The Detroit Lions begin training camp on August 3rd. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting health news and position battles to watch in Allen Park during Training Camp in 2015.
The Lions have several WRS that could win the third WR job. Lance Moore was added in free agency returning to the Lombardi/Saints type offense that he knows well. Moore had a down year in Pittsburgh in 2014 but still offers good hands and separation in the slot. Moore will battle incumbent Jeremy Ross, oft injured Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller and TJ Jones.
Ross played a lot of snaps in 2014 and has decent size at 6’2. However, Ross did not get enough separation and only had 24 catches for 316 yards and one touchdown. Moore should have the edge over Ross.
The wildcards in the race are Fuller, Broyles and Jones. Fuller had 14 receptions for 212 yards and 1 TD. Fuller is more of an outside deep threat WR. Fuller is 6’2 but skinny and struggles against the press and locating the ball. If Fuller can fix his press and location issues in year 3, he could earn more playing time on the outside while the Lions move Tate into the slot more often.
Broyles had a good rookie year in 2012 but was injured in late 2012 and mid-year 2013. Broyles did not play much in 2014 and Caldwell has stated that is due to Golden Tate filling the slot. Broyles is a good route runner with good hands but just couldn’t stay healthy until 2014. If Broyles produced like he did in the 2014 season, he should see more playing time while keeping Tate on the outside. However, Tate is dangerous getting YAC in the slot and Detroit won’t weaken their firepower just to get Broyles on the field.
TJ Jones missed all of 2014 with nerve damage in his arm. The 2014 6th round pick is a good route runner and has sneaky speed. However, Jones is a practice squad candidate unless he surprises the coaches in practice and pre-season. The best bet is Moore winning the job but Fuller on the field when a deep threat is needed. Jones is practice squad eligible. Ross making the roster depends on him winning the return man battle.
Tahir Whitehead and Kyle Van Noy will be a very good battle to watch at SAM LB. Whitehead won the job last year over rookie 2nd round pick Van Noy. Van Noy had a sports hernia injury and missed the first 8 games of 2014. Van Noy was used sparingly in goal line packages. The Lions are high on Van Noy’s talent and he will get a chance against Whitehead. Whithead filled in well at MLB once Tulloch was injured Week 3. Whitehead should win the job but Van Noy will eat into his snaps. Both have a good pass rushing skillset that Teryl Austin can use on the blitz. 6 sacks between the two players could help the pass rush in 2015.
Bill Bentley was cut in June after several injury plagued seasons. Veteran Josh Wilson was added in the offseason to stabilize the nickel job. Wilson has played for several teams and does a solid job in the slot but struggles on the outside. Wilson is the leading candidate but will get strong competition from rookie 6th round pick Quandre Diggs.
Diggs shined in OTAs and mini-camp and Austin loves his instincts. Diggs doesn’t have good size but if his instincts translate in pads, Diggs could win the job. Second year pro Nevin Lawson returns from a gruesome foot injury suffered in Week 2 of 2014. Lawson did a solid job in 63 snaps at nickel in Week 1 and 2. If healthy, the 4th round pick, Lawson could steal his job back. The best bet is the Lions roll with the experienced Josh Wilson to stabilize the position for a year while Lawson and Diggs continue to develop.
Tyrunn Walker was added in free agency in March and many thought it was clear he would be the starter opposite Haloti Ngata. However, 5th round pick from 2014, Carraun Reid earned first team reps often during OTAs and mini-camp. Gabe Wright was drafted in Round 4 (using a 2016 3rd round pick) and DC Teryl Austin said he could play between 20-25 snaps.
There will be a battle for the DT 2 and DT 3 between Walker, Reid and Wright. Reid has the most experience in the system but struggled as most rookies do. Reid is intelligent as a Princeton graduate and transformed using Suh workout schemes. Reid was in the best shape during OTAs and mini-camp. Walker has the most experience in the league earning over 300 snaps for the Saints last year and playing well in pass rush and run defense. Wright is an unknown but talented rookie with good first step and good motor. Experience should win out with Walker; but Reid and Wright will get a good amount of playing time in 2015.
