The Biggest Takeaways from the Detroit Lions' First Week of Camp
It's the wilting heat of the noon-day sun and the smell of freshly-mown grass. It's the shrill scream of a whistle in the distance and the ground shaking as a mob of 300 lb lineman run past you. It's helmets and pads crashing together and the whoops and hollers that follow.
That's right, it's training camp time.
While camp is certainly all of the above, it is also one more thing. Above all else, it is a time of unending positivity—regardless of your NFL team's chances.
The Detroit Lions just completed the first week of their camp and smiles and laughs are abundant. Then again, the Lions have every reason to be positive about the upcoming season. They demonstrated last year that they're for real by compiling a 10-6 record and making the playoffs.
They are returning essentially the same team so there is every reason for high hopes.
Even though optimism is at an all time high, there are always question marks. Those questions will of course be answered at the end of camp. However, it is possible to glean valuable insight from this first week.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the week that was.
It's Training Camp, Injuries Happen
In the first week of training camp, injuries are abundant for any NFL team. Players are donning pads for the first time and if you're not experiencing some kind of pain, then you're not really trying.
The Lions are no different. They have a list of players that have already missed time due to injuries.
The usual suspects are there: Mikel Leshoure and Louis Delmas, for instance. Stephen Tulloch, Ronnell Lewis, Titus Young, Corey Williams and Ryan Broyles were also among the players nicked up for the Lions during the first week.
The good news is the majority of those injuries were minor and most of those players will be back soon. Some were even able to participate on Saturday.
The thing to remember is that the Lions are going to give players the chance to recover. They don't want to push injured players and risk losing them for part of the regular season.
Delmas' status is concerning given his injury history, but again, it's early. On the flip side, Jason Fox is participating and has been impressive thus far. Jeff Backus is also active while wearing a cast on his injured hand.
Injuries will continue as camp goes on. The point is to not put too much weight into players missing time. Being active for the regular season is the ultimate goal.
Willie Young Has Taken the Next Step
As I mentioned in a previous article, Willie Young is the definition of an under-the-radar player. The seventh-round pick in 2010 has gotten better each year but was still fourth on the depth chart in 2011. He made plays last year, but he was only used sparingly.
This summer, with the absence of Cliff Avril working in his favor, Young has gotten the chance to prove himself with the first unit and he hasn't disappointed.
He's consistently held his own and in fact has been a stand out player during training camp. Many are predicting that he will have a break-out season.
It's early, but the takeaway is this: Young will see his playing time increase if he keeps on playing at this level.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Avril signed his one-year tender on Sunday and practiced with the Lions the same day. He will slide back into his starting defensive end spot opposite Kyle Vanden Bosch.
However, the Lions will work in Young much more frequently.
Avril's contract will be a much discussed issue next summer, too. If Young takes the next step perhaps it will make the Lions' decision whether to re-sign Avril a little easier.
Matthew Stafford Is Good; Really Good
Did you really need me or anyone else to tell you that? After scorching opposing secondaries for over 5,000 yards last season, Matthew Stafford has definitely arrived.
The Detroit Lions caught glimpses of his talent prior to 2011. In fact, I remember listening to Tom "Killer" Kowalski (congrats on the posthumous award Killer!) on the radio heap high praise on the young gun slinger every summer prior to last year.
The problem was Stafford could never stay healthy enough to translate summer success to the regular season.
His supporting cast wasn't up to par yet anyway.
That's all changed now. Stafford is healthy and the Lions are talented. Like prior training camps, he's proving his talent and is head and shoulders above any other quarterback on the field.
In this article from MLive.com, Anwar Richardson reports how Stafford not only has demonstrated his elite talent this summer, but has also demonstrated the maturity and leadership that go along with an NFL veteran.
In that article Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan expands on that idea:
"Matthew's been great. He's been having a great camp and great offseason. You know, it's just different. It's hard to say a 24-year old kid is as mature as he is, but he's in his fourth year. He's taken such a command of everything we do offensively and naturally. It just comes with the territory, but just the ownership he's taken in the offense and all the little things that we do on a daily basis really shows me he's really now a true veteran."
The Lions hit the jackpot when they drafted Stafford, and with him taking snaps all year they will have a great opportunity to improve upon their 10-6 season last year.
The Lions' Secondary Is Still a Big Question Mark
Even if the Lions hadn't released incumbent starter Aaron Berry several weeks ago, the secondary would still be a source of anxiety for fans. Although the unit's depth has been bolstered with youth and veteran players, it is nowhere close to a reliable group.
Perhaps that should be expected, though. When facing a player like Calvin Johnson day after day, it's hard not to get outplayed.
That was the story of training camp this week. A few players, like Dwight Bentley, have shined, but overall the Lions' receivers repeatedly abused the secondary
The thing to remember is that the Lions defensive players are at a disadvantage, regardless of their youth and inexperience. They really can't go all-out against Johnson or any of the Lions' other key weapons. If those offensive players got injured because of it, the defender would be a pariah the rest of the season.
The goal of Detroit's secondary is simply to get better. They still have to figure out who is going to be starting opposite Chris Houston and who's going to be the nickelback. The safety position is no done deal either.
For now, the secondary will continue to play like boys among men. That will gradually change, though. Pay attention the rest of the way and the cream will start to rise to the top.
Don't Count on Jahvid Best Returning Anytime Soon
Remember ages ago when the Detroit Lions were terrible? I realize it was only two years ago, but please, play along.
Remember when it was better to keep expectations low rather than hope for success? In doing so fans suffered little heartache when the Lions' epic fail inevitably happened.
If the first week of training camp is any indication, fans should adopt that old way of thinking when it comes to Jahvid Best. Don't count on him. Keep your expectations low.
As a matter of fact, don't even expect to see him. Forget him and move on.
That way, when he misses the entire season no one's heart will be broken. If he does play, his presence will simply be an unexpected bonus.
“The only thing I’d say is we’re measuring Jahvid in weeks, not days. He’s not a day-to-day. A lot of these guys are day-to-day. We’re measuring his progress in weeks.”
Translation: Full steam ahead with Plan B.
Stefan Logan is taking snaps at running back and Joique Bell and Stephfon Green will get ample opportunity to demonstrate their worth. I also wouldn't rule out Martin Mayhew bringing in another rusher.
I hear Joseph Addai is available.
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