Lions mailbag: Five players who have impressed

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Defensive end Ziggy Ansah slaps hands with fans as he makes his way onto the field.

Latrobe, Pa. — Welcome to our Detroit Lions mailbag.

While there's a break in the action between the joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the teams' preseason opener Friday at Heinz Field, it seemed like a good time to field some of your questions.

@Justin_Rogers which Lions players are practice squad eligible?

— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) August 10, 2016

The list is too long to post, but here are the basics. For one, any first-year player is eligible.

On to the confusing part. Consider the definition of an accrued season: A player who was on the 53-man roster for six or more games.

Now, here’s who is also eligible: any player who does not have an accrued season. Also eligible: Any player who does indeed have one accrued season, but, they were on the 46-man gameday roster for no longer than eight games. Also, two years ago, the league expanded practice squads from eight to 10 players. With that expansion, they also allow teams to carry two players who have two or fewer accrued seasons. That would permit the Lions to keep a player such as Gabe Wright, Brandon Copeland or George Winn, if they don't make the 53-man cut next month.

@Justin_Rogers Will the Lions offense really be tougher to defend without CJ this season? That statement by Stafford was hard to swallow.

— Tom Skitt (@Tskitt22) August 10, 2016

Only if they can run the ball.

Having to come up with a plan to defend Calvin Johnson likely cost many defensive coordinators sleep the better part of a decade. Now, the Lions will try to overwhelm opposing defenses with a number of above-average options, from Marvin Jones to Golden Tate to Theo Riddick to Eric Ebron. That will require fewer exotic coverage looks and simply better fundamentals within a base defensive scheme.

But, if the Lions can run the ball, which is where the upgraded offensive line comes into play, it will force opposing defenses to respect them by committing an extra defender to the box. If that's the case, the passing game could really run wild with those weapons.

@Justin_Rogers there is no true competitive advantage hiding injury issues to key players. Why do Lions alienate the fan base(and media)?

— MotownMarcinGB (@MarcAPerna) August 10, 2016

While I would love to provide fans with consistent, updated medical information, that's just not a reality covering the Lions, or many other teams for that matter. The reason coaches don't like to talk about injuries is it exposes their players, one, to opposing players who could target an injury. It's a disgusting element of the NFL, but it does happen. Secondly, to fans and media, by setting up sometimes unrealistic timetables for recovery. While one player might heal from an ankle sprain in two weeks, it might take another seven, either because of a setback or naturally slow healing.

At this time of year, even vague timetables would be helpful, but a team is under no obligation to confirm, comment or report injuries to the media. We'll keep asking the questions and prodding for information, but they are within their right to decline.

@Justin_Rogers is it safe to assume that regardless of Ebron's injury status, the Lions will find another TE?

— Justin Urso (@jurso82) August 10, 2016

No, I don't think so. If Ebron's injury is more of a short-term issue, which is looking more and more likely to be the case, the Lions can roll into the season with him, Matthew Mulligan and Cole Wick and be just fine. Ebron will play a lot, probably 75 percent of the snaps. Mulligan is the powerhouse blocker who lines up in-line and helps the tackles in both the run game and with pass protection. In this scenario, Wick gets a handful of snaps each week giving Ebron breathers.

@justin_rogers Asked my 7 year old if she had a Lions question for you. Her response: “Is it true female lions do all the hunting?”

— Vosher (@vosher) August 10, 2016

After watching a brief National Geographic video, it appears the females do most, not all the hunting.

@Justin_Rogers Michael Burton was a top rated FB in 2015, but only 10th in snaps and off. snap%. Will his snaps increase noticeably in 2016?

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 10, 2016

Burton saw an initial uptick when Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator, but it tapered toward the end of the year. I wouldn't expect a significant increase from last season, with the fullback on the field between 10-25 snaps, depending on the matchup and game situations.

@Justin_Rogers How confident are you that LB DeAndre Levy will be starting the regular season and have the impact Lion fans are expecting?

— Bob Darby (@darb0484) August 10, 2016

If I'm putting a percentage on it, I'd say there's a 80 percent chance Levy will be the starting weakside linebacker Week 1 in Indianapolis. As for having the impact Lions fans are expecting, which I imagine is a return to the 2013-14 Levy, there's likely going to be some rust he'll need to knock off to get back to that level.

@Justin_Rogers Who are the 5 most impressive players in camp so far?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) August 10, 2016

Wide receiver Marvin Jones has exceeded expectations and has rapidly developed chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Ziggy Ansah continues to look the part of an unstoppable edge rusher. Tyrunn Walker, on the inside, has added some explosion to go with his bear-like strength. I love what I've seen from Riley Reiff at right tackle. He's made the transition look so easy. And finally, Theo Riddick still looks like he cannot be covered in the passing game. I remain skeptical about his ability to be an impactful ball carrier, but he'll get some opportunities to prove me wrong in the preseason.

@Justin_Rogers How do you see our defense playing against the Steelers fantastic offense.

