An Overview Of The Different Position Battles Taking Place Over Training Camp.
The Detroit Lions are getting ready to begin 2017 Training Camp on Monday, in front of thousands of fans who will travel to their practice facility in Allen Park and watch as players fight to make their way onto the season roster.
Training camp battles will be put on full display starting on July 31st, and the march towards final cut day will ramp up. Here is a look at the different positions and where there are still questions as to who will make that final cut.
While Matthew Stafford is very secure in his position as the face of the franchise at QB, there is still some question as to when his contract extension will be buttoned up. He was reported to have stated that he wanted it to be finished by training camp, which means we should hear something in the coming days.
Behind Stafford though is a much more open field, as former backup QB Dan Orlovsky was cut from the Lions earlier this year. Orlovsky now heads to LA to be the third QB for the Rams. In his place, the Lions will need to choose between their 2016 6th round pick Jake Rudock or their 2017 6th round pick Brad Kaaya.
All signs currently point to Rudock being secure in his position, after spending a whole season with the Lions already, but Kaaya maybe able to make a case for the Lions to keep a third QB on the final 53 man roster.
Last season the Lions placed Rudock on the practice squad for some of the year, but once the Chicago Bears came snooping to possibly sign him, the Lions brought him up to the active roster. A similar situation may happen this year with Kaaya, though with the Bears investing heavily in their draft pick QB Mitch Trubisky, it is doubtful they will be interested in any of the Lions’ practice squad play callers.
After hitting injured reserve last September, Lions’ fans have been waiting for the day that 2nd round pick, Ameer Abdullah, would retake the field. After three great years as running back for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Abdullah failed to have much impact for the Detroit Lions in his rookie season. Hype for his 2016 season though picked up until a possible lisfranc injury on his left foot sidelined him for the remainder of the year.
Abdullah looks healthy and ready to regain his position as the lead running back in Detroit at training camp this year. The Lions will want to see if Abdullah has lost anything as a result of his injury, or if it affects his ability to make a cut. The team needs him healthy and at his best this year if they hope to make noise in the North.
As the change of pace back, Theo Riddick will also be showcasing his rehabbed wrists after a season ending injury late last season. In the offseason Riddick had surgery on his wrists, and recently it was reported that they are now “structurally sound”. The Lions will be interested in his pass-catching ability this year, and if the injuries will have a lasting effect.
Behind those two running backs is a brewing camp battle between Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, Mike James, Tion Green, and Matt Asiata.
Last year the Lions kept four running backs at the beginning of the season, after injuries they signed players off the street, this could very well be the case again this year. Zach Zenner produced well for the Lions when asked last season, though many believe he was handicapped by a conservative offense that wouldn’t let him loose in the second half of some games.
Zenner has shown that he can step in for Abdullah if needed, and Asiata has experience from being in a lead role in Minnesota. Asiata also is a bulky guy who could help with blocking, a needed asset after the Taylor Decker injury.
As for Mike James, he was a practice squad body last year and probably will remain there for this coming season. James does have a possibility being cut, as Washington has a chance to either make the team due to his special teams ability or drop to the practice squad. Washington got his chance to start last year, but did not seem to impress.
Look for Washington, James and undrafted free agent rookie Tion Green to fight to stay on the team, even if just in a practice squad capacity.
Last year the Lions kept six wide receivers for the regular season, two of those spots were taken by the 1a/1b duo of Marvin Jones Jr and Golden Tate and a third by redzone dynamo Anquan Boldin. Two depth receivers in TJ Jones and Jace Billingsley also made the final roster, along with Andre Roberts who primarily returned kick offs and punts, but also made an occasional impact on offense.
Roberts left the Lions to head to Atlanta in free agency, opening up a battle for the role of return man. While the job may not fall to a wide receiver, it may be the difference for one of the guys on “the bubble” to land a spot on the team. Jones initially started on the practice squad last year, after losing the return job to Roberts last season.
The third wide receiver slot is Kenny Golladay’s to lose. The third round pick from the 2017 draft has great size and athleticism that some folks in the dark reaches of twitter have compared to Calvin Johnson. He is expected to have the type of impact on the team that you would expect from a WR3 this year.
There is plenty of new fodder for the Lions to pick through for the WR4 and possible WR5 slots as well as any practice squad guys. Of course early favorites for these spots are Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, and TJ Jones, but Keshawn Martin, Ryan Spadola, Robert Tonyan Jr, Dontez Ford, Noel Thomas, and Michael Rector will all have a shot.
The Lions signed Darren Fells in the offseason from Arizona, a competent blocking and pass catching tight end to complement feature TE Eric Ebron. Not knowing that Taylor Decker would go down with an injury, Bob Quinn’s acquisition was still heralded as a good move. Now with Decker out possibly till the bye, Fells will be relied heavily upon to help shore up the left side of the offensive line.
With Fells there to block, this should free up Ebron to be more of a pass catching tight end, a role which he is more suited to play. The Lions will be looking to see how this dynamic plays out once the pads are on in training camp, hopefully allowing Ebron more chances to catch the ball in short yardage situations.
