The Writing Staff Takes A Look At Each Of Their Most Anticipated Camp Competitions.
The offseason for the NFL is hard. It is long and brutal. This is the part of the offseason that most football fans dread. The NFL draft, the event we spent all offseason looking forward to has come and gone. Analysts have already done all of their draft reviews. Most of the free agents have already joined their teams for the upcoming season. There isn’t a whole lot for football fans to get excited for until the preseason starts.
With the roster mostly put together for training camp competitions, the Detroit Lions Podcast writing staff looks forward a little bit to check in on some of the most anticipated upcoming training camp battles.
While the running back depth behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick is perhaps more mused-upon, the camp battle I’m most anxious to see shake out is the job for slot corner. With many NFL teams using 11 personnel as their base offenses, the position has essentially become a starter’s job. Consequently, the winner of the camp battle will have much more impact on the Lions’ season than whoever the third and fourth running backs end up being.
2016 incumbent Quandre Diggs endured something of a sophomore slump after an impressive rookie season, so he’s by no means a favorite to repeat. GM Bob Quinn took a one-year flier on former Raider DJ Hayden, the oft-injured former 12th overall pick in 2013, so he’s expected to contend for the job. And you can’t rule out fifth-round pick Jamal Agnew out of San Diego as a dark horse who could compete for the gig. I also think the coaching staff has to consider kicking Nevin Lawson inside, especially if second round pick Teez Tabor impresses early in his career. Then again, I’ve also forecasted that Lawson will be the slot cornerback moving forward, with the trio of him, Slay, and Tabor being the foundation of the defensive backfield.
If Lawson remains on the outside, the victor is still extremely important. Slay has proven himself to be a number one corner, and Lawson has been solid, if unspectacular. The erosion of depth at the spot in 2016 was exploited by opposing offenses down the stretch (An undrafted rookie that was claimed off a practice squad should never, under any circumstance, be tasked with guarding Odell Beckham Jr). So perhaps more important than who wins the nickel corner job, is how well they perform. The strength of the position will factor critically into their success containing a Green Bay offense that ran 83% of its offensive plays with three or more receivers on the field.
Battle of the backups. Jake Rudock vs. Brad Kaaya. Some think the Lions will hold two quarterbacks going into the season again like they did in 2016, as the third stringer would sit on the practice squad. Others think both of these quarterbacks would be snatched off the practice squad in a heartbeat, so keeping all three on the roster makes sense and keeps them in Detroit’s hands.
Jake Rudock impressed many last year, as the sixth-round pick from Michigan was doing well in comparison to veteran Dan Orlovsky. He was getting called the next Tom Brady, as a former sixth-round pick from Michigan was doing better than a veteran, but he was in no way shape or form replacing Matt Stafford. Even after his impressive performance, he was sent to the practice squad, but as the season went on quarterbacks were falling left and right and teams were eyeing Rudock, so Detroit called him to up keep him safe.
With Dan Orlovsky getting told that they would roll with Rudock as the backup in 2017, it meant Rudock wouldn’t be handed the job, but he had a shot at being the backup when he was on the practice squad to begin the 2016 season. The NFL draft introduced Brad Kaaya to the team and Rudock’s opponent was announced. Now I believe that both players should stay on the 53 man roster, as either one is good enough to get picked up by another team.
Rudock versus Kaaya will be a fun battle to watch. Some think Kaaya will steamroll Rudock, as others think Rudock has this in the bag. Both players are impressive no doubt about that, but it won’t be a blowout. This will take all four preseason games to determine. Luckily for both players, with the recent change on the roster cut from 90 to 53 happening at once instead of taking two weeks to do so, it gives them more time to play. The third preseason game might not be what it used to, as the starters might sit out even more and the people fighting for a roster spot get more playing time.
Can Alex Carter become the next Kerry Hyder?
Last week it was reported that Alex Carter would be changing positions from corner to safety, and I for one cannot wait to see what comes of it. In a nothing-to-lose move, Carter has seemed to add a ton of muscle mass to his upper body and will most likely get work at both free and strong safety throughout camp.
While the cornerback position is absolutely filled with players competing for 5-6 spots, the safety position has a much more bare cupboard, and Carter, should he show some quick development, would not be immensely hard pressed to find himself a spot on the 53 man roster. Coming out of the draft, many people thought this would be Carter’s more natural spot anyways, and now we get a chance to actually see if he can make the transition.
Carter has always had strong fundamentals and ability to play in space, but his lack of speed and reaction ability prevented him from keeping with any halfway decent receiver. There always seems to be one player however that comes out of nowhere in the offseason to sneak on to the team and make an impact, and that guy this year could be Alex Carter.
There are a lot of different intriguing camp battles heading into the year. The running back position should have some interesting competition. The corner back position is primed for some close camp battles. There are a lot of guys fighting for a spot on the back end of the wide receiver depth chart. One of the Detroit Lions’ camp battles will affect all of these positions: Kick returner.
WIth Andre Roberts departing from the Lions, this spot is wide open for the taking. There are a number of players that will be banking on this position to solidify themselves among the final 53 men on the roster.
Jamal Agnew has electric speed at the corner back position and, while the hope is that he finds a way to develop into a nice piece in the secondary, his most immediate path to impact is through special teams. If Agnew lands this spot, there is going to likely be another corner back that is on the wrong end of the roster cuts. With the offseason addition of DJ Hayden, it looks possible that Quandre Diggs ends up being that player. If Agnew doesn’t find himself a special teams role (as a returner or elsewhere), he may find himself on the practice squad going into 2017.
Dwayne Washington returned some kicks last year and, while he wasn’t terribly effective, he has handled more of the return duties for Detroit than any of the other fringe-roster players. The addition of Matt Asiata further muddies a backfield that already saw the addition of Tion Green as an undrafted free agent. Washington struggled on the ground last year, and his roster spot was never guaranteed this offseason, but those additions make it increasingly difficult to find a place for him. Kick returning might be his best outlook.
Finally we have receivers. Both Keshawn Martin and Jace Billingsley are going to be looking to snag the kick returning job as well. Billingsley offers more upside in the receiving game, but Martin has more experience returing kicks. With the back end of the receiver depth chart a little murky, landing the kick return job would give one of these guys a guaranteed spot on the depth chart going into the season.