Skip to main content

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 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 Friday's open practice to the media:

1. The plan for Arnold and Rakestraw Jr.

The Lions walked away from the draft with the top two cornerbacks on their board after moving up from No. 29 to No. 24 to select Alabama's Terrion Arnold and then taking Missouri's Ennis Rakestraw Jr. at No. 61.

Arnold and Rakestraw were primarily outside cornerbacks in college, but both have experience playing inside too. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn likes to cross-train his cornerbacks in both spots when he can, and it will be interesting to see if that's the case for both Arnold and Rakestraw from the get go.

Holmes described the upcoming competition at cornerback this summer in training camp as a 'bloodbath,' so the more a player can do the more opportunity they may have to see the field quicker.

View photos from offseason workouts on Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

2. Vaki's versatility

Touted as one of the most versatile players in the entire draft, the Lions envision Sione Vaki as an offensive and special teams weapon initially, but his ability to also play safety on defense makes him a bit of a unicorn on this roster.

After selecting Vaki, Holmes talked about his running and pass catching ability really standing out on tape for a player who was just playing running back because the team needed it after being decimated by injury.

"I first saw him when he had first made the switch when they got kind of short at running back there at Utah. They just had him fill in," Holmes said. "But we were more so looking at him as a safety, but he looks so natural as a runner.

"I was like, 'wait, where did these backyard instincts of his come from of just him running the ball and making these plays?' Not only does he have these instincts that are (more) natural (than) we thought, he's not even majoring in it. He just did that because they just got kind of shorthanded and he was like, 'oh, you need a running back? I'll help out.'

"And he started making these plays running the ball and in the passing game. When I saw that, I was like, 'he's not even majoring in this and he's looking like that?'"

Holmes also said he thought Vaki was one of the best special teams players in the entire draft. That's an important part of the game here in Detroit.

With the new kickoff rules in place, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Vaki returning kicks this weekend and during open OTAs when the rookies join the veterans. It will be interesting to see how the Lions deploy him on offense and if he can push Craig Reynolds and others for the No. 3 running back spot.

3. Manu's size and athleticism

There are not many humans roaming the planet that measure in at 6-foot-8 and weigh 354 pounds. Add in the fact that fourth-round pick Giovanni Manu can run the 40-yard dash in under 5.0 seconds and jump over 33 inches in the vertical at that size, and the number of people with all those traits can probably be counted on one hand.

Manu was one of the most athletic players in the entire draft, but he comes from the University of British Columbia and he's about to experience a huge jump in competition level this weekend and then another jump in a couple weeks when he joins the likes of Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker in the offensive line room and squares off against players like Aidan Hutchinson, Marcus Davenport, James Houston and others.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the size and athleticism translates to this level and how quickly it will take him to adjust to the increased competition level.

4. Wingo's first step

When Holmes first started studying LSU defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo, he thought he was watching an interior-exclusive player along the defensive line.

"I originally was just looking at him as purely just a defensive tackle that was just going to be playing inside," Holmes said. " I was like, 'Man, I'm not sure.' But when I kept watching him, his rush ability really started to come to light.

"I kind of put him in a different box – a little bit like when we talked about (Josh) Paschal when Paschal came out. It's like, 'OK, can he play on the edge on first and second down, and can he do some inside rush?' Wingo, he's got a lot of good stuff on tape as an edge rusher actually, surprisingly."

One of the things that jumps out when watching Wingo is his ability to shoot a gap and be disruptive in the pass game. At 6-foot, 284 pounds, he is a bit undersized, but he makes up for that with a compact and powerful frame with first-step quickness, strong hands and a high football IQ.

His true evaluation will come when the pads come on and the hitting starts upfront in training camp, but one thing we'll be able to glean Friday is the quickness and football speed and how that might translate to a versatile role upfront along Detroit's defensive line.

View photos from offseason workouts on Monday, May 6, 2024.

5. Undrafted players

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

Players like tight end Brock Wright and Reynolds – 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 three years ago. In fact, this is the most complete the roster has been heading into the offseason training program in their tenure. It will be tough for this group of undrafted rookies to crack the 53-man roster, but there's always an opportunity.

The Lions haven't announced their UDFA signings yet, but a couple of the reported names that stand out to me are wide receiver Isaiah Williams (Illinois), center Kingsley Eguakun (Florida), linebacker Steele Chambers (Ohio State) and edge rusher Isaac Ukwu (Ole Miss).

Related Content