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5 things to watch: Detroit Lions minicamp

The Detroit Lions are hosting their annual mandatory three-day minicamp in Allen Park this week, which is one of the final tune-ups for the players and coaches before the summer break and start of training camp in late July.

This is an important time of the year to get the new players and rookies acclimated to the schemes so they can hit the ground running coming camp.

Here's a look at five things I'll be watching out for during this week's minicamp:

1. Rookie development

It's a pretty big transition from rookie minicamp to joining the veterans on the practice field for the beginning of OTAs and this week's mandatory minicamp.

The Lions are expected to get early contributions from youngsters like running back Jahmyr Gibbs, linebacker Jack Campbell, tight end Sam LaPorta and defensive back Brian Branch, but if open OTA practices are any indication, the Lions plan to bring the rookies along slowly and make them earn their reps with the starting veterans. There were a lot of second-team reps for those players in OTAs as they continue to learn the ropes and the playbook early in their careers.

Will some of the first-year players work themselves into first-team reps over the next three days?

2. Right guard competition

With Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow absent from the first OTA practice last week, veteran Graham Glasgow played center with the first-team line and Halapoulivaati Vaitai played right guard. What will be interesting to see is how offensive line coach Hank Fraley distributes reps between Vaitai and Glasgow at right guard when Ragnow is back.

"I've got that chip on my shoulder," Vaitai said after Detroit's first open OTA practice of missing the entire 2022 season with a back injury. "I'm going to come back strong."

The Lions have one of the best offensive lines in football, and they could potentially be even better if Vaitai can return to his 2021 form. He'll have to beat out Glasgow, rookie Colby Sorsdal and others looking to crack the starting lineup.

3. Defensive gains

It's no secret that general manager Brad Holmes' biggest priority this offseason was improving a Lions' defense that ranked 32nd in total defense and 29th in points allowed per game a season ago. Holmes remade the secondary, re-signed some key players in the front seven and drafted three players on that side of the ball in the first three rounds of this year's NFL Draft.

The defense certainly looked faster and more disruptive during the first two open OTA practices to the media. That's a good sign. With how good this offense is expected to be, if the defense can take some tangible steps forward and be more competitive in 2023, the Lions will be dangerous to contend with.

4. Kicker competition

The Lions traded an undisclosed draft pick to Jacksonville in return for kicker Riley Patterson, who will now compete with Michael Badgley and Parker Romo for Detroit's place-kicking duties this season.

Patterson was in training camp with Detroit last season but lost the job to Austin Seibert out of camp. He was signed by Jacksonville and made 30-of-35 field goals last season for the Jaguars and was 36-of-37 on extra points. Badgley eventually became Detroit's full-time place kicker after Seibert and others struggled early. He was 24-of-28 on field goals and 33-of-33 on extra points last season, bringing some stability to the position. Neither kicker has a particularly big leg, but both have proven to be accurate.

Romo spent time with the Saints last year after going undrafted. He kicked for the San Antonio Brahmas of the XFL this spring where he made 17-of-19 field goals.

View photos from Day 5 of Detroit Lions OTA practice on Thursday, June 1, 2023 in Allen Park, Mich.

5. Ben Johnson encore

Coordinator Ben Johnson returns for a second season leading Detroit's offense after deciding to remove his name from head coaching consideration after taking a couple interviews this offseason.

Johnson decided there was unfinished business left for him in Detroit, and his return means a lot for an offense that finished fourth in the NFL in total offense and featured four Pro Bowlers (QB Jared Goff, RT Penei Sewell, C Frank Ragnow and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown).

A second season in Detroit means Johnson and his coaching staff are able to get into some of the finer details of his scheme, build on the successes of last season and tweak some of the things that need tweaking. Detroit has one of the best offensive lines in football, and that allows Johnson to be versatile in his play calling and schemes.

Let's see how the offense attacks this new-look defense the next three days.

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