Lions mailbag: Zettel improves, but can he contribute?

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Training camp is well under way, but the Detroit Lions have an off day Thursday. The players might be off, but there's no rest for these weary fingers, so let's knock out a mailbag.

Lions defensive ends Anthony Zettel and Kerry Hyder Jr. hit the sled during drills Wednesday in Allen Park.

Which 2nd year D-lineman seems more improved so far, Robinson or Zettel?

— Les White (@iconsilk713) August 3, 2017

Here's the caveat with this answer, and many to follow: We haven't even seen a full week of camp practices, there's been little work done in full pads and we have no preseason games for context. All answers must be understood from the perspective of the small sample size we're working with at this time.

That said, Anthony Zettel has shown more initial improvement, in part because he had significantly more room to grow. A'Shawn Robinson is trying to go from good to very good, Zettel from non-contributor to contributor. There's a big difference there. I don't want to downplay the work Zettel has clearly put in this offseason. He looks significantly more explosive, something he credits to an improved diet and offseason work out in Pittsburgh with a number of former Penn State players. He busted out a smooth spin move in one-on-one pass rush drills that made offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio look like he was working in ankle-deep mud.

If Stafford doesn't sign before the season, do the Leos trade him after the season rather than plunk down the franchise pile of gold?

— mstoef (@mstoef) August 3, 2017

Given Matthew Stafford's contract expires at the end of this season, the Lions can't trade him, as you're suggesting. But even if that option were available, it's just not something that would be considered. I still strongly believe a long-term extension will be worked out, but even if it isn't, the team won't hesitate for a second to use the franchise tag.

Who's winning the SAM and WILL spots so far in 4-3 base sets next to Davis?

— Kenny GODlliday (@ChrisRVavel) August 3, 2017

Tahir Whitehead has a firm grasp on the weakside linebacker job in the base package, and likely also will be the second linebacker in the nickel package. I don't see anyone wrestling that role away from him in the near future. As for the strongside, it's still a fairly open competition, with Antwione Williams and Brandon Copeland the two front-runners.

Williams, the second-year man out of Georgia Southern still feels most likely to emerge with the job, but Copeland has looked smooth this offseason, wherever the Lions have asked him to line up.

Where would you say Jared Abbrederis is in terms of the other bubble WRs so far?

— Jason Kenny (@bizzydesigner) August 3, 2017

Again, it's early, but TJ Jones has started to separate himself from the pack in the battle for the fourth job. That's not to say Abbrederis is down for the count, but he's faded a bit since his eye-catching performance in the earlier portion of the offseason program. The preseason performance of these contenders as kick and punt returners should still play a big factor in the final decision.

Expect Lions running back Ameer Abdullah to remain the team's lead back this season, as long as he remains healthy.

How do you think the carries will be split between Abdullah and Riddick?

— Brent Gromaski (@Gromaski) August 3, 2017

As long as Ameer Abdullah is healthy, I imagine he'll see something in the ballpark of 15 carries per game, with Riddick getting 5-8 and the third running back picking up the scraps.

Who's been a surprise at camp, that people don't know about, who could make the 53 man roster? #AskRogers#OnePride

— Jay Gala (@jaygala0317) August 3, 2017

The Lions kept five safeties last season and have a couple young, versatile options who could fill the void created by Rafael Bush's departure. I wrote about him Wednesday, but safety Charles Washington is someone to keep an eye on. He's extremely athletic and has college experience playing both safety spots, as well as outside and nickel cornerback.

I'm also not ready to rule out Alex Carter. That's a steep hill to climb, making a position switch and all, but I like the physicality he can bring to the back end with his 200-pound frame. He's also a plus athlete.

With the talent level of our D-line being so low (esp. w/ injuries), how much are we learning about the O and D lines at camp?

— Dan Welling (@spacecataz1663) August 3, 2017

It's always difficult to get a solid read on the lines during camp, because there's only a handful of padded practices. And by that point, familiarity is a limiting factor in the evaluation, as well. You can see the fundamental things — leverage, burst, hand usage — but the preseason, and even the practices in Indianapolis, will tell us much more.

Should we be concerned about Teez speed or lack of?

— Jay Clark (@jcrocker8) August 3, 2017

It's not a problem until it's a problem.

Tabor's lack of elite long speed has shown up at camp, but it's generally on plays where he's allowed a free release at the line or was sloppy with some other aspect of his technique. If he gets his hands into a receiver at or near the line, he's fine.

