Lions mailbag: Abdullah’s status, Caldwell’s future, Tomlinson’s development

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Ameer Abdullah

Allen Park -- Santa has his sack of presents, we have a Detroit Lions mailbag full of tweets. Admittedly, not as cool, but you work with what you have. On to your questions.

@Justin_Rogers If the Lions want to activate Abdullah what is the timeline? Does he have to practice first? When could he practice/play?

— Brett Cousino (@bcoozno) December 19, 2016

The only timelines required to return from injured reserve are that player can't begin practicing until six weeks after they've been placed on the list and can't return to game action for eight weeks. Ameer Abdullah has long passed both of those markers, so if he gets medically cleared, he could return at any time.

It's also important to note his return could come in the playoffs. Again, it all depends on getting cleared, and there's been nothing to suggest he's overcome those hurdles at this time. But three weeks from now, who knows.

@Justin_Rogers on the delay of game play, should the hit on Stafford drawn a dead ball personal foul?

— Michael Trumbell (@michaeltrumbell) December 19, 2016

It's the official's discretion. The ability to hear the whistle over the raucous crowd was certainly a factor, but Taylor Decker, the man blocking culprit Olivier Vernon, heard it. The defensive end didn't hit Stafford close to full force, but the knockdown was unnecessary. A strong case can be made for throwing a flag there.

Laken Tomlinson

@Justin_Rogers is Laken Tomlinson salvageable? He struggles on 3rd down pass protection & can't get 2 the 2nd level run blocking. #bust

— reeelmate (@reeelmate) December 19, 2016

I don't like to bury a guy after a season and a half worth of starts. Many people did that with Travis Swanson and look at the strides he's made in his third year. I don't want to pretend like Tomlinson hasn't underachieved, especially given his status as a first-round pick, but there are plenty of promising plays you can highlight on film where he performs his job exceptionally well.

The question becomes, can do that consistently? I don't have a crystal ball to tell you whether he reaches that level. He'll probably have one more year to show the Lions he can do it before the organization goes a different direction.

@Justin_Rogers ... Surprising how fast some jumped off the Lions bandwagon?

— Mike Ercole (@Erc148) December 19, 2016

No. When a team plays 16 games, it's easy to overreact to each one. It was an ugly loss in a contest where the Lions had an opportunity to prove they were legit -- on the road, outdoors, against a playoff-caliber opponent. If they go to Dallas and knock off the Cowboys this week, most that jumped off will be right back on the train.

@Justin_Rogers Why do the Lions continue to run stretch plays with Washington?

— Brian Smith (@BrianSmithAIA) December 19, 2016

This is a situation where scheme and player aren't ideally matching up, but it's far more difficult to overhaul the way the line is trained to block than hoping your rookie running back develops better feel for the game. Dwayne Washington has all the physical tools, an ideal combination of size and speed, but his vision remains underdeveloped. And, to be fair, the blocking is below average. Sometimes he's missing the lanes, but often they're not even there. It's a bad combination.

@Justin_Rogers is there a standard for this? Are teams required to show replays, or is it all on the coaches upstairs?

— Jack Jarvis (@jxjarvix) December 20, 2016

This question was part of a larger discussion, tied to Jim Caldwell's decision not to challenge Odell Beckham's "catch" in the opening quarter. The coach said he or his staff never saw a good replay until it was too late and none of the players on the field were pushing for the red flag to be thrown.

Part of home-field advantage is controlling when a replay is shown on the big board. If a replay would hurt a home team, it's not shown. And since the live game is 10-20 seconds ahead of the broadcast, the ball is often set and snapped before a team can use those angles to make a decision to challenge.

@Justin_Rogers How does the #Lions special teams rank among the league in the important categories?

— Dustin B. Schwartz (@dustinbschwartz) December 20, 2016

Fourth in field-goal percentage (90.9 percent), third in net punting (45.0 yards), fifth in punt return (11.7 yards), ninth in opposing kickoff return (21.0) yards and 17th in kickoff returns (21.9 yards). Football Outsiders ranks special teams in all areas, based on situation, and the Lions are fourth, behind the Eagles, Chiefs and Rams.

Special teams have played a significant role in Detroit's success this year.

Jim Caldwell

@Justin_Rogers if you're a betting man, does Caldwell get benefit of the doubt if they miss. Or too early to tell?

— Nate Detroit (@LGRWin) December 19, 2016

Yes, it's too early, but if they do lose the final three games and end up out of the playoffs, general manager Bob Quinn is going to have a tough decision on his hands. It's even difficult to guess with no frame of reference. Quinn learned under Bill Belichick, so we don't know what the threshold for Caldwell to stay will be. All we know is Quinn declined issuing a playoffs-or-bust ultimatum before the season.

On the surface, there's little shame in going 9-7 with this roster, especially given the injuries the team has faced this year. But to start 9-4 and blow a two-game lead in the division down the stretch, that would be rough. Then you start looking closer at the nine wins, evaluating the quality of competition and how many times the team trailed in the fourth quarter and you question whether that style of play, cultivated by the coaching, is sustainable long-term.

In Caldwell's favor is the job his staff did with developing Quinn's first draft class. If the GM trusts the coaching staff with the foundation he's laying, it could buy Caldwell another year regardless of the final record.

@Justin_Rogers how do we replace slay? And will Ameer Abdullah come back this year?

— Samar Patel (@sjp31688) December 19, 2016

I addressed Abdullah above. As for Darius Slay, if the hamstring injury keeps him out of the lineup, he'll be replaced by Johnson Bademosi. After a rough showing in training camp, the special teams standout has held his own when pressed into action this year. His burn rate is a little high (completions allowed on passes when targeted in coverage), but that's somewhat expected. He has broken up five passes and snagged an interception.

@Justin_Rogers How can we generate more pressure to help a weak secondary? Blitzing seems counterproductive

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) December 19, 2016

It's a conundrum, to be sure. The Lions are probably best equipped to stick with what has been working, conceding the short passes and tackling well. Yeah, it takes away the effectiveness of the pass rush, but also eliminates the possibility of your secondary getting beat over the top.

The other part of that is stopping the run. They didn't do a good enough job against the Giants, and if you can't slow down Paul Perkins, what hope do you have against Ezekiel Elliott?

@Justin_Rogers With full season almost in the books: what position of need does Quinn need to address in draft and FA, and how?

— Andrew Keck (@andrewkeck) December 19, 2016

There are many needs, which could be altered by what the team accomplishes in free agency. The biggest is another pass rusher. The team could also use a defensive tackle, running back, offensive line help (especially if Riley Reiff and/or Larry Warford leave in free agency), a linebacker, safety, cornerback depth and a slot receiver, given Anquan Boldin is on a one-year deal and will turn 37 next October.

But with Devin Taylor set to hit free agency, and not proving worthy of another contract, finding a defensive end to work with Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder would be ideal.

@Justin_Rogers NFL officiating, especially horrible this year across the league. Do you expect coaches to be able to challenge calls ever?

— Megan Wilson (@LWOSmwilson1113) December 19, 2016

It's been discussed on multiple occasions, but hasn't advanced beyond the proposal stage. Teams are wary of slowing the game down even more and completely removing the human element, much like baseball's strike zone. What typically advances these discussions is a game-altering blown call in a meaningful situation, such as a playoff game. I wouldn't get your hopes up.

@Justin_Rogers What was @kmeinke doing after the game to get himself locked in the stadium?

— John Popovits (@Thurfir_Hawat) December 19, 2016

Probably some combination of making a slideshow and looking for the perfect cat gif to attach to a tweet.