Skip to main content

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Who stood out at rookie minicamp?

From time to time this offseason Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his X (Twitter) account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: Lions general manager Brad Holmes described the upcoming battle at cornerback as a 'bloodbath,' and I think that's an accurate description.

The Lions ranked 27th against the pass last year. Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell knew they had to get better there so they went to work this offseason. They traded for Carlton Davis III and signed versatile veteran Amik Robertson. They also re-signed Emmanuel Moseley, who missed all but two snaps last year with a torn ACL, and Kindle Vildor, who was a starter at the end of last year. Moseley was a starter for the 49ers before the knee troubles began.

Then came the additions of Terrion Arnold (No. 24 overall) and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (No. 61) with their first two picks in the draft. We also can't forget about young players like Khalil Dorsey and Steven Gilmore.

Competition breeds success, and there will be plenty of competition for starting spots, playing roles and roster spots at cornerback. There's going to be a couple good players who don't make the team and that's what you want. Dertroit hasn't had this kind of depth at the position in the Holmes and Campbell era up to this point.

20man: I talked about the cornerback position and the pass defense above, but the other side of that coin is the pass rush and better marrying the rush and cover. The front seven also have to own the fact that the 27th ranked pass defense was also a result of inconsistent pass rush that generated 41 sacks, which tied for 23rd in the NFL last season.

Aidan Hutchinson is a stud. He's a Pro Bowler. He led the NFL in quarterback hits, was second in QB pressures and he notched 11.5 sacks. What the Lions have to find is more consistent production from the other rushers. The additions of DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport in free agency will help. Getting a healthy James Houston back for the entire year will be big too. Detroit needs big seasons from Alim McNeill and Josh Paschal.

This team offensively is good enough to win the Super Bowl. Defensively against the run this team is good enough to win the Super Bowl. If they can significantly improve their pass defense and better marry the rush and cover, they have the roster and coaching staff to win a Super Bowl.

20man: Williams joins the Lions for his 27th season in coaching and 13th in the NFL as Detroit's run game coordinator and defensive line coach. He is one of the most respected defensive coaches in the league.

Over the last six seasons Williams has developed Tennessee into one of the most consistently good defensive fronts in football.

"I think he's the best d-line coach in the league," Campbell said of Williams. "I think he knows how to develop. He's got experience in game planning and he's going to be beneficial for our guys up front."

The Titans allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (76.9) in 2022 and allowed the lowest rushing average (4.0) and fourth fewest rushing yards (10,044) in the NFL during Williams' six-year stint in Tennessee.

The one thing about Williams that Lions fans should be really excited about is Williams' history of developing young players. The true evaluation for the defensive line won't come until training camp when the pads come on, but the early reviews with Williams have been really good.

20man: Yeah, I thought he'd hear his name late in Round 3 or early Day 3 but he lasted until Round 6 mainly because of his size (6-0, 291). He has a small frame, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in quickness, strong hands and the ability to use his natural leverage advantage to his benefit.

He's a different player than McNeill and Reader. He's more of a gap penetrator, and that's how Detroit will use him. He's got some pass-rush prowess so don't be surprised if we see him play inside and outside.

There are going to be times where big guards get their hands on him and wash him out, but that was few and far between when he was playing at Missouri and LSU in the SEC. He's got a quick first step, and I see Detroit trying to tap into that on passing downs. He's also got a huge chip on shoulder because of the draft and the questions about his size.

20man: Jared Goff is the starter for the foreseeable future after reportedly inking a four-year extension this week. Where does that leave Hendon Hooker? Nothing changes for him. He's now healthy and will get a full workload competing to be Goff's backup.

The Lions drafted Hooker in the third round last season knowing his rookie year was going to be a redshirt season with him coming off an ACL tear. He got his feet wet in practice late in the year and the Lions like his development path.

Hooker offers something a little different because of his athleticism and ability to use his legs to make plays. I can certainly see some goal line or short-yardage packages designed for Hooker to put some added stress on the defense with his ability to run the football. It will be fun to see him play in camp and in the preseason.

20man: The true evaluation of the rookies for me begins when they join the veterans for OTAs. I'm looking forward to the first open OTA practice next week, even though it's unpadded with limited contact.

Two guys jumped out to me last week at rookie minicamp – Arnold and running back Sione Vaki.

Everything Arnold does is smooth. His movement skills and coverage skills look advanced to me for a player so young. He's got a shot at the No. 2 cornerback spot.

Holmes wasn't lying when he said he thought Vaki was the best special teams player in the draft. He dominated the kickoff periods at minicamp. I was also really impressed with his hands for a player who only played running back in college as an injury replacement. He could make an immediate impact on special teams and work his way into the offense as a versatile weapon.

20man: That's really up to Manu and how he handles the considerable jump in competition going from the University of British Columbia to the NFL. The one thing that can't be taught is size like 6-foot-7, 354 pounds. It's an extremely put together 354 pounds.

The good thing for Manu is the Lions can bring him along at his own pace with established starters at the position like Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker and an established backup in Dan Skipper. It's going to take time, but Manu has said all the right things and looks to have a terrific work ethic. It's a pick for 2025, but Manu can change that timeline if he puts his head down, picks up what offensive line coach Hank Fraley is teaching him and takes notes from Sewell and Decker.

20man: It's a fair question. The re-signing of C.J. Moore after he missed 2023 due to a gambling suspension certainly helps the depth behind starters Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu. Brandon Joseph and Chelen Garnes are also in the mix at safety.

One thing that will be interesting to monitor is if the Lions continue to cross-train second-year defensive back Brian Branch at safety. They abandoned that plan midseason last year to let Branch focus on the nickel and not to put too much on his plate. Now with a year under his belt will they train him there again? That would give them options both at safety and the nickel, with Robertson and Rakestraw also having the ability to play inside in the slot.

20man: I don't think there will be major scheme changes. The personnel improvements will allow him to be more versatile with his calls, however. I think Glenn will have much more confidence bringing pressure with the ability to cover one-on-one behind it. I think overall he'll feel much better about playing more man coverage.

If Detroit can get more pressure on the quarterback with just their front four they are in a much better position to cover behind it heading into 2024, and that opens up every coverage scheme in the book.

20man: I certainly got a lot of congratulations at the NFL Scouting Combine and the Annual League Meetings when I saw my league counterparts. I've been doing this job since 2011. There have been some fun seasons over that stretch - 2014 comes to mind - but nothing can compete with the run the team went on last year. It was fun to be along for the ride.

Related Content