Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers look at the Lions as they head into NFL training camp this weekend in Allen Park.
Allen Park – With the Detroit Lions opening training camp on Sunday, there are jobs to be won, roles to be defined and potential that needs to translate into production.
The Lions squeaked into the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record. Eight of those victories came as the result of a fourth-quarter comeback, many of the dramatic variety. That represented progress from the season before, but the results will be difficult to replicate without some improvement across the roster.
Here are 10 players we’ll be watching, from rookies looking have an impact to players returning from injury to young veterans needing to step up to keep their jobs.
OT Greg Robinson: After failing to meet expectations with the Rams, the Lions picked up the former No. 2 pick for a song in a June trade. The Lions need someone to step up and fill Taylor Decker’s spot at left tackle while he recovers from shoulder surgery and some believe Robinson’s skill set better fits this scheme.
LB Tahir Whithead: Whitehead has played every linebacking role in Detroit, to varying degrees of success. This year, he’s being shifted to the weakside, where the initial expectation is he’ll start, plugging the hole created by DeAndre Levy’s release. Whitehead was sidelined the early portion of the offseason program, but the coaching staff has vowed he’ll have a big role this year.
WR Kenny Golladay: Since the retirement of Calvin Johnson, the Lions have lacked size on the outside. Golladay, a third-round pick, is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound answer. He looked crisp during OTAs and minicamp and should earn more opportunities against the first-team defense sooner than later.
CB Quandre Diggs: Entering his third season, it’s sink or swim for last year’s starting nickelback. Diggs excels in run support and defending screens, but had some noticeable struggles in coverage. The team brought in some stiff competition for his job and he’ll have to rise to the occasion to keep his role in the defense.
DT Jeremiah Ledbetter: The sixth-round pick doesn’t possess the typical build of a Detroit defensive tackle, lacking the requisite bulk at just 280 pounds. But his athleticism is impressive and could translate to some ability to disrupt the pocket as a pass rusher.
RB Ameer Abdullah: A season-ending injury in Week 2 last season severely hampered the potency of Detroit’s offense in 2016. There hasn’t been any lingering concerns about the surgically repaired foot, and if his body holds up under the strain of training camp and the preseason, it will give the ground game a chance to be effective this year.
G T.J. Lang: A prized free-agent addition, Lang is being counted on to solidify the line of his hometown Lions after spending the first eight years of his career with the Packers. To this point, he hasn’t practiced while recovering from offseason hip surgery, so the window to build chemistry with right tackle Rick Wagner, the team’s other big signing, is smaller than anyone would like.
LB Jarrad Davis: First-round picks always deal with lofty expectations, especially when drafted to fill a hole at a position of need. The Lions’ linebackers struggled in coverage last season and rarely came up with a big play, whether a tackle for loss or generating a turnover. Davis is already penciled in to start at middle linebacker and will be expected to hit the ground running.
WR Jace Billingsley: As an undrafted rookie out of Eastern Oregon, Billingsley shook off a slow start to put together a nice little highlight reel during the preseason, earning himself a spot on the practice squad. If he can similarly make some plays as a receiver and return man this offseason, it could result in a job on the 53-man roster.
DT A’Shawn Robinson: Robinson met expectations as a second-round pick last year, showing steady improvement throughout his rookie season and earning four starts to end the campaign. As expected, he was an above-average run stopper, plus he led the team’s linemen in batted passes. If he can make strides as a pass rusher in his second season, look out.