The Detroit Lions have finally begun offseason OTAs, and while it's not exactly training camp, we are slowly approaching those long-awaited words: "back to football."
Unfortunately, we don't have a sense of what the depth chart looks like, nor do we have the answers to any of the big burning questions from this offseason, and we won't for a while. Training camp is where this stuff all gets sorted out, and OTAs are more of a time for the coaches to make sure that everyone is still in shape so they can start re-installing the playbook.
But when there is nothing else happening in the NFL world, anything we can get from any degree of workout will have to suffice. We can take some initial hints from OTAs and make an attempt to extrapolate from that, but anything we observe at this point has to be taken with a spoonful of salt—not a grain.
So with the caution that what we observe now may have little to no bearing on what we see from this team three months from now, here are some particular things to note, starting with one major spoiler: Jahvid Best wasn't there.
Imagine that instead of a Titans player, Burleson is doing this to the doctors that said he'd be out until July.
Burleson broke his leg in October of last year, and his age coupled with the severity of the injury put the speed and quality of his return into question. But Burleson is a professional, and he obviously put a ton of work into his rehab. Now, he's back, and he is leading by example with that work ethic on the football field.
If there weren't enough reasons to have the utmost respect for Burleson, this is just another one.
It's not all good news, though. According to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, Burleson said he "wasn't supposed to (return); I was told not to (practice)," but he shunned that advice because, "if I can walk I can run, and if I can run I can play."
That's great toughness from Burleson, and you have to admire his attitude. But it's hard not to be concerned that maybe he's forcing himself back a bit too quickly. If Burleson ends up re-injuring himself, that professionalism and toughness will turn into rash stupidity in a hurry.
Here's a list of players who took reps at punt returner in OTAs: RB Reggie Bush, WR Mike Thomas, RB Steven Miller, WR Cody Wilson, WR Patrick Edwards, WR Lance Long and WR Terrance Austin.
Does that narrow things down at all?
Of course it doesn't. It isn't supposed to. This is just a prelude to what should be a very long, interesting battle to determine the Lions' next return specialist. We may not have an answer to this question until the fourth preseason game, let alone the end of OTAs.
And this isn't even including WR Ryan Broyles and CB Darius Slay, both of whom have return skills and could factor into this battle when they return from their respective injuries.
As OTAs opened up, OL Dylan Gandy and DE Willie Young took first-team reps in front of rookie OL Larry Warford and fellow rookie DE Ziggy Ansah, respectively.
What's going on? Did those guys make someone mad, or are they out of shape? Are they busts?
Calm down. Which team people run with in OTAs is of minimal importance, but it's worth noting that the Lions opted not to put any of their rookies on the first team in initial OTAs.
That sends a strong—and important—message to the rookies. Now that they're on the team, their draft status means next to nothing. If they want to be starters (and many of them can be), they have to work hard and earn it.
No rookie is entitled to a starting position just because the team has high hopes for them. They have to work their tails off and prove that they are, in fact, the best players for the job. Many of them will eventually prove themselves, but not in non-padded warmup practices.
Louis Delmas, when healthy, is one of the most explosive playmakers on the Lions' defense, if not the entire league.
The problem is that little two-word phrase: "when healthy."
Those are the words that separate the careers of Ed Reed and Bob Sanders. Those are also the words that kept Louis Delmas out of OTAs with—surprise—a knee injury.
The good news is that this isn't a new injury; he's just rehabbing from the same stuff that kept him down last season—and the season before, and the season before that...
The bad news is that "Delmas is out with a knee injury" is pretty much the last phrase that anyone wants to hear this early in the season.
For what it's worth, there are no indications that Delmas won't be ready for the season, and this is probably just an example of what Nate Burleson is not doing, which is waiting to be fully healed up before testing his body.
Still, it's a discouraging sign to see Don Carey taking first-team reps when the Delmas/Glover Quin tandem looks so very enticing.
I can't stress enough that OTAs are no place to make sweeping generalizations about positional battles or the future of the team. The depth chart is still very much open.
That being said, I'm just saying that Jason Fox started out taking first-team reps at right tackle on the opposite end of the line from Riley Reiff, who was at left tackle.
Fox has been an enigma since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. He spent his first two seasons largely rehabbing from injuries, and his third being blocked out by veterans (Jeff Backus/Gosder Cherilus) and the new kid (Riley Reiff).
Now in his fourth season, Fox will get his first opportunity to truly compete for playing time, and by extension, to show that the Lions have had a reason for keeping him around over the last three seasons.
Fox faces stiff competition from the versatile (and underrated) Corey Hilliard, and it will be interesting to see how this battle plays out over the next few months. By taking the first set of first-team reps, it's probably too early to say that Fox has won Round 1, but maybe he's landed the first punch.