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5 things to watch: Lions training camp

Football is finally here!

It's been a long road to get to this point. Too many exceptional people to name went above and beyond to get us here. The Lions begin full training camp practice Monday at their facility in Allen Park.

Unfortunately, fans won't be in attendance, but will have live coverage and post-practice analysis, along with player and coach interviews.

As camp ramps up for Detroit, here's a look at five things I'll be watching out for when the Lions hit the field for full practice this week:

1. No. 9

We haven't seen quarterback Matthew Stafford throw a football live since Nov. 3 of last year. That was Week 9 in Oakland where he injured his back and missed the rest of the 2019 season. The league cancelled OTAs and minicamp this offseason because of COVID-19, so Monday is the first time media members will see the 12-year vet toss it around to teammates and lead the offense in over nine months.

Stafford has been healed and healthy for months, and he's directed throwing sessions with teammates on his own throughout the course of the offseason, but it's different in front of coaches and in a practice setting going against defenders.

"I feel good, body feels good, arm feels good and all that, so I'm just excited to kind of ramp this thing up and get it rolling," Stafford said last week.

2. Jeff Okudah

It's always interesting to see how coaches use rookie players early in camp. Sometimes they're worked into the mix behind veterans, while other times they're thrown right in to fend for themselves.

The latter is expected to be the case for Lions first-round pick and No. 3 overall selection Jeff Okudah.

Okudah is likely to start on the outside at cornerback and play a big role for the Lions' defense. He has the size, speed and skill set to be a very good player in this league. According to his coaches and teammates, the youngster out of Ohio State has the mental makeup and work ethic to be great.

There are going to be some growing pains along the way. Being a rookie cornerback in the NFL is no easy task.

But what does an Okudah vs. Kenny Golladay one-on-one rep look like Day 1? How does Okudah fit into a mainly man-coverage scheme? Can the rookie make some plays early on in camp? All things to watch out for.

3. Running back rotation

It's no secret that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants to be more balanced on offense than he was last season. He wants to be a more consistent running football team, and make that a weapon he can turn to at any given time.

The Lions added players upfront this offseason to help them accomplish that. They also drafted Georgia running back D’Andre Swift in the second round to solidify their backfield.

Kerryon Johnson has proven to be a talented, playmaking back for the Lions the last two years after he was drafted in the second round out of Auburn in 2018. Injuries have been an issue for Johnson though, as he's averaged just nine games played per year through his first two seasons.

Swift and Johnson are similar backs in that they both have three-down capability and explosiveness running the ball and as pass catchers.

Lions head coach Matt Patricia likes a running-back-by-committee approach, but he'll probably never stop feeding a hot hand on any particular Sunday, either. Will the Lions have a clear No. 1 and No. 2 back? Is it a 1A and 1B situation? Where do Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson and fifth-round pick Jason Huntley fit into the mix?

How the Lions mix up the reps and position groups at the running back position will be fun to watch.

4. Competition at guard

This is one area where the Lions look to have a good mix of veteran experience and young talent. Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins and Oday Aboushi have 89 career starts between them. Dahl returns as the incumbent starter at left guard.

The team selected guards Jonah Jackson (Ohio State) and Logan Stenberg (Kentucky) in back-to-back selections in the third and fourth rounds of the draft this offseason. The team also returns second-year guard Beau Benzschawel, a player they liked and developed all last season as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Jackson might have a heads up on the competition for the starting right guard spot being a third-round pick, but that certainly won't guarantee he wins it. It should be an open competition for those two starting spots with the competition making all involved better for being a part of it.

View photos from workouts during Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage on Aug. 12, 2020.

5. Defensive improvements

Lions GM Bob Quinn completely revamped the defensive side of the ball this offseason with new starters expected at every level of the defense. It's possible the Lions end up with at least six new starters on that side of the ball heading into Week 1.

Detroit ranked near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category on defense last year. While their 11 fumble recoveries ranked in the top seven, their seven interceptions were tied for the fewest among the league's 32 teams. Detroit finished 24th in total takeaways and 29th in sacks.

The Lions need more players upfront who can affect the quarterback and more guys in the back who can get their hands on the football. That's one of the things I'll be looking for early on. How many players upfront can get to Stafford and affect the play? How many times will we see the ball hit the ground as the result of a good play on defense?

The Lions know they have to be better on defense in 2020 to get where they want to go. I want to see how the new pieces on defense come together and what influences new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin has on that unit.

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