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5 things to watch: Rookie minicamp

The Detroit Lions have their rookie minicamp scheduled for this weekend, which means we get to see Detroit's draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players on the field in a Lions uniform for the first time.

It's a fun time in the offseason as the rookies get their first taste of NFL life while preparing to join the veterans in OTAs in the coming weeks.

Here are five things I'll be looking out for during Saturday's open practice to the media:

1. Gibbs' versatility

Detroit used the No. 12 overall pick on Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, but the Lions view him as much more than just a running back.

"I know a lot will be said, 'You acquired a running back in the first round?' We didn't acquire a running back in the first round," Lions general manager Brad Holmes said. "We acquired an elite weapon to keep our offense explosive in the first round."

The Lions plan to line Gibbs up all over the field to utilize his 4.3 speed both handing the ball off and throwing it to him. That means some reps at receiver too. Where does he line up this weekend? How much can that speed make an impact?

2. Where does Branch fit in?

Some analysts believe second-round pick Brian Branch was the Day 2 steal of the draft. He started for Nick Saban at Alabama as a freshman, which says a little something about his maturity, football IQ and his versatile skillset.

Branch played mainly as a nickel corner in Alabama's defense, but he can also play either safety spots and is expected to be a matchup piece in Aaron Glenn's defense in Detroit. He's a first-round talent the Lions were able to acquire in Round 2. Where do we see him line up the most this weekend?

3. Helping to stop the run

The Lions ranked 29th against the run last season and two rookies drafted in the first three rounds – linebacker Jack Campbell (first round) and defensive tackle Brodric Martin (third round) – are expected to be impact players in helping Detroit be better in that aspect of the defense in 2023.

Campbell was the top-ranked linebacker in the draft and was a beast against the run at Iowa. He racked up 265 tackles the last two seasons. Campbell is also no slouch against the pass. He allowed only 236 yards on 418 coverage snaps last season for a 92.9 coverage grade that led all linebackers.

Martin is a massive 6-foot-5, 330-pound interior defender with long arms and a motor that never quits. Martin projects to play nose tackle for the Lions, though his skillset might allow him to move to some other techniques and be more versatile.

4. LaPorta skillset

The Lions were really high on Sam LaPorta’s skillset as the second tight end selected in a historically deep tight end draft class in 2023. The Lions have an opening for a No. 1 tight end to emerge, though they like the overall depth in that room with veterans Brock Wright, James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra in the mix.

LaPorta is tough with his run-after-catch ability being his best ability. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson proved last year he can scheme an offense for tight end success with the team recording a franchise-record 12 touchdowns from the tight end position in 2023.

LaPorta split his time at Iowa lined up almost equally inline and out wide and in the slot. How will Johnson and the Lions use him early on?

5. Undrafted rookies

Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have always viewed their roster as an opportunity for players because they don't care how a player gets to the roster. If they can play, they will be on the field.

Players like cornerback Jerry Jacobs and Wright – plus a few others – have certainly proven that to be the case over the last couple seasons.

The Lions roster isn't at the same place it was when Holmes and Campbell took over two years ago. It will be tough for this group of undrafted rookies to crack the 53-man roster, but there's always an opportunity.

A couple names I'll have an eye on Saturday are: Running back Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota), wide receiver Chase Cota (Oregon), defensive lineman Cory Durden (North Carolina State) and wide receiver Keytaon Thompson (Virginia).

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