Finally, it’s time to get our first real glimpse of what this Detroit Lions football team under new head coach Matt Patricia looks like.
This week begins Phase III of the offseason training program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team activity, or “OTAs”. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.
One in every three of those OTAs is required to be open to the media in its entirety, which means we’ll get our first look at personnel groupings and schemes.
Here are five things I’ll be on the lookout for during this week’s open session:
**1. Where does first-round pick Frank Ragnow line up?
Ragnow, the 20th overall pick in last month’s NFL Draft, has been described as an interior offensive lineman. In fact, the Lions list Ragnow as an offensive lineman on the official roster.
He played both center and guard at Arkansas, and Lions GM Bob Quinn said after drafting Ragnow that the team would put him and veteran Graham Glasgow on the field together and see who fits better where, and which combination makes the Lions a better unit upfront.
Will Ragnow begin the open OTA at center or left guard? Will he rotate between both? Stay tuned.
2. What will the base scheme on defense look like?
Patricia has said on multiple occasions his defense doesn’t really feature a “base” defense. It’s rather multiple, and can change from week to week. Still, the Lions haven’t employed elements of a 3-4 defense since the mid 90s.
If we see elements of a 3-4 at the open OTA, how will it look? What will be the pairings upfront? What about the linebacker pairings? Who fits with Jarrad Davis?
This will really be our first look at defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni’s plans for the Lions' defense.
3. Secondary options
The secondary is one of the deepest units on the team. There are 10 players right now on the roster that either have extensive experience or are high draft picks.
The expectation is for Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson to line up at the outside cornerback spots to start. Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson seem to be a likely first pairing at safety.
Where does Quandre Diggs fit into the mix? Is he a safety or does he play the nickel? The Lions have a number of good options for the nickel spot, including veteran DeShawn Shead, who was added to the roster in free agency. Second-year corners Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew are also options.
It will be interesting to see who fits in where, initially, and what the rotation looks like.
4. Backfield carries
Another area the Lions are pretty deep at is running back, thanks to the signing of veteran LeGarrette Blount in free agency and the drafting of Kerryon Johnson in the second round.
With Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner still in the fold as well, the Lions have some depth at running back.
How will the carries be split up? What does the rotation look like? The Lions are expected to use a running-back-by-committee approach, but do Blount and Johnson get the bulk of the work early?
The Lions want to utilize Johnson’s patience and burst to run more effectively wide this season. How will that look with the new blocking schemes upfront? All interesting stuff to keep an eye on.
5. Individual assessment
There are some individual players I’ll also have an eye on during practice.
Kerry Hyder Jr.: Coming off a major Achilles injury suffered in the first preseason game last year, Hyder is very motivated to return to his 2016 form that saw him reach eight sacks. It’s hard to evaluate defensive linemen until the pads come on and the hitting starts, but we will be able to tell if he’s regained his burst.
Kenny Golladay: Golladay showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, but they were just glimpses, mostly due to injury. His size and playmaking ability are evident, and with a year under his belt, the expectation should be for Golladay to become a significant weapon in this offense. What will he show us early on?
Luke Willson: The veteran tight end has always played second-fiddle to a big-name tight end in Seattle. The Lions’ rotation at tight end seems very much up in the air between Willson, second-year player Michael Roberts and veteran Levine Toilolo. Can Willson step into his own and carve out a role in the passing game using his speed and terrific athletic traits?
Teez Tabor: The second-year cornerback pretty much eats, sleeps and lives football. At least that’s what he said during locker cleanout day, when asked what his offseason entailed. Tabor got his feet wet at the end of last year, and did a pretty nice job. How does he come back in year two? His size and instincts are terrific attributes that could make it difficult to keep him off the field.
Devon Kennard: He has a really interesting skill set in that he’s played both off the ball, on the line and been used as a rusher in his time in New York before coming to Detroit via free agency this offseason. It seems a creative defensive mind could do a lot with a player like that.