Five questions facing Lions as offseason workouts begin

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Behind a strong second half, Matthew Stafford finished 2015 with the second-best statistical season of his career.

Lions players returned to Allen Park on Monday for the start of the team’s offseason workout program.

Many players will spend a few days per week working out at the team facility during the next month before organized team activities begin in late May. The workouts will include the rookies after the draft next week, and even though the program this week is optional, several players receive bonuses for participating.

Of course, this year’s workouts will feel a bit different without wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the longtime face of the franchise, participating. Johnson retired last month, and the team will begin working to prove it can replace his production.

Even though it’s April, some of the things the Lions need to do to be more successful in 2016 are already apparent.

Here are five questions facing the team as the offseason program begins:

Can Harold Nash improve the speed and strength of the players?

The Lions simply weren’t ready for the beginning of last season, and being a slow team was a major reason they started 0-5. Nash, the new strength and conditioning coach, comes to Detroit after spending 11 years with New England. It’ll be his job to ensure the players are in peak physical condition, and he has a new weightroom to utilize when they return this week. The Lions played well in the second half of last season, but the team should be working now with an eye toward September.

Is Matthew Stafford ready to take the next step?

This will be the question every offseason until the quarterback plays well in consecutive full seasons. Stafford was excellent in the second half of 2015, finishing with what was the second-best statistical season of his career (behind 2011). But, Stafford won’t have Johnson, who had been the top offensive threat for Stafford’s entire career. There are also still questions about the offensive line. Strong quarterback play can hide other issues, and the Lions will see if Stafford can carry his late-season success from last year into 2016.

What can Alex Carter provide?

Out of all the players with question marks, Carter is the one whose strong play would be the biggest boon for the Lions. Last year’s third-round pick, Carter is a cornerback with the right mix of size and speed to develop into an ideal starter opposite Darius Slay. Of course, Carter missed all of his rookie season and is still just 21, so the team won’t rush him into action. How Carter looks in workouts shouldn’t impact the Lions’ draft plans at cornerback, but whether they target the position or not, Carter’s development would solidify the spot.

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How do some of the injured players look?

Linebacker DeAndre Levy underwent hip surgery last year. Center Travis Swanson had shoulder surgery in the offseason. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew had knee surgery in December. Defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker suffered a broken leg last year. Some other players likely underwent some undisclosed operation, however minor. The start of team workouts is really the first chance many of the players will undergo testing from team doctors. Even if some players aren’t ready to participate in workouts, the team should find out timelines for injured players this week.

Is the depth better?

Besides wide receiver Marvin Jones, the Lions didn’t make any marquee additions in free agency. And as much as fans expect instant impact from the rookies, there’s no guarantee it’ll happen. The Lions were poorly built to deal with injuries last year, and even though someone like Levy should be healthy, teams need capable backups at every position. The offseason workouts will be the first chance for many of the new teammates to meet, and the hope should be that competition breeds success, particularly at some of the positions where the Lions added free agents — defensive tackle, cornerback, safety, wide receiver and guard.

Twitter: @jkatzenstein

Lions key dates

Voluntary workouts: Began Monday

NFL draft: April 28-30

Organized team activities: May 24-26; May 31-June 2; June 6-9

Mandatory minicamp: June 14-16