson's offense. Chark has already been out in California throwing with Goff this offseason and the hope is the two have an early rapport.
Chark's looking for a bounce-back season after missing 13 games with an ankle injury last year. Before the injury, he was averaging 22.0 yards per reception in the first four games for Jacksonville. He's only two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard receiving campaign in 2019.
Chark has terrific size (6-3, 198) and speed (4.34 at Combine), and gives Goff a legitimate deep threat to pair with Williams and Reynolds. Can Chark and Goff find some big-play magic as the offense and defense square off in 11-on-11s for the first time in the offseason program?
4. LB rotation
Still one of the biggest question marks for me is how the rotation at linebacker will eventually fall into place. Veterans Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, Chris Board, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Josh Woods, Anthony Pittman and others will all be vying for roles on defense, but a few of those players could be core special teamers as well.
Then there's second-year player Derrick Barnes. He had an up and down rookie season, but we all know players usually take their biggest leap forward in their second season. Where will he fit into the mix?
Rookies Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston will try to make their mark on special teams first, but both will get their chance to carve out a defensive role too. The two sixth-round picks have unique skill sets they bring to the table -- Rodriguez with his speed and production, Houston with his power and pass-rush prowess.
It will be interesting to see who runs with the first team to start and what the rotation looks like after that.
View photos from offseason workouts on Monday, May 23, 2022.
5. Injury update
The Lions dealt with a number of season-ending injuries to some critical performers last season, most notably cornerback Jeff Okudah (Achilles), edge rusher Romeo Okwara (Achilles) and Cephus (collar bone).
Okudah has been updating fans regularly on Instagram and Twitter with his rehab eight months from the injury. He's running and cutting – and looking pretty good doing it – on his posts, but how much if anything will the Lions let him do at OTAs? The goal is to get him healthy for training camp. Will he participate at all in the coming weeks?
We should see a healthy Cephus as he battles for a spot in a now crowded wide receiver room. Cephus had 15 receptions and a couple touchdowns in four and a half games played last season before the injury.
Where is Okwara at in his rehab?
It's always good to get an update on the rehab process this time of year for players the Lions are counting on to be a big part of their turnaround in 2022.