Detroit Lions rookies report for the start of training camp this Thursday, and the veterans join them next week (July 25). The start of training camp marks the official start of the 2018 season, and the beginning of a long grind the Lions are hoping leads them back to the playoffs come January.
The competition for roster spots and playing time amps up in camp, and some of the lingering questions remaining from the offseason start to get answers.
In preparation for the start of training camp, Tim Twentyman and Mike O’Hara will address five big questions over the course of the next five days that are facing the Lions at the start of training camp.
1. Best position battle heading into camp?
Mike O’Hara: Running backs
Training camp preview: RB photos
View photos of the running backs competing for roster spots entering training camp.
All eyes should be on this unit. There is competition for playing time and jobs from the top of the depth chart to the bottom. Even the practice squad could be involved.
Two additions to watch closely: Veteran LeGarrette Blount, signed as a free agent to add a power threat; Kerryon Johnson, drafted in the second round as a combination runner-receiver. That leaves veteran holdovers Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner looking to maintain their roles, or possibly increase them.
GM Bob Quinn has said that he intends to keep “four or five” running backs on the 53-player roster. It’s game on in the battle to improve a running game that ranked last in the league in 2017.
Second choice: Defensive line. It’s a new system, and how quickly it will make an impact starts up front for a unit that will focus more on gap control than getting upfield as it had under the previous coaching regime.
Tim Twentyman: Defensive line
It’s expected that head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will develop a multiple-front defense featuring an assortment of combinations and techniques upfront. The key to running that kind of scheme is to have versatile players that can play multiple roles. The Lions believe they have a number of those guys, but how quickly can it all come together?
We talk a lot about the club’s woes running the football last year, but Detroit’s defense ranked in the bottom half stopping the run (112.5), and they were 20th in sacks (35).
Patricia said this offseason he wants to be strong up the middle on defense and good against the run. That starts upfront. The Lions are expected to feature more of a gap-control system than the up-the-field attacking style they’ve played under in previous years.
How will the Lions use Ziggy Ansah? Will A’Shawn Robinson and Sylvester Williams be the run-stopping duo in the middle the Lions hope they can be? Will Kerry Hyder Jr. be the same disruptive edge rusher post-Achilles injury? There are a lot of questions upfront on defense that will start getting answers in the coming weeks.
Second choice: Running back. I see Blount, Johnson and Riddick as the top three with the possible addition of a fullback to the 53-man roster taking up a fourth spot. That could leave potentially only one spot for the remaining backs on the roster. Who emerges and takes it?
Looking ahead at Tuesday’s question: Which player could surprise Lions fans during training camp?