Interior Offensive Line
Laken Tomlinson was drafted in Round 1 of the draft in 2015 and Travis Swanson was added in Round 3 of the 2014 draft. These two players will battle veteran and former Lion/Broncos center Manny Ramirez for the starting center and guard spot. Ramirez was traded to Detroit during the 1st round of the draft when Detroit moved back from 23 to 28. Tomlinson and Swanson both have talent but lack starting experience at guard and center. Swanson did start five games in 2014 but mostly at right guard for an injured Larry Warford. Right Guard Larry Warford didn’t win the job until pre-season in 2013. We will see when Tomlinson and Swanson will earn the starting nod or if the Lions roll with experience.
Ramirez is strong, experienced and did well at both guard and center with the Broncos from 2012-2014 in big games. However, the Lions would best be served in the long run if Tomlinson and Swanson win the left guard and center job, respectively.
Jeremy Ross was a good returner in 2013 but a below average returner with fumble and fair catch issues in 2014. Ross is the incumbent but will be challenged by 2nd round pick Ameer Abdullah, 2012 2nd round pick Ryan Broyles and Lance Moore for the punt return job. Golden Tate can return punts but will be used sparingly when a big play is needed. RBs Abdullah and Theo Riddick could challenge Ross on kickoffs. Ross winning a roster spot will be based on if he can maintain the return job and continue to be a solid gunner on punt coverage.
The Lions have several players with injuries to monitor during camp. Right Tackle LaAdrian Waddle and MLB Stephen Tulloch are recovering from torn ACLs. Tulloch participated in individual drills in OTAS/mini-camp but not team drills. Tulloch should be ready to roll on August 3rd. Having the typically durable Tulloch on temporary PUP would be a negative surprise.
Waddle has yet to participate in any drills recovering from his December injury. Waddle is a key starter on the offensive line. If the ACL injury lingers, the PUP list could be in play for the first 6 games of the season for Waddle. Waddle has missed many games during his first two seasons due to various injuries. Waddle needs to prove he can stay healthy.
Backup right tackle Cornelius Lucas had an undisclosed injury during mini-camp at right tackle. Detroit could be down to the 3rd string right tackle temporarily to start training camp and pre-season. With converted TE 7th round pick Mike Williams or 7th round rookie Corey Robinson the next man up; this is a concern for Detroit. Jake Long is available but he is coming off back to back torn ACLs.
Nevin Lawson is recovering from foot surgery but has been in individual drills for CBs in OTAs. The Lions have plenty of nickel backs with Josh Wilson, rookie Quandre Diggs and Chris Owens and Lawson will be a good candidate for the PUP list.
Joseph Fauria only participated in individual drills during OTAs and mini-camp. Fauria injured himself chasing after his puppy early in the 2014 season Fauria’s ankle being healthy will be a key for Detroit in the redzone (7 Tds in 2013). The Lions are counting on Fauria early in camp.
Jason Jones had a knee procedure in late June and may not be back until Week 1. The Lions have young players such as Devin Taylor and Larry Webster to get much needed reps at DE. Veterans Corey Wootten and Daryl Tapp can also man the closed end spot during Jones’ absence. The Lions should be cautious and wait for Jones for Week 1. Jones had knee injuries ending his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Dwight Freeney or Osi Umeniyora would be interesting August veteran additions if the Lions get nervous with their DE depth.
Joique Bell had offseason knee and Achilles surgeries. Bell did not participate in OTAs or mini-camp. Bell’s status should be monitored the closest with rookie Ameer Abdullah in the mix. If Bell is not healthy, Pierre Thomas could be a good late addition for Detroit with his Saints scheme knowledge.
Other areas to watch will be the overall development of the rookies and Lions player’s in year two of the offensive and defensive schemes. Stafford should be more comfortable in year 2 of Lombardi’s complex offense. How will his accuracy look? Will Eric Ebron should be more comfortable in his second year in the league? Stafford should be on the same page with his receivers more and understand the line calls, play audibles and WR route checks.
On defense, Detroit should show development in year 2 of the Austin scheme by the DEs, LBs and secondary. Three Defensive Tackles are new and we will see them in pads for the first time. How much pressure and run stopping can the DTs contribute? Can Ansah take the next step while seeing more double teams? Will Austin blitz more with the loss of Suh and Fairley? The questions won’t truly be answered until the regular season but training camp provides the first glimpse.
Real football is just around the corner. Stay tuned for Camp News and Notes.