The Detroit Lions rookies reported for training camp on Saturday with the vets set to report Tuesday. The Lions are scheduled to conduct their first practice of training camp on Wednesday. Football is back in Detroit.
The start of training camp kicks off the journey toward the initial 53-man roster and what the Lions hope is a big turnaround in the second year of the Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell era in Detroit.
Here are five things I'll be watching out for as the Lions begin practice this week:
View photos of the Detroit Lions roster heading into 2022 training camp
1. SECOND-YEAR LEAP
Typically, the biggest jump in a player's development is from their first season to their second. Those players had an entire offseason to concentrate on football and get their bodies right instead of training for the Combine and pre-draft process. They've got a year's worth of film to work off, and now they are settled into a routine.
The Lions are expecting some big contributions from a number of second-year players.
Right tackle Penei Sewell was a Pro Football Focus All-Rookie team member last year and is expected to be one of the best right tackles in the league.
Amon-Ra St. Brown had the best rookie season by any wide receiver in franchise history after catching 90 passes for 912 yards. He's even stronger in year two and could become a huge matchup weapon for the Lions in the middle of the field. What will that look like early in camp?
Detroit's also expecting a lot out of defensive linemen Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike. They've changed schemes upfront to a more attacking 4-3 scheme they think plays to the strength of both McNeill and Onwuzurike.
Ifeatu Melifonwu split his time between cornerback and safety in the spring. How will that play out at the beginning of training camp?
Derrick Barnes got better as his rookie season played out. He could have a starting role at linebacker in year two if he gets off to a good start in camp.
Then there's some undrafted players like tight end Brock Wright, cornerback AJ Parker and cornerback Jerry Jacobs (when he returns from ACL rehab - currently on PUP) who could also play important roles.
2. ROOKIE WATCH
All eyes will be on No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson as he's expected to have a big role in boosting Detroit's pressure and sack totals from a season ago. Don't be surprised if Hutchinson gets a lot of first-team reps right away in camp. How disruptive can he be early in his career?
Fellow first-round pick Jameson Williams is starting camp on the NFI list as he continues to rehab a torn ACL suffered in January. It will be interesting to see what the timeline is for him. Will he return to the field at some point in camp? If not, can we expect an October debut? It's something to keep an eye on, but when he does make his return to the field, it will be fun to see how he fits in Detroit's offense and what his presence means for opposing defenses.
Josh Paschal could have an early role as an interior rusher, but he's starting camp on the PUP list. It's unclear when he'll return to practice. The Lions are also really high on the potential of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez. How long will it take for him to get some first-team reps in camp? Theres a lot to watch when it comes to the Lions rookies.
3. PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Holmes did a really nice job this offseason surrounding veteran quarterback Jared Goff with some more weapons, particularly signing veteran wide receiver DJ Chark, drafting Williams and re-signing Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond.
Goff struggled to begin the 2021 season, but he really turned it around after Ben Johnson was elevated to pass game coordinator and Campbell took over play-calling duties from Anthony Lynn midway through the season. Goff had the sixth highest passer rating in the NFL the second half of last season.
Johnson was elevated to offensive coordinator in the offseason and he brought in Goff to help build this new offense. The Lions have a really strong offensive line, a much improved receiver corps, a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson and an exciting young running back in D'Andre Swift. Goff has everything he needs to be successful in Detroit, especially when Williams returns to the field. Now it's up to Goff to pick up where he left off last season and start strong.
4. SCHEME CHANGE
Credit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn for not being stubborn in his ways and adapting his defense to better fit his personnel. Glenn grew up in the 3-4 defense, and the Lions were a react 3-4 defense last season, but Glenn has changed things up going into his second year.
He's adopted more of an even front 4-3 look in base that he wants to be more attacking. The hope is that matches the skillsets more of guys like McNeill, Onwuzurike, Michael Brockers, Charles Harris, Hutchinson and others. The Lions want to affect the quarterback and play in the opponent backfield more. How will that look to begin camp?
5. OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
When the pads come on after a five-day acclimation period, one of the most watched drills in camp will be the offensive line vs. defensive line pass-rush drills. On paper, Detroit's expected to have one of the best offensive lines in football. It will be nice to see Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Sewell on the field together as a starting unit. Those five didn't play a single contest together next season because of injury. How dominant can that front be to begin camp?
Beyond the starting five, the Lions have good depth with the likes of Matt Nelson, Evan Brown and others. If the Lions can stay healthy upfront, the play of their offensive line could be a catalyst in making Detroit's offense fun to watch in 2022.