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5 things to watch: Rookie minicamp

The 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.

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. Hutchinson's versatility

The Lions cited Aidan Hutchinson's versatility as one of the big things they liked about him after drafting him No. 2 overall.

"We're going to put him at the rush position in our base," Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash told recently. "Then he can play either defensive end in the sub package. We changed a lot of our philosophy up front. It's going to get us more attacking. He's got the ability to play either end spot."

It's hard to truly evaluate defensive and offensive linemen in the offseason program because of the limited contact rules, but we'll get our first glimpses of his pure athleticism and burst coming off the edge. And we'll start to see how the Lions plan to use Hutchinson up and down their defensive front in different pass rush situations.

2. Linebackers

Detroit drafted a pair of linebackers in the sixth round – Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston – and the plan initially is to play Rodriguez at the interior linebacker spot and for Houston to be on the outside at either the WILL or the SAM.

There seems to be an open competition at the linebacker position this offseason heading into training camp. Detroit has quality veterans in Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, Chris Board and others, and second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes will be looking to have a big role, but there are opportunities for Rodriguez and Houston to potentially carve out roles if they impress early.

How will Rodriguez's nearly 4.4 speed translate to the field? Will Houston be a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher in certain packages? It will be interesting to see how the Lions view their two rookie linebackers early on.

3. Paschal fit

Wash sees second-round pick Josh Paschal as a five-technique pass rusher in Detroit's base 4-3 defense, but he also sees the possibility of him moving inside at some point.

"We're going to play him at 5 (outside the tackle) in base," Wash said. "Paschal is a guy who can play inside and outside. He could be that disruptive three technique if he's big enough to handle it in there. He has great flexibility."

Don't be surprised to see Paschal try to put on a little weight this offseason to better handle the rigors of playing inside. He's not going to lose any of the quickness and explosion that put him on the Lions radar to begin with, but 10 quality pounds could go a long way to really making him a versatile inside/outside pass-rush weapon for the Lions early in his career.

4. Eye on safety

One other position where we could see some really good competition all summer for starting jobs and roster spots is at safety. We know Tracy Walker will start there, he was re-signed this offseason as a cornerstone player in the rebuild by GM Brad Holmes. But who starts next to him?

Veteran DeShon Elliott was signed in free agency, and he's got a good shot. His skill set seems to fit nicely in Detroit's scheme. But the Lions also used a third-round draft pick on Illinois safety Kerby Joseph, and players drafted in the first two days are expected to come in and compete for playing time.

The former receiver has terrific ball skills and is coming off a five-interception season at Illinois in his first season as a full-time starter in 2021. He's a sideline-to-sideline player with an eye for the football. The 19 takeaways by the Lions last year ranked in the bottom half of the league. If Joseph can show he can get his hands on the football early on, the Lions could certainly look to get him on the field sooner rather than later.

View photos of Detroit Lions rookies signing their contracts and getting fitted for equipment.

5. Undrafted rookies

Holmes said in his pre-draft press conference that he 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 he can play, he'll be on the field.

That was evident last season, when undrafted players like AJ Parker, Jerry Jacobs and Brock Wright – plus a few others – got an opportunity to not only make the roster, but have impactful seasons as well.

The Lions roster isn't at the same place it was when Holmes and Campbell took over last year, but there's still an opportunity for some undrafted players to show they belong.

A couple names I'll have an eye on Saturday are: WR Kalil Pimpleton (Central Michigan), TE Derrick Deese Jr. (San Jose State), G Kevin Jarvis (Michigan State), T Obinna Eze (TCU) and RB Greg Bell (San Diego State).

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