Lions training camp preview: Five roster battles to watch
Allen Park -- Training camp is upon us. The Detroit Lions' rookies report this week and veterans will follow a week later. We're going to spend the next few days previewing camp, starting with the team's five most compelling position battles.
The most intriguing opening in Detroit’s starting lineup remains at guard, but the hole appears to have shifted to the left side with Graham Glasgow sliding into T.J. Lang’s former spot. Obviously, there’s still plenty of time for things to change, but that’s been the primary practice routine for Glasgow at this stage, with Frank Ragnow, entering his second season, working at center.
In the early offseason, veteran Kenny Wiggins handled the bulk of the first-team reps at left guard, setting him up as the presumptive front-runner. But Oday Aboushi, a free-agent addition this offseason, was earning a longer look in June and remains in the mix for the job.
Joe Dahl, Leo Koloamatangi, undrafted rookie Beau Benzschawel and late addition Luke Bowanko are long shots and more likely to be competing for one of the two backup jobs.
The silver lining about Darius Slay staying away from the team during the early portion of the offseason program is it gave the Lions an opportunity to get an extended look at the contenders for the job opposite him, a role previously held by Nevin Lawson.
None of the candidates stood out from the crowd during OTAs and minicamp, leaving the door open for someone to grab the brass ring in August. The best bet remains Rashaan Melvin, a veteran with a wealth of experience in multiple schemes and a track record for making plays on the ball, a skill the Lions covet at the position.
But the player who continues to get the most attention is former second-round pick Teez Tabor. He showed some promising flashes in those early practices, but also had moments of inconsistency, something that has plagued him during his young career. And all of that needs to be viewed through the filter of Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay not practicing. Simply put, time is running out for Tabor to put it together.
Mike Ford and Marcus Cooper, who both saw snaps late last season, along with Andre Chachere, are Detroit’s other options currently on the roster.
Backup running back
The Lions found a lead back last season when they drafted Kerryon Johnson, but given how the team wants to distribute the workload in the backfield, Johnson’s complement will be an important piece to the team’s offensive puzzle.
Last season’s LeGarrette Blount signing fell flat. This offseason, the Lions added C.J. Anderson on a one-year deal. He bombed as a free-agent signing in Carolina in 2018 before rebounding with the Rams in the second half and through the postseason. If the Lions get that version of Anderson, they’ll be in good shape.
If not, Zach Zenner will be ready to claim those snaps. After breaking a pair of bones in his back last preseason, he returned in noticeably better shape and delivered his most-productive stretch with the Lions, averaging 4.8 yards and scoring three times on 55 carries.
Another name to watch will be rookie Ty Johnson. He probably won’t jump both Anderson and Zenner on the depth chart in his first year, but if he can make the 53-man roster, there should be opportunities on offense for him to showcase his elite speed.
Fifth wide receiver
Barring injury or a transaction, the Lions’ top three receivers are locked in with Golladay and Jones on the outside and offseason signing Danny Amendola in the slot. Additionally, the $350,000 in guarantees the team awarded Jermaine Kearse in June suggests he’s in line to be the top backup for the corps.
It’s certainly possible those are the only receivers Detroit carries into the regular season, but rostering a fifth option seems more likely. There are several options to consider. Among them are Andy Jones, who has been catching the ball well this offseason. He also does all the little things that earns jobs at the end of the roster, including blocking and contributing on multiple special teams units.
Rookie Travis Fulgham is another strong contender. Working with the second team offense, he was developing some nice chemistry with backup quarterback Tom Savage, showing decent route running, hands and the ability to high-point the ball.
Other contenders are Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy and Tommylee Lewis. Special teams is likely to play a big role in the decision.
Speaking of special teams, one potential path to a job for a player will be kickoff returns. While it’s always possible the Lions stick with former All-Pro Jamal Agnew in the role, he hasn’t had the same success handling kickoffs as he’s had with punts.
The Lions have some veterans on the roster with experience, including Lewis, while Powell showcased impressive return skills as an undrafted rookie last preseason. Ty Johnson, with his speed and sturdy 208-pound frame, has also been getting plenty of reps early this offseason.