I feel a little bad for Tabor, because any time he gets beat, whether it's Week 2 of his rookie season or in his seventh year in the league, people are always going to reference the 40 time. I'm not going to say it doesn't matter, because it does, but it's just one factor of many in being able to successfully play the position.

Does Asiata make the team solely based on his short yardage and goal line ability?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) August 3, 2017

Matt Asiata is far from a roster lock. If he makes it, it won't be because he's a superior short-yardage back, but because of his overall versatility. He's good in protection, an above-average route runner and a solid contributor on special teams. He'll likely need to overtake Dwayne Washington, a young player the Lions really like, despite his rookie struggles last season.

Observation, Stafford is noticeably thinner. Lebron did something similar a few years back..I believe Longevity was his reasoning. Thoughts?

— Jimmy Berger (@Jimmyb1478) August 3, 2017

According to Stafford, we're talking about three or four pounds, so I don't know how noticeable it is. He's leaned up a ton since he arrived in Detroit, and the weight loss was definitely more dramatic last offseason. I don't think it's a longevity thing at this stage. It's simply a matter of taking better care of his body.

That said, he is looking to put back on a few pounds before the season.

Kerry Hyder had a hell of a year last year, flash in the pan or a diamond from the rough?

— AJ Ash (@Ash_Al565) August 3, 2017

Jim Caldwell was asked this very question on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say.

"All I do know is when I look at a guy who, No. 1, he didn’t regress in terms of his body structure, he improved. He’s gotten better in every, single, physical aspect. And then also, he’s a hard worker and he’s smart. When you have those kind of traits and qualities, you can anticipate that he’s going to be somewhere near where he was before."

When I watched Hyder last year, I saw improvement on the little things, namely play recognition. His motor never stops and I'll take Caldwell's word for it that the lineman is in better shape. You never know if a guy is going to be able to replicate his production, but Hyder is one of the guys I'd bet on being able to do it.

Do you think Anthony Zettel is going to be a starter defensive end this year

— toby sass (@tobias_sass) August 3, 2017

Not without injuries to the guys in front of him on the depth chart. Simply put, Ziggy Ansah and Hyder are better players.

How much talk in the locker room has there been about the CTE study and early retirements of players?

— Joe Beernink (@JoeBeernink) August 3, 2017

We're obviously only privy to a snippet of life in the locker room, but it probably shouldn't surprise you that many of the younger players have their head in the sand when it comes to the long-term impact of playing the game they love. I remember talking to guys when the "Concussion" movie was hitting theaters and it was more of a mixed bag from the veterans. Safety Glover Quin, one of the more thoughtful people in the locker room, shrugged off concerns, where guys like Lance Moore and James Ihedigbo were extremely interested in learning more on the topic.

Who the Lions booking for halftime show on Turkey Day? And why is it not Bob Seger?

— j. harley (@jeffreyharley) August 3, 2017

They won't announce it for a few months, but probably some pop garbage I'm too old to recognize. Having Big Sean a couple years ago was a nice touch, and I like your thinking of sticking with the local theme. Someone call Seger and see if he has Thanksgiving plans.

Keeping center Travis Swanson past this season could prove tricky for the Lions.

@Justin_Rogers sup with LG & C? r they preparing to move on from Swanson already? Is Robinson's future @ LG? Is Glasgow good enough to start

— Anthony Armon (@ch0z3n1) August 3, 2017

The immediate plan is to stick with Travis Swanson and Graham Glasgow this season. Re-signing Swanson next offseason might prove tricky. The Jaguars just gave center Brandon Lindor a five-year, $51.7 million deal that sets the bar for the position. Both he and Swanson were drafted in the third round in 2014.

In 2018, if the Lions don't re-sign Swanson, they could move Glasgow over or look for a new solution. The only other option currently on the roster is undrafted rookie Leo Koloamatangi, who has made a strong, early impression. But it's way too early to be making that projection.

As for Glasgow at left guard, he looks much improved. He's been much better in the one-on-one pass rush drills and I look forward to seeing how he holds up against the Colts defensive linemen next week.

Robinson is in the final year of his contract, as well, and I don't see the Lions moving him inside upon Decker's return. There's minimal short-term potential and no long-term value to that move.

How is Michael Roberts transitioning to NFL? Loved watching him at Toledo

— Michael Siffer (@SifferMichael) August 3, 2017

Honestly, it's been a slow go. He struggled during the OTA and minicamp practices open to the media, and he's just recently starting to show the ability to get adequate separation. Unfortunately, that progress was offset by a couple drops and a fumble. No need for any hand wringing at this point. He's a young guy learning a tough position. I just wouldn't anticipate a big impact his rookie season.