July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

10 things to watch as Lions camp gets going

Defensive end Ziggy Anah is a spectator at camp as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Jim Caldwell’s first training camp as the Lions coach is fast approaching, and when the team takes the field Monday in Allen Park, there will plenty on the agenda.

Throughout the offseason program, Caldwell cautioned against judging performances because players weren’t in pads. But shortly into camp, it will be easier to tell how players are doing in the new scheme.

The Lions will have a few key position battles in camp, but just as important as who will win those is how some other starters will perform this season. Plus, this is the time for undrafted free agents and veterans at the bottom of the roster to prove themselves.

Once again, the Lions offense will lean heavily on franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, whose decision-making has hurt the past two seasons. Stafford had 19 interceptions and lost four fumbles last season.

Camp also will be the first chance to get a look at how the rookies are adjusting to the NFL. Most were limited to the second or third team during the offseason program, but it shouldn’t take too long to see how some perform with the first team.

The Lions also will lean heavily on second-year players like right guard Larry Warford, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who will miss the beginning of camp with a shoulder injury.

Here are 10 things to watch in camp:

What changes will coach Jim Caldwell make to the practice routine?

During the offseason program, there already were several differences from the Jim Schwartz era. The most notable was Caldwell had the offense run each play once even if something went wrong, simulating the idea that teams only have one chance to get it right in games. Under Schwartz, players would run each play until they had it perfect. Caldwell also ran some plays in slow motion and filmed quarterbacks with a ladder camera.

Once the pads come on, it will be fascinating to see how some of those changes have helped and what concepts Caldwell will introduce.

What adjustments has quarterback Matthew Stafford made?

With Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter coming to Detroit with a history of working with top-tier quarterbacks, the Lions have provided Stafford all the resources he needs to become more consistent.

The question is, how much of the new advice will Stafford use once the bullets start flying? The priority for the coaches will be to tweak Stafford’s footwork because his occasionally lazy actions led to some mechanical issues. And if the coaches can make Stafford more confident in the pocket, he should be able to avoid some of the decision-making issues he had the past two seasons.

Who will be the starting right tackle?

As an undrafted rookie, LaAdrian Waddle started last year as the fourth offensive tackle. But once he entered in Week 7, it was clear he belonged, starting eight of the final nine games.

In order to win the starting job this season, Waddle will have to beat veteran Corey Hilliard in camp. Hilliard lost a similar battle last year to Jason Fox (Dolphins), but with seven years experience and two years under Caldwell, Hilliard certainly will have a shot.

How long will it take Ziggy Ansah and Golden Tate to be healthy?

There haven’t been any injury updates on Ansah since Feburary, when he had shoulder surgery. Tate, meanwhile, hurt his shoulder during the offseason, but said he planned to be ready by camp.

Both players will start camp on the physically unable to perform list, and although the expectation is they’ll be ready for the start of the season, any time they miss will hinder their ability to adjust.

How much will the coaches ease in first-round pick Eric Ebron?

In 2010, Ndamukong Suh was the last first-round pick to start Week 1 for the Lions. But the expectation should be for Ebron to start and play a key role immediately in the two tight-end sets with Brandon Pettigrew as a blocker.

As most teams do with rookies, the Lions likely will have Ebron start camp on the second or third team, but how quickly he moves up to the first team should signify how ready he is to contribute.

Can rookie Kyle Van Noy earn the starting strongside linebacker job?

Van Noy, this year’s second-round pick, probably will start camp on the second or third team.

With his size, instincts and all-around ability, he gives the defense a dimension it hasn’t had in years, and he’s capable of being a three-down linebacker. Veteran Ashlee Palmer, last year’s starter, will start with the first team and could have more to prove after playing 34 percent of last year’s snaps.

Which cornerbacks are ready to step up?

Darius Slay, a 2013 second-round pick, said he’s ready for whatever pressure the coaches place on him, and there will be a lot. With Chris Houston released, Slay is the most obvious cornerback to take the top spot — and must show improvement in pads.

Veterans Rashean Mathis and Cassius Vaughn are likely contenders for the No. 2 spot, but youngsters Jonte Green, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and rookie Nevin Lawson will have a shot. Bentley and Lawson make the most sense in the nickel, but the Lions don’t have enough top-line cornerbacks to push one to spot duty if either deserves more time.

Can Nate Freese become the long-term solution at kicker?

Freese, this year’s seventh-round pick, didn’t do anything during the offseason to put himself ahead of Giorgio Tavecchio.

Based on his Boston College performance, Freese is the more accurate kicker while Tavecchio has more power. After veteran David Akers‘ struggles last season, the Lions need someone who they can trust.

How will the running back duties be split?

If Lombardi deploys running backs like he did during his time with the Saints, several players will have key roles. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell remain the top two options, but Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Montell Owens and whoever wins the fullback job could all see action.

The Lions won’t show exactly how snaps will be split in camp, but if Riddick or Leshoure earn occasional first-team action, it will show there will be much more constant rotation at tailback.

Which undrafted rookies have the potential to earn a roster spot?

Waddle and Joseph Fauria provided key contributions last season despite being undrafted rookies, and the Lions hope some of their undrafted free agents can play a role this season, too.

The most likely undrafted rookie to make the team is offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas, who like Waddle, brings good size and experience.

Bryce Quigley, an undrafted offensive lineman from San Diego State, also has some upside as a former tight end and tackle.

Other undrafted rookies worth noting: safety Jerome Couplin, quarterback James Franklin, cornerback Mohammed Seisay and fullback Chad Abram.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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