The offseason training program has wrapped up and next on the agenda for the Detroit Lions is the start of training camp at the end of next month.
The Lions got two months of good work in running through three different phases of the offseason training program. The new offensive install got a jump start, and the spring is a perfect opportunity for players to individually improve their craft with technique and fundamental work with the pads off.
The real football begins in training camp, but we can glean some things from the offseason training program. Here’s a few of my takeaways from the last two months:
1. The offense will look significantly different
The buzz word around Allen Park last year when the Lions were installing a new defense was multiple. The scheme was going to be multiple from week to week and could look very different from one game to the next based on the opponent and matchups.
It could be similar offensively under Darrell Bevell. We saw everything from 11 personnel to 12, 13, 21 and 22 at times in the open OTA and minicamp practices. We saw tight ends lined up in-line, in the slot and out wide.
Detroit was mostly an 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) offense the last few seasons under Jim Bob Cooter, with some 12 personnel (1 back, 2 tight ends, 2 receivers) mixed in.
Detroit’s done a good job adding some versatility to the skill positions, which should allow Bevell to be multiple with his personnel groupings based on matchups.
2. The defense could be pretty good
It’s a new year, and there’s no guarantee the defense that finished the second half of last season as one of the best units in the NFC will be the same defense to start this year, but it is a unit that has a lot of potential, especially when Darius Slay and Damon Harrison Sr. re-join the fold.
Upfront, it’s a nice group with Harrison, Trey Flowers, Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson and Romeo Okwara. That’s a deep and pretty versatile group.
The safety position has a lot of depth and talent, with Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker and a good mix of veterans and young athletes behind them.
Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and the rookie Jahlani Tavai make up a solid linebacking corps.
Slay is a Pro Bowler at outside cornerback, Justin Coleman is an upgrade in the slot, and there should be good competition for the other outside cornerback spot between a host of players, led by veteran Rashaan Melvin.
Health is always the great equalizer, but on paper, it’s a versatile and explosive group heading into the second year in a scheme they are now very comfortable with.
3. Some rookies could play big roles
Just like Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson, Tracy Walker and Da’Shawn Hand a season ago, T.J. Hockenson, Tavai, Will Harris and potentially a couple other of this year’s rookies could see significant roles early on.
Hockenson and Tavai, especially, were already seeing some first-team reps in the spring. Harris saw time in certain packages with the first-team defense.
The NFL is different than the other three major sports in this country in that they don’t have a minor league system. Rookies are expected to come in and play roles early on, especially first and second day picks.
Hockenson and Tavai both look the part, and didn’t seem out of place at all with the veterans. We’ll see how it looks when the pads come on in camp.
4. Competition at wide receiver could be fun to watch
The addition of veteran Jermaine Kearse to the roster at the end of minicamp shakes things up a bit at the receiver position. The Lions now have four solid and experienced veterans at the position in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones. Jr., Danny Amendola and Kearse. Between them, they have 1,123 career catches and 78 touchdowns.
The initial 53-man roster always comes down to a numbers game. Will they keep a fourth tight end? Could that mean only four receivers make the roster? What do the numbers look like at running back? We’ll have to wait and see how that all shakes out.
But the competition for the fourth and maybe fifth receiver spots could be terrific to watch develop over the course of camp. Travis Fulgham, Andy Jones, Chris Lacy, Brandon Powell and a few others all made plays in the spring. Powell and Jones came on at the end of last season and kept that going in the spring. Could someone from that group jump into the top four?
5. Biggest question mark is still the offensive line
Detroit’s moved some players around, and will continue to foster competition in camp to get to their top five upfront, but it’s a unit that could stand to get more consistent than what we saw at times last season.
No player upfront along the offensive line graded among the top 10 at their position by Pro Football Focus. Collectively, the website graded the unit 16th out of 32 teams – middle of the pack.
Losing a Pro Bowler like T.J. Lang isn’t easily replaceable. Kenny Wiggins did a nice job replacing Lang last season, but can he up his play for a 16-game season if he wins the job.
How will Frank Ragnow make the transition to center? It’s his natural position, but there are no guarantees in this league.
This is an offense that wants to be balanced and versatile. It all starts upfront.