Well, it's that time of year again. Baseball season is in full swing (yes, pun intended), and that means that football season is just around the corner. Offseason Team Activities, or OTAs for short, are a good time for NFL coaches to determine what they've got on their roster in terms of talent.
For the Detroit Lions, though, this year's OTAs have a different feel.
Many new faces arrived this offseason, and many old ones have left. Kyle Vanden Bosch will be replaced by Jason Jones. Corey Williams will be replaced by C.J. Mosley, and Reggie Bush hopes to turn around a running game that has been stagnant for the past two seasons.
OTAs are also a great time to evaluate just how well teams did in the draft. The Lions this year will be relying heavily on a select few rookies, and there are five that have stood out in practice thus far.
1. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
In case you were hiding under a rock somewhere, the Lions snagged Ansah with the fifth overall selection in this year's NFL draft.
Ansah comes into camp having only played three years of football at any level. He will be leaned on heavily to replace the departed Lawrence Jackson. He could be the defensive end of the future if he pans out.
Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz commented on Ansah's technique in OTAs (h/t Pride of Detroit):
It's all new to him. We did talk about how Ziggy was an inexperienced player, but he was very instinctive, you know, playing things like screens, reverses, some trap blocks and draws and things like that that you would think an inexperienced player would struggle on. He did well on all those things. But our scheme is a lot different. It helped that we had him a week at the Senior Bowl.
If Ansah's technique improves, there is no doubt he will be a lock to start at defensive end this year. If not, look for incumbent Willie Young to start. For now.
2. Chris Greenwood, CB, Albion
Justin Rogers of mlive.com reported that Schwartz has heaped much praise on the young corner.
The Lions' fifth-round pick last season missed the whole season due to an abdominal injury. When healthy, Greenwood will likely be looked at to compete for either the other starting cornerback position alongside Chris Houston, or he'll be in a battle with Ronald Bartell and Darius Slay for the nickel spot.
According to Lions beat writer Tim Twentyman, GM Martin Mayhew has "high expectations for him."
Twentyman continued Mayhew's quote: "I wouldn't describe him as a wild card. He's a very talented young guy. He's going to benefit from having a full year in the NFL -- training room, weight room, what he's doing in the offseason."
If Greenwood can stay healthy (which seems to be a recurring theme here), look for him to line up next to Houston on opening day.
3. Cody Wilson, WR, CMU
Wilson will get his shot to contribute on special teams, it seems, as Mike Mady of lionsreport.com said the former Central Michigan star was among a group of players fielding punts.
While it is highly unlikely that Wilson will make the team coming out of camp, I can honestly say that having seen Wilson play for three years at CMU, I was very impressed, and Lions fans will be too.
My impression of Wilson is as follows, if you'll allow me to play analyst for a moment:
Wilson wore the captain's C at CMU for a reason. While his stats for his final two years are not necessarily glowing, Wilson still displayed great hands and a nose for the ball. He used his lack of height (he is only 5'11") to his advantage.
Wilson also has a knack for returning punts and could factor in to the Lions' return game this season, if he can manage to turn enough heads.
4. Havard Rugland, K
Rogers again with the report via mlive.com:
For the first time since signing with Detroit, the media watched Havard Rugland attempt field goals. The kicks were from 45 yards out, but it was difficult to gauge the accuracy from our viewing angle. Distance clearly wasn't an issue as Rugland put ball after ball on to the roof of a storage building 10-15 yards beyond the uprights.
Well, if you don't know about this guy by now, where have you been the past few months?
The YouTube sensation with the booming leg is making a name for himself in OTAs.
While he will most likely be viewed as a publicity stunt when all is said and done, if Rugland can continue to impress, he could very well challenge David Akers for the right to replace Jason Hanson.
5. Larry Warford, G, Kentucky
When Warford was drafted in the third round this April, RotoWorld went abuzz:
A favorite of both NFL Network's Mike Mayock and Rotoworld's Josh Norris, Warford is a true road grader. The 6-foot-3, 332-pounder was a 38-game starter for the Wildcats and earned third-team All-America honors as a senior after not surrendering a single sack and only drawing two penalties. Though powerful with solid arm length (33 3/8"), Warford is short on athleticism (5.58 forty, 1.92 ten-yard split) and struggles when asked to execute second-level blocks.
He's a phone-booth mauler. A game that stuck out on tape was Warford's manhandling of 360-pound John Jenkins in Kentucky-Georgia. He has an excellent chance to start at right guard come Week 1.
Via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
Warford worked at second-team right guard during Tuesday’s OTA practice, as he has most of the off-season.
Schwartz said it’s too early to call Warford a starter, but left guard Rob Sims said the rookie has impressed him in the month or so they’ve been together.
'Larry’s going to be a good player, he’s just got to learn the,' Sims said. 'That’s the hardest thing about learning the technique here, it’s hard to just come right out of the gate and just know everything. He’s listening, and he’s learning, and he’s going to be a good player down the line.'
Also from Birkett:
Kiper gave the Lions a B for their draft overall. He said today he liked the second-round selection of Darius Slay, that third-rounder Larry Warford should be an immediate starter at guard and that fifth-round punter Sam Martin and sixth-round running back Theo Riddick should play roles as rookies.
So there you have it, folks, five rookies that are really looking to turn some heads at Detroit Lions' OTAs this season.