Phase Three of the Lions’ offseason program begins this week, and over the next three weeks, the team will have 10 practices for their offseason training activities.
OTAs will not include live contact, so coaches will try to avoid overreacting to what they see. However, the practices give the team a chance to see how the rookies measure up to the veterans, and how any injured veterans are progressing in their recovery.
One of the practices will be open each of the next three weeks, and here are some things we’ll be looking at:
Even though players won’t win jobs in OTAs, the practices provide a glimpse into what the coaches think the depth chart should look like in training camp. Veterans will receive more first-team reps during OTAs, and although rookies and young players could earn starting gigs, the pecking order should become a bit clearer.
Strong safety is one spot the Lions are guaranteed to have a new starter. Rafael Bush has the most starting experience, but maybe the Lions see more potential in Tavon Wilson.
At linebacker, there’s an opening on the strong side. Josh Bynes should be in that spot unless Kyle Van Noy has been impressive.
Is Tyrunn Walker back atop the defensive tackle rotation, or will Caraun Reid be next to Haloti Ngata? Will rookie Taylor Decker spend more time at left or right tackle? Are Ameer Abdullah and Jeremy Kerley the favorites to return kickoffs and punts, respectively?
These questions should have some answers — however temporary —during OTAs.
Losing DeAndre Levy to a hip injury for basically all of 2015 was incredibly costly for the Lions last season, and they need him to play like a top-tier linebacker this season.
Whether or not Levy can play as well as he did the previous two seasons remains to be seen, but it’d be a good sign if he looks fast during the practices.
Coach Jim Caldwell and linebacker Tahir Whitehead are among the people who have said Levy looks like his normal self so far in the offseason program. Participating fully for three weeks of drills would help provide more reason to think he’s on track to return fully healthy.
Theo Riddick established himself as one of the best receiving backs in the NFL in 2015. The best way for him to be even better in 2016 is by improving as a runner.
Three seasons into his career, Riddick is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry, so nobody should expect him to steal a ton of carries from Abdullah. However, if Riddick can at least be a threat as a runner, it’ll make it harder for opponents to defend him in the passing game.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter seems to know the importance of giving Riddick some carries as Riddick had at least two runs in eight of the nine games in which Cooter called plays last season. Riddick had two or more runs in just two of the first seven games under Joe Lombardi last year.
Running with purpose and good vision, even if it’s in shorts, would be a good sign for Riddick.
The Lions didn’t draft a cornerback with any of their 10 picks, which is an indication they like their trio of Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs.
But, if 2015 third-round pick Alex Carter proves to be good, suddenly the Lions would have a deep group at the position.
The team has tried to temper expectations surrounding Carter, who’s still just 21, and the exhibition games will provide a much better glimpse at his potential. However, looking healthy and appearing to have a good grasp of the playbook would provide reasons for optimism.
Who is missing?
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch won't be at OTAs, and considering he's skipped the other voluntary sessions, that should come as no surprise. He's still likely to be cut in short order.
Beyond Tulloch, any player who doesn’t show up would be a surprise, but surprises happen in the NFL. If someone is unhappy about something, this would be the time to make a statement by skipping OTAs, though that seems unlikely.