With Training Camp Starting This Week, See The Detroit Lions Podcast Writers’ Takes On Who To Watch At Camp.
Last year, the Lions drafted Michael Roberts out of Toledo and thought that they were getting a good blocking tight end with large hands who could catch touchdowns. He is a solid blocker, but as the tertiary option at TE last season, he produced four catches for 46 yards. Fast forward to this year and the Lions have no clear number one at the tight end position. The time is right for Roberts to make a big step forward in development. He’ll have the opportunities, it’ll just be a matter of whether or not he can figure out how he can use his body to get separation for catches as he was able to do at the collegiate level.
Detroit has one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL. With the deep threat of Marvin Jones and the YAC king Golden Tate who can either take you deep or turn a five-yard catch into a 55-yard touchdown. Sophomore Kenny Golladay can hopefully turn it around after a decent rookie year that saw him deal with injuries and TJ Jones had his best year last season as the number three/four guy, he could see a bigger role as well.
This corps can even be better with rookie UDFA Teo Redding. Redding impressed during the Lions minicamp and has a real chance to make the 53 man roster, if not the practice squad at least. Redding totaled 1,328 yards on 94 catches and 14 touchdowns in four years at Bowling Green State. He dealt with a knee injury last year and his head coach said if it wasn’t for that he would have hit 1,000 yards alone last season, instead, he was held to 624.
Momentum is on Redding’s side and if he can continue to surprise the coaches on the team, he could sneak in and be a good depth wide receiver. Preseason is a big test as well as he will have to showcase what he can do during a game over a practice. Preseason is roughly two weeks away, and these practices are where he needs to show that he can be another weapon for quarterback Matt Stafford.
For me, the person that needs to improve the most is cornerback Teez Tabor. There are a few reasons for this in my mind. The first reason is that he was a second-round draft pick who didn’t contribute much in his opening season. That’s not unheard of, especially at the corner position, but he had the opportunity to lay down a marker last year and he didn’t quite do it. He did play well when he was playing but he needs to solidify that number two position this season.
Another reason has to do with star cornerback Darius Slay. With him solidifying his position as a top corner in the NFL that means he’ll receive fewer targets his way. Also while he follows the number one receiver around that opens the door for the number two corner to have an easier matchup. These two factors will make whoever is lining up in the number two position more likely to be targeted. That guy should be Tabor.
The final reason is the defensive change. With Patricia coming in and with the way he has run defenses before he gives his corners more chances to make plays as they’ll have over the top help more often. For Tabor that is fantastic as his only weakness, and why he dropped into the second round, was his speed. When not relying on speed he made tons of plays in college and was a real ball hawk. He needs to translate this to the NFL and coming into his sophomore year it is his chance to do so.
In his rookie season, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin did not do a lot for the Detroit Lions defense. He recorded 30 tackles and two passes defended in 14 games (none of which were starts). However, Reeves-Maybin is a player I think can make a big jump in year two, starting in training camp.
Reeves-Maybin’s biggest strength is in pass coverage. He already started playing defense on passing downs as a rookie midway through the season last year and was a big upgrade over every other player in Detroit’s linebacking corps.
Where Reeves-Maybin needs to improve is in run defense. Not only does he need to get better at diagnosing plays and deciding which offensive line gaps to attack, but he simply needs to bulk up, but so he can be more powerful in tackling and do a better job of getting off blocks. Coming into the NFL, he was only 6’0″ and 230 pounds. If he bulks up a little bit while maintaining his speed, he can become a Pro Bowler in the NFL.
Reeves-Maybin already has what it takes to be an effective linebacker against the pass, but if he can improve his game against the run during training camp, he has the potential to become a future star player on the Lions defense.
Zac Warber || @Warbs24: Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Jalen Reeves-Maybin had an underrated first season in my opinion. Coming into the NFL from the University of Tennessee, Reeves-Maybin was undersized for the linebacker position. At the NFL Combine, he measured in at just 6’0″, 230 lbs. Coming off of a knee injury as well, there was some skepticism of how much muscle growth he could get going into the season.
Due to the knee injury, the Lions were slow to introduce him. Down near the end of the season, they threw him in more and he began to stand out the more he played. He was an electric player at Tennessee, and as he got healthier and stronger in 2017, the more he returned to form.
However, going into 2018, Reeves-Maybin is in a tougher position. The team is transitioning from a base 4-3 to a multiple defenses under new head coach Matt Patricia.
It’s worth noting this defense could look quite similar in 4-3 and nickel defense looks. However, the concepts employed by Patricia in New England would suggest a change in defensive philosophy.
Instead of the defensive lineman penetrating to disrupt plays like in previous years. The scheme design has been predicated on interior defensive lineman forcing double teams and holding gaps, to free up their linebackers to attack downhill.
Which is why I think Reeves-Maybin needs to have a great camp. Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard have the MIKE and SAM linebacker roles likely solidified. The WILL role was his down the stretch last season. However, the Lions also signed veteran linebacker Christian Jones, who has played every linebacker position in his career and done so effectively.
Reeves-Maybin has been special at times, but he needs to prove he can play effectively at the weight they need him to be, as well as maintain his health. I do not see him getting cut unless he has a terrible camp, but also has a real shot at being a week one starter if he can continue to build on his late 2017 growth.