5 things to watch: OTAs

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 their football activities.

This phase of the training program goes for the next four weeks. 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 4-6) during this period. One in every three OTA practices is open to the media in its entirety.

There’s a lot of work to be done as the Lions prepare for the 2019 season.

Here are five things to look out for during OTAs:

1. Rookie watch

It will be our first look at first-round pick T.J. Hockenson and the other eight draft picks and thirteen undrafted free agents.

Hockenson is expected to play a big role in Detroit’s offense as both an in-line blocker and receiver. How much will we see him and veteran tight end Jesse James on the field together?

Where will linebacker and second-round pick Jahlani Tavai line up? There’s a chance it’s all over depending on the formation and defensive package.

What about Will Harris, the team’s third-round pick? The Lions have a lot of good safeties on the roster. Where does he fit?

As OTAs progress, it will be interesting to see how the rookies fit in and how it develops over the course of the next month and into training camp.

2. New offensive scheme

Just like with the defense last year, the offense is learning a new scheme under new coordinator Darrell Bevell this year.

“It’s kind of like learning a new language,” quarterback Matthew Stafford told WJR-760. “It really is. It’s different. This is my fourth different coordinator and fourth different language to learn. Guys are really diving in, and he’s doing a good job of teaching it.”

The Lions want to see more balance on offense and win more games in the trenches. What will the blocking schemes look like? Will 12 personnel be a big feature in the system? How will the backs be used? How quickly can all the pieces come together?

3. First look at Trey Flowers

Flowers was arguably the top pass rusher available in free agency. The Lions went after him right away and landed their man.

In four years in New England, Flowers compiled 164 tackles and 21 sacks. He recorded 9.5 sacks this past season, and ranked in the top 10 in hits, hurries, and total pressures.

“He’s a three-down player with position versatility,” Lions GM Bob Quinn said of Flowers. “Affects the quarterback, affects the run game, knows the technique, knows the scheme.”

That position versatility part is a bit intriguing. How will the Lions deploy their newest pass rusher? How much will he move up and down the line? Detroit’s strength was already it’s defensive line before the addition of Flowers. How will all the pieces fit together with him and what will it look like?

4. Cornerbacks

Darius Slay is a Pro Bowler on the outside. Justin Coleman was signed in free agency to mostly play inside. After that there are a lot of question marks for the Lions.

There’s a possibility Coleman plays outside in base defense, but the Lions are in base defense only about 30 percent of the time. So, someone is going to have to step up and take that spot outside opposite Slay.

Veteran Rashaan Melvin has the experience and skill set to seize the role, but Marcus Cooper, Teez Tabor and Mike Ford will also compete. This is a big offseason for Tabor, who is entering his third season. Can he take the necessary jump in development to carve out a role on defense? Were does Jamal Agnew fit after Coleman’s signing?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to Detroit’s secondary.

5. Right guard competition

The Lions have more of a rep chart than a depth chart in the spring. The real competition for jobs happens in training camp, but the foundation can begin to be laid in the spring.

Right guard is the one spot along the offensive line that seems to be up for grabs. What will the rotation there look like to begin with?

Does Kenny Wiggins get most of the time with the first-team unit? Will veteran Oday Aboushi get first-team reps? How well will second-year tackle Tyrell Crosby handle taking some snaps at guard? The Lions are expected to give him a shot inside this spring. Can one of the undrafted rookies, like Wisconsin’s Ben Benzschawel, impress?

How things play out at right guard will be a storyline this spring and through training camp.

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