Detroit Lions: 10 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise in OTAs
It's almost June, and NFL players across the country are joining their teammates in official workouts and drills, with coaches there and everything.
That's much better than seeing them in courtrooms and negotiations.
This is what an NFL offseason is supposed to look like, and the Lions are taking full advantage of it, as they use the time to work on fundamentals and players' individual skill sets.
Picking out the top performers from OTAs is difficult, as head coach Jim Schwartz has said himself that he isn't using OTAs as an evaluation point. As a result, you may find that some of these are a bit of a stretch in terms of direct impact, but I have my reasons.
Besides, it's a serious mistake to take any activity in May seriously enough to project it into the regular season. All that's happening right now is players are working on things like their footwork, blocking techniques and bull rushes.
Nobody is really going at it thus far in activities, with one rather notable exception.
But even though it's early and thus impossible to get any kind of handle on what's going on with these players in the long-term, the NFL is a year-round cycle because of activities like this.
So don't read too much into this, just enjoy it while you wait for the preseason to begin in just over two months. And don't be surprised if these guys feature heavily in that preseason.
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The man widely considered an incredible steal for the Detroit Lions in 2011 didn't play a single snap fully healthy all season.
Thus far in 2012, he looks to be back to 100 percent—maybe even more than.
Because Fairley's injury was a broken foot, he was limited in the kinds of practice activities he could perform while recovery. As a result, he hit the weight room hard and has reportedly put on an additional 15 pounds of muscle, while losing an equivalent amount of body fat to remain at his playing weight..
When people talk about the value of an NFL weight-training program, this is what they're referring to.
Fairley looks ready to take on the world at this point and should be miles more productive in 2012 than he was in 2011.
Considering the quarter of football everyone gauges him by, in which he treated the New Orleans Saints' All-World interior line like a collection of Raggedy Andy dolls, his recovery and muscle gain is downright scary.
That said, (and this is a recent update), another thing that's especially scary is Fairley's inability to stay out of trouble. If Fairley is going to be yet another example of talent gone to waste in the NFL because of dumb individual decisions, you can take everything I just said about him and burn it in a trash can.
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Mikel Leshoure isn't a full participant in drills yet, and he has some off-field issues to deal with, but he is back to running on that surgically repaired Achilles and seems on track (at least physically) for an opening day return.
That return is likely to be delayed by a league suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy, though no such punishment has yet come down from the league office.
But even if Leshoure is suspended (likely for about four games, as these punishments go), that's just a little more time for him to build his strength and a little less wear-and-tear on him by the end of the season.
Admittedly, Leshoure hasn't showed much of anything to this point, other than that his recovery is on track. But at this point, that's all the Lions need to see from him. It would actually be worse in the long run if Leshoure was pushing himself to get back too early.
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Like Leshoure, Ryan Broyles isn't participating fully in workouts and drills just yet. His stock is up mostly just due to the fact that he's in camp at all.
But Broyles seems to be a little farther along in his recovery (admittedly from a slightly less-severe injury) than Leshoure, and he actually took part in some drills and workouts during OTAs.
By Schwartz's admission, Broyles is "still not full speed" and taking his workouts at a "different pace than the rest of the guys," according to MLive.com.
But he's participating, which is a surprise considering he was thought of as someone who would have to fight to be ready for training camp.
From the sounds of things, Broyles might even be benefiting from being separate from the rest of the group. He got some private instruction from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan as part of his OTA experience, which should give you an idea of how big the Lions' expectations are for Broyles.
Kyle Vanden Bosch
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There hasn't been a whole lot of talk about Kyle Vanden Bosch's contributions in OTAs so far.
There has, however, been a lot of talk from Vanden Bosch about other players, especially those on his unit.
Most recently, Vanden Bosch shared his thoughts on Fairley: "Nick has looked really good throughout our drills and workouts. You know, you forget how special of an athlete he is because he never really got over that foot injury."
This is a small thing, but doesn't it sound like he's speaking more like a coach than a teammate? All this proves is that Vanden Bosch is fully integrated to a leadership position with the Lions, and that makes him increasingly valuable at a time when his physical skills are beginning to wane.
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It's still touch-and-go with Jahvid Best, who has yet to be cleared for a full return to football activities.