— Respected Madman (@KHMakerD) August 10, 2016

Well, we already saw some of the struggles Darius Slay had with Antonio Brown on the practice field. That's a matchup to keep an eye on to see what adjustments the cornerback makes. The run defense should be adequate, even against the impressive backfield tandem of Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. The biggest concerns will be the ability of the back seven to defend everywhere Brown is not in the passing game.  The linebackers have been inconsistent in this area during camp, and cornerbacks Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs are still young players prone to mistakes. They won't see Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger much, if at all, but the ability to keep Pittsburgh's aerial assault in check will be a nice, early litmus test.

@Justin_Rogers can Caldwell cut Jimmy Landes even if Muhlbach is clearly the better long snapper?

— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) August 10, 2016

This is what could separate Bob Quinn from Martin Mayhew -- not going with an under-qualified player just because he's a draft pick. Right now, Don Muhlbach looks far more consistent, but that's not to say Jimmy Landes can't close the gap by the end of the preseason. If not, sticking with the veteran would send a clear statement that Quinn is willing to choose best talent over cap concerns and pride.

@Justin_Rogers What part of the Lions practice yesterday did u enjoy watching the most? Did any player or players surprise or stand out 2 U?

— Butch Anderson (@B22A) August 10, 2016

Probably the full-team scrimmages. In a lot of ways, it was like watching a preview of the first quarter of the upcoming preseason game, sans the tackling. Also, the one-on-one pass-rush drill was more interesting than it is at a Lions practice, not just because of the unique matchups, but the Steelers use a remote-controlled tackling dummy to simulate a quarterback's movements in the pocket.

@Justin_Rogers will a healthy Ebron beat out Boldin as the third WR/TE option?

— Anthony Albano (@NJdetlionsfan) August 10, 2016

Over the course of a full season, I would expect Ebron to be more productive. That said, the Lions will be a matchup-based offense, so there will be games where Boldin could have a bigger impact, just based on who is covering him in the slot.  In general, that's the beauty of Detroit's passing game. There are legitimately five different players who could lead you in receiving on a given day and it wouldn't be odd.

@Justin_Rogers Is it too soon to give up on Alex Carter? Concern level on Tomlinson?

— Mike Higgs (@rmhiggs2) August 10, 2016

Yeah, it's too soon to be throwing the bust label at Carter. The Lions made the disappointing decision to put him on injured reserve last season, and that cost him some development time. This offseason has been a struggle, but if you look at it as his rookie year, from a physical standpoint, that's to be expected. The beauty of it is Carter won't turn 22 years old until October. He's extremely young and he hasn't lost the physical gifts that made him an intriguing option in the first place.

As for Tomlinson, concern is merited. He hasn't made as much progress on the practice field as anticipated. I still think the risk of him losing his starting job is low, but you have a quality veteran in Geoff Schwartz if Tomlinson doesn't get it together through the early stages of the regular season.

@Justin_Rogers will rieff make the pro bowl?

— Jacob Music (@JacobMusic88) August 10, 2016

I know I said he's been impressive, but let's not get carried away. Reiff carries little name recognition with fans, so he's not getting in that way. And to this point, he's only been an average left tackle, so he will also have trouble shaking that perception with players and coaches around the league. He would need to play out of this world and generate buzz from analytics-based sites like Pro Football Focus to get into the conversation.

@Justin_Rogers how's the Swanson/Glasgow battle going so far? Ik it's early

— Zach Molter (@Z_Molt) August 10, 2016

Travis Swanson hasn't done anything to extend his lead in the competition, but Glasgow has done even less to narrow the initial gap. It's been a tough adjustment period for the rookie. He has looked over-matched by the size and speed on NFL defensive linemen in the reps I've been able to watch closely.  I have no reason to believe this will be a long-term issue, but for now, Swanson should continue to hold the starting job.

@Justin_Rogers Where do you rank Stafford out of all starting QBs? Top 15? Top 10?

— MamaRaisedNoFool (@DirtyJerzFinest) August 10, 2016

I tend to agree with the ESPN rankings that Stafford is in the middle of the pack. He's clearly behind Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. I'd still easily take 37-year-old Drew Brees over Stafford in a single game or season. Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer are older, but better players. Eli Manning and Joe Flacco have proven it in the playoffs. Durability concerns aside, Andrew Luck has more talent, given his mobility, plus some early-career playoff success.

That puts Stafford in a group with Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton. There's talent, but not a lot of team success. Given the Lions some playoff wins and local and national perceptions would change on Stafford, quickly.

@Justin_Rogers Based on what you've seen, do you think the Lions will take part in more joint practices over the next couple of years?

— Tony Ortiz (@ajortiz3) August 10, 2016

I hope so. The Tuesday practice went so smoothly and you can't help but feel this work gets the team better prepared for the regular season. There's always value in taking players out of their comfort zone. It strengthens them mentally, which is such an important part of professional sports, where everyone is fined-tuned physically.

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