Battling for the third TE role will be 2017 4th round pick Michael Roberts, Cole Wick, and Khari Lee. Michael Roberts has the best chance of making that third spot, with Wick and Lee fighting to be on the practice squad.
The big news this offseason was the shoulder surgery for Taylor Decker, that put him on the PUP list as of July 26th. Lions General Manager Bob Quinn went to market and got two possible replacements in Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio last June, hoping one of them could step up and patch the left side of the line. Decker is joined by Corey Robinson as well on the PUP.
In free agency Quinn was able to make a couple high profile moves in signing TJ Lang and Rick Wagner to bolster the offensive line. The lions will be looking to see these two help keep opposing players away from Matthew Stafford’s right side, as well as opening up lanes for Abdullah to run. Their hype, for some fans, has been overshadowed after the news about Decker, but look for them to make a significant impact.
The Lions kept nine offensive lineman last year, with left guard Graham Glasgow and center Travis Swanson sure to keep their starting roles this year. Expect multiple position battles to take place behind these starters as the remaining players try to keep their spot on the team or make practice squad.
Joe Dahl and Cornelius Lucas have carved out backup roles from their experience with the team last year, but Laken Tomlinson may be on the bubble to get cut at training camp. Brandon Thomas, Storm Norton, Leo Koloamatangi, Tony Hills, and Matt Rotheram will all be looking to have a job come final cut day on September 2nd.
The front four remain much of the same for the Detroit Lions, but they lost Devin Taylor in free agency at the defensive end position. Armonty Bryant who contributed some last year before getting injured and going on IR was suspended for the first four games of the season and could possibly get cut from the team due to character issues in the offseason.
Bryant was looking to compete for the DE spot opposite Ezekiel Ansah with Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington and Anthony Zettel. Other possible players who could compete for this position are Brandon Copeland, Alex Barrett, and 2017 7th round pick Patrick O’Connor.
The interior line also got hit with a suspension as Khyri Thornton will also miss four games and has the possibility of being cut. For a spot behind Haloti Ngata and A’shawn Robinson, the competition will be heating up as Akeem Spence, 2017 6th round draft pick Jeremiah Ledbetter, Ego Ferguson, Bruce Gaston, and Jordan Hill all compete for a spot with the team.
Bob Quinn’s 2017 draft started out strong by filling a crucial need at the linebacker position when he drafted Jarrad Davis with the 17th pick of the first round. Davis will be taking over as middle linebacker, pushing Tahir Whitehead to the outside. Last year Whitehead’s unconvincing performance lead to high completion rates for opposing quarterbacks as they repeatedly targeted him.
Both Josh Bynes and DeAndre Levy left the team as free agents in the offseason, leaving behind an already weak linebacker corps. Quinn also brought in Paul Worrilow and drafted Jalen Reeves-Maybin in the fourth round to give the group a needed boost of talent. Look for Thurston Armbrister, Steve Longa, Nick Bellore, and Antoine Williams to factor in when the Lions make their final decisions on who they will keep.
In the draft Bob Quinn made what to some was a questionable move choosing Jalen ‘Teez’ Tabor as the Lions’ second pick. Tabor had been scouted as a first round pick, but that bubble burst after a poor showing at the NFL Combine. Thought to be slow, Tabor blamed his 40 yard dash time on a hamstring sprain.
Fast forward to late July, and Tabor has been placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list in what could be a precautionary move to make sure all is well with that injury. While it is difficult for rookies to adjust to NFL competition early, Tabor is thought to be challenging Nevin Lawson for a spot opposite Darius ‘Big Play’ Slay.
Though Slay had what seemed to be a down year in 2016, he is locked into his position as a starting CB. The Lions hope to find someone to compliment him on the other side. Even though Lawson wasn’t as much of a thorn in the Lions’ side as Whitehead was last year, there is a belief they can improve at the second cornerback position.
Expect some training camp competition between Tabor, Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Johnson Bademosi, Alex Carter, Adairius Barnes, Des Lawrence, Charles Washington, and Josh Thornton to make the team or practice squad.
Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, and Miles Killebrew are an effective rotation of safeties in the backfield for the Lions. Rolan Milligan and Don Carey are both on the PUP list. While there isn’t much drama to be had in the form of a camp battle, Alex Carter or Charlers Washington could be kept as depth for this position this year.
Look for Miles Killebrew to take a step forward this year and possibly reach the next level. Killebrew’s development could bode well for the Lions future.
As stated earlier there is a battle brewing in training camp for who will return punts and kickoffs this year for the Lions. This could be what wins a spot for one player over another in a position group.
Kicker Matt Prater, punter Sam Martin, and long snapper Don Muhlbach all have guaranteed positions on this 2017 team. Currently Sam Martin is on the Active/Non-Football Injury list due to a foot injury on his planting foot.
The Lions signed Kasey Redfern back in April, who will be taking over for Martin while he heals up during part of training camp.