Allen Park — The Detroit Lions opened their first three-day OTAs on Monday, but Thursday will be the first time this offseason the media gets a look at the current roster on the practice field.
Having a first-year coach in Matt Patricia only adds to the intrigue. So here are five things we’ll be focused on during the practice.
For the past two years, Frank Ragnow has been one of college football’s most dominant centers, but prior to handling snaps at Arkansas, he spent much of his time at right guard. The Lions don’t have an opening on the right side, where T.J. Lang is holding down the fort, but there’s a potential vacancy at left guard depending how the Lions want to move forward with Graham Glasgow.
The Lions made it clear to Ragnow from their first conversations on draft night he could end up at either spot. From the limited information we can glean from practice photos posted to the team’s website, he’s spent much of his first couple weeks at guard. If the past two years are an indicator, the Lions prefer to start working their first-round picks at their projected position right out the gate.
With that in mind, it’s worth monitoring how much work Ragnow gets snapping the ball in the coming weeks.
Quandre Diggs was one of last season’s biggest surprises, first with his rebound performance in his traditional nickel role, then making a surprisingly smooth transition to safety when the team had some injury issues. With his established versatility, Diggs’ usage going forward is something to watch. Will he be pigeonholed back into a slot corner, or will the Lions make a greater effort to get him more snaps, moving him back and forth between nickel and safety?
And it’s not just Diggs. The Lions signed the highly versatile DeShawn Shead in free agency. He should compete with Nevin Lawson and last year’s second-round pick Teez Tabor for playing time on the outside, but Shead could easily see some work at safety, as well.
Lastly, what does this all mean for Miles Killebrew? The once-promising third-down stopper’s momentum seemed to slow to a crawl the second half of the 2017 campaign. Will Patricia and company be able to tap back into the promise Killebrew previously displayed?
When former coach Jim Caldwell first joined the Lions, one of the most notable changes he brought to the practice field was the efficiency of the sessions. The pacing of each practice picked up a bit from the previous regime. There was little wasted time, with two or three groups working at the same time.
What touches will Patricia add to practices? Will they be more intense? Will there be new drills?
We know the Lions’ defense is changing, especially up front. The Lions are going away from the attacking 4-3 looks they’ve run the past several years and will be installing a multiple front where the linemen will be required to play with a focus more on gap control, a concept popular in 3-4 fronts.
The Lions have made several personnel changes to the front seven this offseason, retooling the linebacker room while changing out a few options along the line. Linebacker Devon Kennard was the crown jewel of the team’s free agency class, a move not many anticipated, but the Lions clearly have a vision to deploy his skill set. It will also be intriguing to see where the Lions plug rookie defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand into the mix.
Getting on the radar
It’s a near-certainty an undrafted rookie will make the roster out of training camp and this is where that group of 16 players begins to lay the groundwork for the opportunity. Some of the prospects I’m eager to get an early look at include linebacker Chad Meredith, defensive lineman JoJo Wicker and wide receivers Teo Redding and Deontez Alexander.