The Lions started the third phase of the offseason training program with OTAs this week, where teams can run practices with 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and full 11-on-11 team drills. Players aren't in pads, but the ability to conduct offense vs. defense drills for the first time this offseason is jump starting the installation of the new offense under coordinator Darrell Bevell.
"It's huge for us," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said before Tuesday's open OTA practice. "It's actually just huge for us just to line up across from each other. That's the biggest thing and just be able to see a real look, opposed to coaches that are out there trying to get cans lined up and trying to get the looks from that aspect of it and then run off the field and run back on the field."
In phases one and two of the offseason training program, workouts were limited to strength and conditioning and then individual instruction and practice conducted on a "separates" basis with no team offense vs. defense drills allowed.
It's difficult to get good looks and reps against stationary objects. Just the visuals of seeing a defense and having to adjust to their look allows quarterback Matthew Stafford to get into the checks and the other nitty gritty parts of Bevell's offense that need to be learned before this offense can hit the ground running in training camp.
"The more guys you've got on the field, whether it's 1-on-1 to 7-on-7 to full team periods, the more real football is. Your awareness has to be heightened and things are stressed," Stafford said. "Communication is stressed, alignment is stressed, assignment, all of that kind of stuff."
It's good for the pass catchers to run routes against defenders and not on air. The running backs have to find their gaps against moving targets. The guys up front have to block the multitude of blitzes the Lions' defense deploys and get the new protections right.
Stafford admitted it was much more fun installing against the defense than trying to run a new offense on air.
This is the part of the offseason where execution in this new offense can start to really be evaluated. It's not full contact, that comes in training camp, but OTAs are the next best thing.
"Right now, there is a great opportunity for us to get ahead in the installation," Patricia said. "And one of the things that we really have to consider with the decrease in the amount of training camp time that we have with the players from a practice standpoint, compared to what we had before, these are really critical for us from a learning, installation standpoint.
"Everything is just so accelerated from that aspect in training camp. So, these are great days, they're great for us from that standpoint."