Detroit Lions Training Camp Reports 2012: Questions
Back by popular demand, I will be reporting daily from the Detroit Lions training camp sidelines. I’ll do my best to bring the experience to life for those who can’t attend and will try to get answers to the questions that have piled up during the offseason.
The Lions haven’t announced their open session schedule as of this writing, but I thought that it would be a good idea to kick this off now so we can hash over some questions that fans want answers to.
Hey, that’s what training camp is all about, isn’t it?
I’ve been attending open sessions for several years now and my summer day-camp experiences have been worth every moment in the sub-tropical swamp that is the Allen Park training facility. I’ll catch up with friends and steal a moment, or two with players and coaches for tidbits to share.
To the casual observer, there’s so much eye candy with players doing position drills that it’s sometimes difficult to gain insight when your focus seems to be multitasking while schmoozing with the kindred spirits around you. You just can’t see everything, but I’ve learned who, and what to focus on during various practice segments.
By the time the Lions break camp, we should have a pretty good idea regarding who gets it, and who doesn’t.
While the multiple question marks of previous camps have subsided with the influx of talent, some questions persist. Let’s take a look at some questions for key units going into camp, and how we might learn how the final roster might shake out.
As usual, I want to hear about who you need me to keep a close eye on.
Questions About the Offensive Line
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Who will be taking the most snaps with the “ones,” and where will rookie Riley Reiff play? Tyrannosaurus Reiff (He, of the short arms) has been penciled in as a tackle, but which side?
Has Jason Fox overcome his acute case of “Stafforditis?” Or, are his injuries so chronic that his career will come to an end? Fox, when healthy, looks every bit as good at LT as Jeff Backus. Oddly enough, in previous camps Fox looked absolutely lost at RT.
It’s a contract year for Gosder Cherilus and I wonder if we’ve seen his ceiling yet. This definitely is a make or break camp considering that a number of players are ready to step in. Most notably, Corey Hilliard and T-Reiff.
RG Stephen Peterman will have the fight of his career if he wants to retain his starting role. He’ll face stiff competition from Culbreath and Hilliard. Then, if the Lions go to Fox, or Reiff at LT, Backus would win the starting RG position by default.
The coaches will mix and match offensive linemen in an effort to find which players work best as a unit. And that, my friends, is the most critical question of all.
Questions in the Backfield
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Obviously, the health of Jahvid Best and Mikel LeShoure are of paramount concern. I will be most interested to see if LeShoure’s explosiveness off the snap has returned to the absolutely insane level he put on display in last year’s camp, prior to his Achilles injury.
What are we to make of James Bryant? What will his role be after the 2011 purge of the FB position?
Initially, I felt that he was brought on board to challenge Will Heller as that hybrid TE/H-back hybrid player. That theory seems to be baseless however, as Bryant has been working with coach Sam Gash’s RBs during OTAs.
Can five-year pro Kevin Smith win a roster spot over Joique Bell, rookie Stephon Green and Keiland Williams? This battle will be one of the most interesting of all.
Aaron Brown was released in 2011 to make room for Bell, who might have the early edge here.
Questions About the Wide Receivers
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There are few unanswered questions here, but a couple of points bear some scrutiny.
How soon will Ryan Broyles be an NFL ready receiver? We can already bet the farm that he will be getting the most looks at the slot position. Can he, like Titus Young, prove to be an effective weapon on the perimeter?
Speaking of Titus Young, will he make that great leap forward as the deep threat opposite Megatron? Can he get over his own damn self? Young is most definitely an early candidate for most improved player.
With Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Titus Young penciled in as roster locks, the competition is wide open for two more spots that will likely be decided by who offers the best performance on special teams.
We have Marcus Harris returning after performing well in last year’s camp. Then there’s talented rookie Patrick Edwards, who many view as a keeper. Third-year pro Nate Hughes has been effective in a backup role.
Maurice Stovall has been a stud on special teams and has been the guy who steps in when Calvin takes a blow on the sidelines. We’ll get a chance to see Lance Long, whom we know so little about.
Stefan Logan is once again listed as a WR on the Lions roster, but does he have a realistic chance of making the cut? My early guess is no.
Questions About the Defensive Line
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I think that we would probably agree that the 2011 defensive line underperformed as a group overall. We had some bright spots from individuals, but don’t we expect to see some domination from the most talented unit and core of the team?
Ndamukong Suh is the first to admit that he had a mediocre 2011 season by his standards. Can he return to the form that made him a terror in his rookie campaign?
That question might very well hinge upon how creatively defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham uses Suh, along with Nick Fairley and Corey Williams schematically. No, I didn’t forget Sammie Lee Hill. He’ll stick.
Speaking of Nick Fairley, will he sustain the kind of play that made him a fan favorite in limited appearances in 2011?
Speaking of schemes, will the Lions once again show a rather static “Wide-9” front? The Wide-9 just didn’t fit DE Kyle Vanden Bosch’s skill set, in my opinion. It might be fine when you have speed rushers like Avril and Young coming hard off the edges, but isn’t KVB better equipped as a containment-first, pass rush cleanup DE? Ditto Lawrence Jackson.
The talent and depth on the defensive line are poised for great success. DE Cliff Avril is once again playing for a huge payday in 2013, after rejecting the Lions three-year contract offer.
What happens if Avril goes off for an All-Pro year in 2012? Can the Lions let him walk? Now, that’s a mega-million dollar question.
The answer might lie in how effective Willie Young plays. Will Young seize the opportunity?
Oh, there’s some new faces in camp, and lesser known defensive linemen coming back, but whether they stick, or not, depends on their contributions on special teams. Ugo Chinasa, Michael Cosgrove, Edmund McClam and Ronnell Lewis will fight it out with Andre Fluellen and Sammie Lee Hill for a spot on the roster, or practice squad.
