TWENTYMAN: 5 positions to watch this offseason

The Detroit Lions are in Phase II of the offseason training program, which means players can have on-field workouts that may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a separate position basis. There are still no live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills permitted.

Phase III consists of the next four weeks of the program, when teams can conduct 10 OTA practices. That’s when 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills begin. It’s also when coaches will begin to see what progress returning players have made from last season, how new players fit into the mix, and how the rookies are assimilating themselves to this league alongside the veterans.

While the real competition for starting and roster spots doesn’t happen in earnest until training camp in August, the OTAs are a good spot to make a good first impression for the 2017 season.

Here are five positions where the competition could be fun to watch all spring and summer leading into training camp:

STARTING LEFT GUARD

Candidates: Graham Glasgow, Laken Tomlinson, Joe Dahl

Twentyman: This one could go right up until the first week of the regular season.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said at the league meetings in March that Tomlinson, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, went back to work right after the season to try and improve his craft. Tomlinson’s been in and out of the starting lineup his first two years, and needs to find some level of consistency if he’s going to get the nod to man the left guard spot permanently.

Glasgow replaced Tomlinson as a starter Week 6, and Tomlinson only got back into the starting lineup when Glasgow had to shift over to center to end the season because Travis Swanson suffered a concussion. Glasgow is a mauler, and looked more and more comfortable in the starting lineup as the season progressed.

Then there’s Dahl, who the Lions picked in the fifth round in last year’s draft. Lions general manager Bob Quinn really liked the way Dahl improved as his rookie season progressed, even though Lions fans didn’t get to see it on the field on Sunday’s. The Lions had to basically teach Dahl how to run block, which he wasn’t asked to do much of in Washington State’s high-octane passing attack. He picked it up well. Quinn seemed like he was looking forward to seeing what kind of player Dahl’s become to start the spring.

ALL THREE LINEBACKER SPOTS

Candidates: Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Nick Bellore

Twentyman: The linebacker position, along with the offensive line and secondary, went through the most transition this offseason. Worrilow and Bellore were signed as free agents, and Davis and Reeves-Maybin were among Quinn’s first four picks in this year’s draft.

Quinn said after the draft he saw Davis at the MIKE, and hoped he’d be the player in the middle of the defense calling the plays for a long time. One must believe that Davis will get every shot to win the MIKE job.

What does that mean for Whitehead, who manned that spot all last season? He could still be in the mix at the MIKE, but it would also make sense to put him back at the SAM, a position he’s played in this scheme before. He and Williams could have a good competition for that spot.

Worrilow could also throw his hat into the MIKE or WILL mix. It could turn into a nice competition between him and Reeves-Maybin for the starting WILL spot.

However it turns out at all three positions, the Lions should be faster and much improved as a collective unit at linebacker.

CORNERBACK

Candidates: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, DJ Hayden, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Johnson Bademosi, Alex Carter, Adairius Barnes, Charles Washington

Twentyman: The Lions kept five cornerbacks and five safeties on the Week 1 roster last season. That could be the case again this year, or there could be some variation, maybe six corners and four safeties. How it will ultimately break down is unknown. What is known is that the competition for however many spots they decide to keep is expected to be fierce.

Slay has one of the starting spots on the outside, but that’s about all we know at this point.

Nevin Lawson played well as a first-year starter last season, but he’ll be pushed by second-round pick Tabor and free-agent signee Hayden.

Diggs had a bit of a sophomore slump in the slot after earning a starting spot there as a rookie. His 2016 season ended early due to injury, but he’ll no-doubt be looking for a bounce-back year. Agnew, a fifth-round pick this year, will look to unseat the incumbent on the inside. Agnew and his 4.3 speed add a different element in the slot than Diggs' more physical style. Hayden, who played in the nickel last year in Oakland, could also get a look inside.

Then there’s Bademosi, who played a backup role at cornerback on defense last year, but was one of the team’s best special teamers, along with safety Don Carey. Where does he fit into the mix?

Carter, Barnes and Washington will try and show they’re worthy of one of those final spots on the roster at the position.

STARTING DEFENSIVE END OPPOSITE ZIGGY ANSAH

Candidates: Kerry Hyder, Armonty Bryant, Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Pat O’Connor, Brandon Copeland

Twentyman: Hyder, Bryant and Washington appear to be the Top 3 candidates entering the spring.

Hyder led the Lions with eight sacks last season, and has made the move from defensive tackle to defensive end seamlessly after dropping weight and making the switch last offseason. He’s had an opportunity to train as a defensive end exclusively all offseason.

Bryant showed terrific promise in the five games he played with Detroit last season. He recorded three sacks before injuring a knee in his fifth game and was lost for the rest of the season. What can he do across a 16-game slate when healthy?

Washington recorded two sacks in 15 games as a role player in Chicago’s 3-4 defense last season. But shortly after signing in Detroit this offseason, he said he chose the Lions because he thought their scheme was a much better fit for his skill set.

Zettel is kind of a wild card. He’s super athletic. We’ll have to see what an offseason did for his development. Rookies Ledbetter and O’Connor will have to learn the ropes before we start talking about them having starting potential.

THIRD RECEIVER

Candidates: Kenny Golladay, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones, Keshawn Martin

Twentyman: Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. are 1A and 1B at the position. Who might slot in as the third man is kind of hard to predict right now not knowing the status of Anquan Boldin, who led the Lions with eight touchdowns last season. We know he’s going to play a 15th NFL season, but he has yet to decide where. If he selects the Lions and they're interested, he figures to be a fixture in the slot again.

The fact that Tate is so versatile, and can play really any receiver position, makes Golladay an interesting selection for that third receiver spot on the outside. He’s 6-foot-4, 218 pounds and could emerge as a factor down the field and in the red zone.

Billingsley is also an interesting candidate. He was the team’s leading receiver in the preseason, and was promoted to the active roster late last season. He’s shifty, fast and could throw his hat into the mix in the slot, especially if Boldin signs elsewhere.

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