But since OTAs are, at this point, non-contact, so Best is free to participate in drills without fear of another concussion.
And according to Nate Burleson, Best looks not only as fast as he did before but bigger and stronger.
"If he can keep the same speed that he’s always had his whole life and put on muscle like I think he’s done, woo-hoo that’s going to be trouble for them guys out there,’’ Burleson said in the Oakland Press.
The issue for Best has never been his on-field production, but rather his ability to stay out there producing. And while nothing Best can do in OTAs will fix that, seeing that's he's as physically impressive as ever when healthy is at least encouraging.
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Louis Delmas has been quiet throughout OTAs. That's a big reason why he's on this list.
Because we've heard all about Titus Young throwing the sucker punch on Delmas, but nothing about a retaliation or the thing escalating into a full-scale fight.
Because Delmas (presumably) kept his cool, the Lions have been able to downplay the story and let it die down as quickly as it cropped up.
Of course, I'd much rather be talking about how Delmas has improved his pass-coverage skills, but let's just take it one thing at a time for now.
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Travis Lewis may well see the majority of his playing time on special teams this year, but he's certainly doing whatever he can to be seen elsewhere.
In rookie minicamps, Lewis was the only one who played both inside and outside linebacker, looking relatively comfortable at both positions, and Schwartz noticed.
The Lions have Stephen Tulloch firmly in place, so the MIKE position is not a serious concern, but there is currently no heir apparent should the Lions lose Tulloch to injury. And since Tulloch is out of OTAs with knee tendonitis, this is Lewis' chance to prove his worth in the middle of the defense.
Tulloch isn't expected to be out for long, so Lewis' window is small, but if he can prove even serviceable in the middle, that well help his case greatly as he tries to make the roster and the defensive rotation.
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Kevin Smith is still on the team, and that's a small victory in and of itself.
He's also the least-injured of the top three running backs on the roster, which is also encouraging (and unusual).
It was mentioned in passing, but Kevin Smith has apparently been bulking up in the weight room along with Best and Fairley. That seems like a small thing, but added muscle can really help players considered injury-prone.
Additional bulk isn't necessarily going to help protect Best's head or Smith's knees, but provided it doesn't subtract from speed, it can't possibly hurt.
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Hey guys, Calvin Johnson has been the Madden cover athlete for over a month now, and he's still walking under his own power!
Sorry, maybe I'm being a little facetious here. But this is what the Madden "Curse" does. Every day Johnson goes without injury is a small victory, and every time he gets hit or lays out for a ball, we're going to wince.
If he drops a catchable pass, it's the curse. Bad call on the field, it's the curse. Misses a few plays after getting shaken up, it's curse. Overall receiving numbers decrease because of increased effectiveness in the run game, it's the curse.
I fully expect Johnson to have a huge year this year, but it could decline statistically as the Lions attempt to restore some semblance of balance in their offense. But in the meantime, everything bad that happens is going to be looked at as a by-product of the "Curse," even if it's not actually a bad thing overall.
So by that logic, every day that something bad doesn't happen is a "stock up" moment for him. It's not like he has to prove anything to us on the field aside from continuing his consistent play.
Just About Everybody Who Isn't New to the Team
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This season is going to be a very visible example of the value of consistency in the coaching staff.
One of the major features of OTAs this season is that there is no "install" period. In other words, the coaches and coordinators are not spending extra time on drilling the offensive/defenses scheme, terminology and responsibilities. The players are expected to know them already.
Most of the players on the team have been with the Lions for at least two years, which means they've been running with this scheme and responsibilities for two years. They have the basics down.
What that means is that the Lions can spend more time fine-tuning, teaching the details and individual skills. Rookies have to put in extra work to get up to speed, but that's how it should be, and veterans who know the system can now serve as a resource to get the young guys up to speed.
This may not seem significant, but remember that the new CBA limits the amount (and type) of practice time teams get.
The fact that the Lions don't have to spend time installing basic plays and concepts means they have more time to focus on individual improvements, conditioning and fine-tuning the rough spots, which is exactly the kind of thing that cost them games last year.
Considering the schemes in place have been proven to be effective, the consistency in coaching has to be seen as a win for everyone.