The third phase of the offseason training program begins this week for the Detroit Lions. It's an opportunity for 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 6-8) 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. Revamped secondary
We get our first look at Detroit's revamped secondary after the signings of Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency and the drafting of Brian Branch in the second round.
Moseley is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last season, so he likely won't be out there, but everyone else should be taking part, including veteran safety Tracy Walker, who missed most of last year with an Achilles injury.
Where do the Lions line up Gardner-Johnson? Who's running with the first team at the other outside cornerback spot opposite Sutton? How does Branch fit into the mix?
The Lions spent a lot of resources trying to improve their 32nd ranked defense from last season, and the heavy lifting was in the secondary. It will be fun to see what it looks like on the field.
View photos from offseason workouts on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.
2. Dynamic duo
We didn't get an opportunity to see first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs in the open rookie minicamp practice because the team was being cautious with him after he tweaked an ankle in the first practice on Friday.
The hope is to see Gibbs and newly signed veteran David Montgomery as a duo in Detroit's backfield this week for the first time. Both players are productive runners but also really good pass catchers. That could allow them to see the field together at times.
The Lions rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and with Gibbs and Montgomery there's a belief the Lions' run game could be even better in 2023.
3. Right guard spot
Detroit returns arguably one of the top offensive lines in football, and that unit might have gotten better in the offseason with Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning from a back injury that forced him to miss the entire 2022 season, plus the addition of veteran Graham Glasgow. The Lions also drafted Colby Sorsdal in the fifth round and have moved him to guard.
The competition for the starting right guard spot won't ramp up until training camp, but it will be interesting to see who takes the first reps alongside Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell at the first open OTA. Will they rotate players in? What's the order at right guard to begin OTAs?
4. LB roles
The team drafted linebacker Jack Campbell No. 18 overall in last month's NFL Draft and expect him to make an immediate impact. Veteran Alex Anzalone returns at the MIKE after signing a new three-year contract in the offseason, and the expectation is for Anzalone and Campbell to eventually man the two stacked linebacker spots in Detroit's defense.
Where does that leave Malcolm Rodriguez, who had a solid rookie season and is expected to be even better in Year 2? Derrick Barnes was playing some pretty good ball at the end of last season and he's entering his third season. What is the plan for the linebacker room in 2023?
View photos of the Detroit Lions roster heading into 2023 OTAs.
5. Second-year leaps
Players and coaches talk about it all the time. The biggest leap we typically see in a young NFL player's development is between their first and second seasons. There's a comfort level that sets in having been through an entire NFL season, and the game typically slows down for them in Year 2.
The Lions got a lot of really good contributions from their rookie class last season, led by Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Aidan Hutchinson. It's fair to expect a monster second season from Hutchinson after he recorded 9.5 sacks and three interceptions as a rookie.
Wide receiver Jameson Williams is expected to be a big part of the offense once he returns from serving a six-game suspension for breaking the NFL's gambling policy. Defensive lineman Josh Paschal is healthy after dealing with some early injuries as a rookie. He has a chance to be a surprise contributor this year.
Safety Kerby Joseph became a starter and impact player (three interceptions of Aaron Rodgers in 2022) as a rookie, and he'll likely have a big role.
Tight end James Mitchell showed some good things. So did Rodriguez. Linebacker James Houston had a monster second half of the season (eight sacks) and enters 2023 with high expectations. Cornerback Chase Lucas will try to carve out a role on special teams and defense.
If all these players are even better in Year 2, the Lions are in business to make some noise in the NFC.