Questions About the Linebackers
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The Lions staunched the hemorrhage (somewhat) of rushing yards allowed with the 2011 signings of MLB Stephen Tulloch and strong-side OLB Justin Durant. Both were key contributors in their Lions debut seasons.
Durant is poised to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. If he leaves, Durant can be positively viewed as a great rental.
DeAndry Levy’s move to the weak side met with mixed reviews. Will he be able to build upon last year’s experience enough to keep the starting job at WILL LB?
Not if Doug Hogue emerges after a year of seasoning. Can Hogue be the most improved Lion in camp and challenge Levy for the starting WILL position?
The Lions added a slew of LBs in the offseason. There will be several intriguing battles for roster spots. Especially, the special teams spot played so effectively by the departed Isaiah Ekejiuba.
Travis Lewis, Carmen Messina, Slade Norris, Ronnie Snead and Tahir Whitehead will show us what they’ve got in camp. There should be few surprises here, but Lewis and Whitehead look like early favorites to challenge for a spot on a tough roster to crack.
Questions About the Cornerbacks
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That loud, sucking sound you hear in the background is the vacuum left by the departure of free-agent Eric Wright, who hit a double Yahtzee contract with the Falcons.
I don’t know about you, but didn’t Atlanta grossly overpay Wright? They compounded this brain cramp by failing to sign Brent Grimes to a long term contract. Now, that Falcons camp will be very entertaining.
OK, so the Lions are telling us that Aaron Berry, the Leos answer to Papa Smurf, will be the anointed right cornerback. Really?
C’mon, man! Berry is not an RCB. This will be born out in training camp, where he will look like the eternal flame after being torched continuously by Lions WRs during one-on-one drills on the right side.
Berry is most comfortable at LCB, where he’d be an asset doing the occasional platoon when starter Chris Houston takes a play off.
The Lions picked up free-agent CB Jacob Lacey prior to the draft. The “big splash” from the Indianapolis train wreck known as the Colts is a natural RCB. This is evident from a statistical standpoint over his career.
Now, do you suppose that the Lions brought him in as a free agent to backup Berry? Or, to play nickel? No way, Jose!
The Lions added some intriguing rookies this year. Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. I suspect that one of these guys will challenge Alphonso Smith for the nickel CB role in 2012.
All three rookies will be projects worth undertaking, especially Bentley, who had that wow factor during OTAs. How many have the chops to make the cut?
Is Greenwood miscast as an NFL CB? He sure looks like safety material to me.
Is this Don Carey’s last training camp?
Has Alphonso Smith matured enough to beat out the talented rookies?
Questions About the Safeties
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Like their CB secondary counterparts, the safeties can best be described as Louis Delmas and some other guys. We can pencil Delmas in as the starting FS, but there’s gonna be a battle royale for the starting SS spot, and two depth positions.
The incumbent is third-year pro Amari Spievey. Spievey was easily the most improved player in last year’s camp. His 2011 campaign was plagued by inconsistency and injury. Can he show some improvement in 2012?
The contenders are an interesting assortment of underwhelming veterans in Erik Coleman and Sean Jones, a special teams “ace” in John Wendling and my 2011 winner of the prestigious Randy Phillips UDFA Camp Stud Award, Ricardo Silva.
No rookie safeties were drafted in a pitiful 2012 draft class. Fair enough.
Coleman was soundly thrashed by Silva in last year’s camp, and again during the preseason. Coleman’s season was truncated by injury while Silva languished on the practice squad for most of the season.
Wendling can’t cover himself with a blanket, but makes so many special teams plays that he just keeps hanging on.
Sean Jones was an OK pickup in the offseason. Jones is an in-the-box run stuffer whose coverage skills are anything but appealing. Watching Jones and Coleman in camp will be a high priority.
That leaves my pet cat, Ricardo Silva. Could Silva be the Amari Spievey of the 2012 training camp? He’s got a year under his belt in the scheme and let’s see if coach Tim Walton can work some offseason magic with him, like he did with Spievey.
Finally, is it too early to talk about moving rookie CB Chris Greenwood to safety? The Albion standout has the size and skill set to actually compete with this group.
Questions on Special Teams
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Every day at camp, the kickers and punters are the early birds. They go off by themselves with the long snappers to perfect their craft. There are some battles brewing here, but PK Jason Hanson will keep his job until he either has “the big one” or succumbs to senility.
The choice between punters Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham might come down to money. Graham could be an early cap casualty.
The Lions coverage squads were a mediocre mixture of the aces who were schemed against and the unmotivated, who were run over. With Ekejiuba and Wendling mostly missing due to injury, that left the mostly unmotivated until Doug Hogue and Maurice Stovall stepped it up.
Clearly, the coverage unit should be upgraded to DEFCON 1 status in 2012.
Who’s going to return kicks and punts this year? That question might be answered on that first morning when a 30-35 mph crosswind forces Logan, Best, Spievey, Berry, Broyles, Young, et al, to adjust to the balls launched from the “jugs” machine. On one such morning last year, only Stefan Logan consistently made the proper adjustments. The rest were pitiful.
Was Logan really that bad last year, or was the protection unit that lackluster? The protection unit needs a serious makeover in 2012 if the Lions offense is going to dominate. Starting field position has to improve.
Coming Next: How to Get the Best out of Attending Training Camp
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Next time, I'll give you a primer on how to get the best out of your training camp visit to Allen Park. The stuff that should be on your training camp bucket list.
Whether you are an analyst, or a rabid fan, there's something for everybody to enjoy.