Training camp 2016 is mercifully upon us. All of us Lions fans have been waiting for this moment since Kam Chancellor punched the football out of Calvin Johnson’s arms on Monday Night Football in Seattle. It was that point when our Lions, who fooled not only us but even the national football landscape into thinking the lovable losers were now a contender, fell to 0-4. The wait for next year effectively began 297 days ago.
The wait for training camp is over
Veterans report on July 27th, with the first full-squad practice scheduled for the 28th. This is the first camp in the Bob Quinn era, and it has come with some changes. First, the Lions will hold their first joint practice since 2001 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 9 & 10 before meeting in their first preseason game on the 12th. This is a clear example of the Patriot way coming to Allen Park as New England participates in joint practices almost every season. I couldn’t love this enough. One of the biggest reasons the Lions got off to such a slow start last year was because their training camp simply didn’t prepare them for the NFL season. What better way to prepare than to see how you stack up against one of the NFL’s most successful franchises? Darius Slay against Antonio Brown. Veteran James Harrison rushing on rookie Taylor Decker. A largely unproven secondary against Big Ben Roethlisberger. The Lions are clearly the younger brother, but you don’t rise up and beat the big guys without first getting punched in the mouth a few times.
Second, Quinn has created more competition at every position in just over half a year of being GM than we’ve seen in years. Stevan Ridley, Johnson Bademosi, Rafael Bush, Anquan Boldin, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, A’Shawn Robinson, and… well, you get the point. If you want a spot on this Lions roster after training camp this season, Bob Quinn made sure that you’re going to have to earn it.
Third, Anquan Boldin. Admittedly, I got a little too excited for this signing, but who didn’t overreact at least a little bit? In all likelihood he’s a 50/500/3 guy, and anything over that is just a bonus (will he wear #81?) However, as Jeff Risdon said in the latest Detroit Lions Podcast, Boldin’s biggest value doesn’t come from his on-the-field production – no one can replace Calvin Johnson’s physical ability – Boldin’s biggest value is in the veteran voice and leadership he brings to the locker room and WR corps. Golden Tate is in his third year on the Lions, but he really isn’t a leader of men. Boldin can help Marvin Jones take the next step, and mentor young talented T.J. Jones. In the meantime, a lineup with Boldin and Jones on the outside, Tate in the slot, Ebron on the line, and Riddick in the backfield with #9 slinging the rock doesn’t sound too bad to me.
Here are some things to keep your eye on these next few weeks of training camp:
Who starts at strong safety?
Rookie hitter Miles Killebrew, injury riddled vet Rafael Bush, Patriots cast-off Tavon Wilson, and 2015 Lions practice-squad guy Isaiah Johnson are in the running. At this point I would predict Bush to get the spot, but if Killebrew can give Teryl Austin enough proof that he is ready to defend the pass in the NFL then he could wrestle the starting spot away.
Who steps up on offense in Calvin Johnson absence?
The popular answer has been that everyone will pick up the weight, however every offense needs the one player it can go to in a big spot to make a big play. Golden Tate would be the safe choice, but don’t sleep on Theo Riddick. I want to see Jim Bob get creative with Riddick this season. He made a killing last year just dropping out of the backfield and running with the football, but NFL defensive coordinators especially in the NFC North had a full offseason to solve the match-up nightmare he provided. Riddick can line up in the slot, or even split out wide, which is something the Patriots did with James White and Dion Lewis last year. The Lions probably won’t show too much of their hand in training camp on this one.
Can Devin Taylor be a compliment to Ziggy?
We all know Ziggy is a stud, and this year Lions fans will find out who Devin Taylor is. Last year Taylor was a rotational rusher primarily used on pass rushing downs. He will be replacing Jason Jones who was extremely solid on the left side for two seasons. Taylor had seven sacks last year including a three sack show against the Packers in which he will be remembered for none of them. He (unfortunately) has to live with the phantom facemask instead. If Taylor works out, the Lions will have two massive men on the edges with Ansah at 6’6” and Taylor at 6’7”.
It’s finally time for Lions football. Bring out the Kool-Aid, and remember to stay thirsty my friends.