The veterans report to Allen Park this week for the start of training camp, and full-squad practices begin later this week. Football is back in Detroit! Training camp is an important time to get the necessary work in to hit the ground running once the regular season begins in September.
With the beginning of training camp this week, let’s take a look at 10 storylines surrounding the Detroit Lions as they begin camp:
Arguably Detroit’s top two players on defense, Slay and Harrison didn’t take part in the offseason training program.
Will both players show up for the start of camp? Having to start training camp without two starting players on defense isn’t ideal, especially when that defense is expected to be one of the real strengths of this team in 2019.
2. Can Stafford have a bounce-back season?
Stafford failed to throw for 4,000 yards last year for the first time in a season in which he started all 16 games. His 21 touchdown passes were the fewest since the 20 he threw in 2012.
Stafford’s learning the fourth offense of his career with new coordinator Darrell Bevell, who said this offseason he’s going to ask Stafford to do some things he’s never done before in hopes of making his overall game better.
3. What will Bevell’s offense look like?
Bevell wants his offense to follow four main principles – protect the football, run the ball with consistency, be tough upfront and be explosive in the passing game. So, what exactly will that look like?
In a perfect world, Bevell would like to be able to tailor his offense from week to week to best attack that week’s opponent. It’s not unlike what Detroit’s defense tries to do. Offensively, the Lions could look very different week to week, but a couple things fans can probably expect is for the run game to be more heavily featured and the tight end position to play a much bigger role.
4. Who settles in at left guard?
Frank Ragnow was playing center in the open OTA and minicamp practices with Graham Glasgow at right guard.
With Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner manning the two tackle spots, that leaves just the left guard spot as the remaining question mark upfront. Veteran Kenny Wiggins got the majority of the first-team reps there in the spring, but Oday Aboushi, Joe Dahl and others are expected to compete for the last starting spot upfront.
5. T.J. Hockenson’s impact
The No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft is a little bit ahead of the curve compared to most tight ends who enter the league because he’s already got extensive experience playing in-line at Iowa and being a big part of the blocking game.
Because of the way the college game is played nowadays, a lot of tight ends enter the NFL behind in the blocking part of their game, and it ultimately limits their usage early on in their pro careers.
Hockenson comes into the league as one of the best blocking tight ends that some talent evaluators like NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah say they’ve ever evaluated. That puts him ahead of the curve a little bit, and should allow him to compete and contribute as a three-down player early as a rookie.
6. Can the defensive line live up to the hype?
From Weeks 8-17, the Lions held opponents under 65 rushing yards in five games, tied for the NFL-high. The team allowed just 3.76 yards per rush, the second lowest in the NFC in that span and only allowed 925 rushing yards, the fourth fewest in the NFC in that span. Can they continue in 2019 where they left off in 2018?
That unit is particularly strong inside with Harrison, Da’Shawn Hand and A’Shawn Robinson. On the outside, Romeo Okwara led the team in sacks last season, and Detroit added the best pass rusher available in free agency in Trey Flowers. It should be a deep and talented group upfront.
7. How quickly will fans take notice of linebacker Jahlani Tavai’s game?
There was probably a good contingent of Lions fans who didn’t know who Tavai was when they heard his name announced as Detroit’s second-round pick. Hawaii football games aren’t on Midwest television that often, so it’s no surprise most people had never heard of him.
My guess, however, is that it won’t take long for Lions fans to start taking notice of Tavai. He’s big and fast, and has a wide-ranging skill set that was already on display in the open spring practices.
He was already working in with the first-team defense in OTAs and minicamp, and that’s likely to continue right into training camp.
8. What does year two of training camp look like under Patricia?
If the offseason training program was any indication, it will look much smoother. Patricia runs a hard practice and tries to get into a lot of situational football in the small amount of time allotted to him by the CBA to practice on the field with the players.
Position groups and players are in and out of drills and periods, and there are a lot of moving parts to practice. At times last year in training camp, the process wasn’t as smooth or as fast as Patricia would have liked. That wasn’t the case in the spring. Players have a better understanding of what’s expected of them and the pace they have to work at to get everything accomplished.
It was a smooth operation throughout the offseason training program. I expect more of the same in training camp as players are much more comfortable with Patricia and the expectations for his players.
9. Who wins the No. 2 corner spot?
Slay is a Pro Bowler and one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The team signed Justin Coleman in free agency to be their primary nickel cornerback.
That just leaves the outside spot opposite Slay open for discussion. Veteran Rashaan Melvin will probably enter camp as the favorite to win the spot, but Teez Tabor, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford and others will all be trying to make a good impression and win the job.
10. Can the Lions be a top 16 rushing team in the league?
Bevell's offenses have averaged 132.4 rushing yards per game during his 11 previous seasons as a coordinator. Detroit has finished last in the league in rushing two of the past four years. Last year, they averaged 103.8 ypg, which ranked 23rd.
Is this the season the Lions can enter the top half of the league in rushing? Bevell’s offenses have finished in the top 10 in rushing percentage eight times in his 12 years as an OC.
Second-year running back Kerryon Johnson was second in the NFL last season with a 5.4 average per rush in the 10 games he played in. Can Bevell and Johnson bring a consistent rushing attack to Detroit?