Pass game preview, Jahlani Tavai’s use and other things to follow in Lions OTAs
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions are moving into Phase III of the offseason program starting Monday, a series of 10 organized team activity (OTA) practices spread out over the next three weeks.
The practices, which are voluntary, won't include any contact, but it will be the team's first opportunity this offseason to conduct 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work.
Here are five things we'll be checking out when we get our first chance to see the 2019 squad on the field Tuesday.
Right guard rotation
The most wide-open competition this offseason is setting up to be the guard spot formerly manned by the recently retired T.J. Lang. The perceived front-runner for the job is veteran Kenny Wiggins, who started 10 games in place of an injured Lang last season. But there are a number of other contenders, including free-agent addition Oday Aboushi, Joe Dahl, undrafted rookie Beau Benzschawel and potentially even second-year tackle Tyrell Crosby.
This practice will be our first look into how the early reps are being distributed, even though there’s a decent possibility this position battle carries well into the preseason.
On the defensive side of things, the biggest question marks are in the secondary. All signs point to Tracy Walker filling the majority of Glover Quin’s snaps. But Tavon Wilson and rookie Will Harris could figure into a decent amount of sub-package looks based on coach Matt Patricia’s willingness to mix and match his back end to get the best matchups.
In addition to the safety rotation, the second outside corner job, opposite Darius Slay, is open. For the past few years, Nevin Lawson held down that spot, but the team placed an emphasis on playmaking this offseason, ditching the veteran with zero career interceptions.
The field includes journeyman veteran Rashaan Melvin, who brings a desired combination of size, speed and ball skills. He’ll need to beat out Teez Tabor, the former second-round pick who has been a disappointment to this point, but is still young and will be looking to turn a corner in year three.
Rookie Amani Oruwariye, who slid to Detroit in the fifth round in the draft, could also be in the mix.
Pass game preview
The Lions are installing a new offensive scheme this offseason, under the direction of first-year coordinator Darrell Bevell. There’s system versatility in his background, but the pass game should largely be based on West Coast offense principles.
As quarterback Matthew Stafford said in a recent radio interview, the new scheme is completely different than the previous version ran by Jim Bob Cooter. What we’ll see in these early practices will just be a glimpse of what things will look like come September, and there’s bound to be more physical and mental errors than normal during these early stages of the installation. Still, it will be interesting to see how quickly Stafford and his pass-catchers are adjusting to the new route concepts.
It’s easy to imagine how first-round pick, tight end T.J. Hockenson, will fit into Detroit offense. The Lions, under general manager Bob Quinn, have routinely selected plug-and-play options with that first pick, and the Iowa product will likely see plenty of reps, as both a blocker and pass-catcher, right out the gate.
Second-rounder Jahlani Tavai’s early usage carries more intrigue. The versatile linebacker split his time at Hawaii between standing up on the edge and playing off the ball. He has experience rushing the passer and playing both outside and inside linebacker.
The Lions wouldn’t have taken him so early if they didn’t have a vision for how he could contribute in the defense, and it will be fascinating to see if Tavai’s presence alters how the Lions deploy Jarrad Davis.
We’re still in the voluntary portion of the offseason, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on attendance. The biggest name who has been absent so far has been defensive tackle Damon Harrison, who made it difficult to run against Detroit after he was acquired in the middle of last season.
We know Harrison is interested in working out a contract extension with the Lions this offseason, but the team has said that’s not the reason he’s missing this time. He’s already proven he can drop into a situation and hit the ground running, but his presence might be beneficial to some of the team’s offseason additions, from veteran Trey Flowers to rookies Austin Bryant and P.J. Johnson.