TWENTYMAN: 5 takeaways from OTAs

The Lions concluded the last of their OTA practices on Thursday and will hold a three-day mandatory minicamp next week before breaking for the summer.

OTAs are a key element to the offseason as teams try to integrate rookies and new players into their system. For the Lions offense, these last three weeks were crucial for the full installation of Jim Bob Cooter's scheme.

If ran effectively, OTAs allow a team to better hit the ground running in late July when they report back for training camp.

Here are five takeaways from Lions OTAs:

1. This Lions cornerback unit has the potential to be quite good

The Lions improved from the 18th-best defense against the pass (252.0) the first half of last season to ranking sixth (221.3) over the last eight games of the season.

The Lions actually faced more teams (4) ranked in the top half of the league in passing offense last season during the second half of the season than they did in the first half (3). So what was the difference?

Nevin Lawson played particularly well the second half of the year filling in for Rashean Mathis after Mathis suffered a concussion Week 7 and missed the rest of the year.

Quandre Diggs impressed in the slot as a rookie after taking over for the injured Josh Wilson.

Darius Slay, Lawson and Diggs have some experience playing together, and enter the season as the top three cornerbacks. All three are young, talented and aggressive cover corners with unique skillsets.

"We've got to remember (Lawson and Diggs) were both basically rookies last year, and now as they go there's a lot of room for growth and they've shown it," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

"They're starting to recognize things like veterans and call out formations. They really understand what's going on, so I think that those two guys are doing a good job in terms of their individual growth. That's going to help us because I think they're very competitive individuals. They have very good football sense and I think they're going to help us win."

It's been a while since the Lions have been able to go into training camp with the cornerback position being a strength and not a question mark.

2. Taylor Decker has a leg up on the left tackle job

Decker spent his time at left tackle during OTAs.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn, head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter appear to have no reservations trusting a rookie to watch Matthew Stafford's blind side, given he earns the job for good in training camp.

Once training camp starts and the pads come on, we'll get a better idea of what Decker can do. One-on-one drills against the likes of Ziggy Ansah will go a long way in determining if Decker is truly up for the task.

The decision will ultimately be made in camp, but for right now it appears the left tackle spot is his to lose.

**3. No. 54 is fitting back in nicely


Imagine being Austin and getting an All-Pro caliber player back into the fold at linebacker in DeAndre Levy. Austin gets his field general, leading tackler and top playmaker back.

Levy's still working his way back from the core muscle injury that limited his 2015 season to just 17 snaps. He's talked about "retraining his eyes" and getting needed reps during the last three weeks.

The eighth-year linebacker hasn't showed any ill effects of the injury during the open portion of OTAs. He's looked sharp in drills and still manages to find his way to the ball in the open field.

He should be 100 percent ready to roll by training camp. That's certainly good news for Austin and the Lions defense.

4. Jim Bob Cooter's offense trying to be more flexible

Good offensive coordinators in this league have a terrific understanding of their personnel and its strengths and weakness.

Cooter showed a good grasp of that understanding after taking over midseason a year ago. He inherited an offense that couldn't run the football and wasn't protecting the quarterback. He countered by implementing a short passing attack that keyed in on favorable matchups and players making yards after the catch.

He then simplified the blocking schemes upfront and the Lions started to run the ball more efficiently the second half of the year.

The Lions should be better upfront to start this year with the addition of Decker at left tackle and Reiff moving over to the right side. Laken Tomlinson should improve in year two, and center Travis Swanson should benefit from getting his shoulder surgically repaired in the offseason.

Better play upfront will allow Cooter to have a more flexible approach from week-to-week.

"Efficient and successful. I mean, whatever that means," Cooter said Thursday when asked to describe what his full offense will look like in 2016.

"That could be throwing the ball, that could be running the ball. That could be fast, slow, you know, any adjective is whatever, but whatever it takes for our guys to win.

"That may be scoring a lot of points, some games it's not. Sometimes you've got to play a little slow, you've got to help the defense out. At the end of the day, flexible, adaptable, able to do whatever we need to do hopefully to help our team win games."

5. The defensive tackle group is extremely deep

Haloti Ngata is healthy this offseason and really looking good. He's strong, fast and disruptive. He's also taken on a leadership role among the defensive tackles that's noticeable in practice and should be beneficial for both him and his linemates this fall.

Ngata seemed uncomfortable in his surroundings last offseason and was also hurt. He was on the non-football injury list until the final week of training camp and really didn't start working with the team until the first week of the regular season. It's no wonder he got off to a slow start last season.

But by the end of the season he was healthy and making a big impact in the middle of Austin's defense. The Lions are hoping to get that kind of impact starting Week 1.

Tyrunn Walker is working his way back after missing most of last season due to injury. Together, Ngata and Walker make up a formidable interior pair that is both big and powerful, but can also run.

Second-round pick A'Shawn Robinson is picking up Austin's attacking scheme well and will be an immediate contributor in the rotation, if not push Walker to be a starter. Veterans Stefan Charles and Caraun Reid will also compete to be part of that rotation.

The position is so deep that last year's fourth-round pick, Gabe Wright, could enter camp sixth in the rotation.

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