Had it not been for the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit Lions would have been allowed to conduct 10 OTA practices and have a June minicamp at their Allen Park practice facility. This year the Lions had a virtual offseason program instead.
Teams have to open every third OTA practice to the media and the entirety of the mid-June minicamp to the media per NFL rules. It's in those sessions we usually get our first glimpse of new free agents signees, rookies, depth charts and scheme tweaks.
Had this been a normal offseason with OTAs and minicamp practices, here's 10 things I would have had my eye on:
1. No. 9
We haven't seen quarterback Matthew Stafford throw a football since midseason last year, right before he was shut down for the season after suffering a back injury in Oakland. At the time, Stafford was having a monster first half to his season.
Lions GM Bob Quinn said back in February that Stafford was 100 percent healthy and good to go. Stafford said the same thing a little later when we talked with him on a Zoom call. Stafford's held throwing sessions with teammates on his own this offseason, but it would have been nice to see how the Lions' franchise quarterback looked coming off his back injury.
2. Running back rotation
It's hard to truly get a gauge on the position without pads on, but we would have gotten a glimpse at how OC Darrell Bevell plans to use his stable of backs. The team drafted versatile rookie D’Andre Swift in the second round of this year's NFL Draft. How much does he mix in with the first-team offense early on, which is usually a good indicator of the team's plans for rookies. Last year, second-round pick Jahlani Tavai mixed in with the first-team defense at linebacker early in the spring, and he ended up playing a key role during the season.
Would Kerryon Johnson and Swift share roles? Where would Jason Huntley fit into the mix? How good would Ty Johnson look going into his second season? All questions that will have to wait for training camp.
3. Jeff Okudah
First-round picks always catch my attention in the spring, and that wouldn't have been any different when it comes to Lions No. 3 overall pick Okudah. He's got size, speed and has been touted as a great scheme fit because of his man-to-man prowess. How good of a fit? What would an Okudah vs. Kenny Golladay one-on-one rep have looked like?
4. Defensive starters
Quinn went to work this offseason reshaping a Detroit defense that finished towards the bottom of the league in every major statistical category a year ago. It's possible we could see as many as six new starters on defense Week 1.
Will Jamie Collins Sr. be a predominately stand-up-on-the-ball rush linebacker? Will head coach Matt Patricia and DC Cory Undlin use his versatility to move him around? How do Desmond Trufant and Okudah fit into the mix at cornerback alongside returning nickel corner Justin Coleman? Does Duron Harmon step into a starting role opposite Tracy Walker at safety? How much does second-year safety Will Harris play in that three-safety sub-package the Lions like to run? Is it Jarrad Davis or Tavai at the MIKE? Where does Reggie Ragland fit in? How do the two new defensive tackles look (as much as we can gather without pads)? How the new defensive pieces all mesh together would have been one of the storylines I would have been very interested in following throughout the spring.
5. T.J. Hockenson role
This is a tough league for rookie tight ends. That's been well documented. There are a lot of examples, however, of players at the position really making significant leaps in production in their second season. Hockenson's had a chance to train his body this offseason for the rigors of an NFL season.
The Lions used a top 10 pick in last year's draft on Hockenson, and teams don't do that unless they have big plans for that player. How big will Hockenson's role in the offense be early on? I'm expecting Hockenson to have a breakout year.
6. New coordinators
Every coach has his own way of operating and interacting with his players. This is Patricia's defense in Detroit, but Undlin was brought in to be the DC because he's very well respected around the league, and Patricia valued a coach with his experience adding some new ideas to that side of the ball. What new wrinkles will the Lions have on defense under Undlin?
Then there's new special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs, who is a rising star among the league's coaching ranks, and gets his first shot in Detroit to be a coordinator. What will he add on special teams? Who will be his return men with so many options on the team? Who takes over punting duties for Sam Martin, who signed with Denver in free agency?
View photos as the Detroit Lions practice facility reopened on a limited basis Wednesday, June 10, 2020 in Allen Park, Mich.
7. O-line starters
There's going to be at least two new starters along Detroit's offensive line in 2020 with Graham Glasgow and Rick Wagner no longer on the team. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was signed in free agency. "Big V" as he's more commonly referred to is expected to start at right tackle.
The right guard spot vacated by Glasgow, however, isn't as clear. The Lions have a number of returning veteran options in Kenny Wiggins, Oday Aboushi and Beau Benzschawel, but the team also drafted guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg this year. Can they push for starting roles? The team signed veteran Joshua Garnett this offseason, what does he have left in the tank? Benzschawel worked as Ragnow's backup the second half of last season. Does he have that role to start 2020? How secure is Joe Dahl's left guard spot? It would have been interesting to see the Lions' initial thoughts on the first-team and second-team o-lines in OTAs.
8. Backup quarterback
Veteran Chase Daniel was picked up this offseason to be Detroit's backup quarterback behind Stafford. After Stafford went down with the back injury midseason last year, the Lions lost all eight of the games they played without him. Daniel has familiarity with the west coast offense and the language in Bevell's scheme. Stafford hasn't had a veteran backup like Daniel in his ear for a few seasons.
9. Hand role
A player I view as key to Detroit's defense this year based on skill set and versatility is lineman Da'Shawn Hand. He's shown flashes his first two seasons, but injuries have limited him in each of those seasons. Healthy to start 2020, where does he fit into the mix? How does he slot in playing the interior and edge in Detroit's defensive line rotation? If he can stay healthy in his third season, Hand could have a big role, and he'd make that rotation much deeper and more talented in 2020.
10. Jarrad Davis
The Lions declined to pick up their former first-round pick's fifth-year rookie contract option, but Patricia said Davis is still a building block on his defense. Davis has transformed his body this offseason to add significant muscle. He told reporters in a Zoom call he's worked hard on continuing to improve the pass-coverage portion of game this offseason. What will Davis' role be? Will he continue to man the middle as the MIKE? Could Detroit utilize some of his pass-rushing skills more? This is a contract year for Davis, and my guess is he has something to prove.