10 Players Who Have Turned Heads During Detroit Lions Offseason Workouts
Offseason workouts are well underway (or over, in some cases), and with it comes our first set of inferences about the Detroit Lions' 2013 roster.
Minicamps and OTAs don't carry the same weight as training camp or preseason games in terms of personnel evaluation, but they do serve as our first look at how the rookies are learning, how the free agents are fitting in and how everyone else has changed from last year.
Of course, those changes can be good or bad. Sometimes heads turn because of something great, and sometimes they turn because of a train wreck.
This article will cover both, and I fully plan to bend the rules on what counts as a "player." But, as always, it's important to remember that these are the earliest of the early evaluations. We're still a good two months from being able to draw any conclusions based on hard evidence, and even then, preseason games aren't the hardest pieces of evidence that you can find.
So with the understanding that patience and a long-term mindset are key, here are 10 Lions who are making headlines early in the 2013 offseason.
After spending most of his career playing in the 290-295 pound range, center Dominic Raiola has put on about 20 pounds to move up to a bodybuilder's weight of 310, according to Justin Rogers of MLive.
It would appear that Raiola has heard the call and is doing what he can to fit with the Lions' desire to get bigger along the offensive line. Rob Sims was the one who put on weight last year. This year, the Lions released Stephen Peterman and replaced him with 330-pound rookie Larry Warford.
Raiola wasn't going to be dwarfed by the guys on either side of him (not to mention the guys in front of him), so he did some weight training and loaded up with muscle this offseason.
Most likely, the biggest question right now is: "If he could have put on 20 pounds of muscle, why did he wait to do it until now?"
The answer is that he's most likely sacrificing some mobility and versatility to play at this heavier weight. Offensive linemen are sometimes huge maulers, and sometimes they're dancing bears who make things happen with technique and agility.
For years, Raiola fit mostly into the latter category. But now it seems that, in the twilight of his career, he's making an effort to reinvent himself for an offensive line that wants to be able to drive guys off the line in one-on-one matchups.
This extra weight probably won't help Raiola on swing-out blocks, but when it comes to anchoring against rival NFC North tackles like B.J. Raji, Henry Melton and Kevin Williams, an extra 20 pounds certainly won't hurt.
Remember, this is about players who looked good in early workouts, not players who will definitely be awesome in the 2013 regular season.
With that in mind, rookie cornerback Darius Slay has come back from arthroscopic knee surgery to join minicamps and immediately start dominating them.
Nobody is practicing in pads yet, but according to Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham (via Anwar Richardson of MLive), "He's touched the ball a lot. He's had about three interceptions since he's come out, maybe four; knocked a couple of balls down."
According to the same report, Slay isn't just excelling with his ball skills. He is also picking up the playbook unusually quickly and has impressed coaches with his NFL-ready mindset. Add those to his impressive speed and physicality (to say nothing of the way he's effectively stiff-armed any injury concerns), and Slay is doing everything he can to impress at this stage in the year.
The only thing left for him is to keep this up in training camp. If he does, there will be no spot on the depth chart too high for him.
Admittedly, I didn't think that much of it when the Lions signed viral video sensation Håvard Rugland.
It was harmless, because why not give "Kickalicious," the Norse God of Field Goals, a tryout? The Lions needed a kicker, and Rugland—while unproven—certainly exhibited some talent.
It was also harmless because if it turned out that he was more suited to the viral video market than the NFL game, the Lions would just send him home with a "thanks for playing" and move on with David Akers, a proven NFL veteran. Besides, it isn't as though a Scandanavian kicker has never been successful in the NFL before.
So like a walk-on player at a college tryout, I looked at Rugland as a low-risk, low-reward move. Maybe there's talent there, and maybe there isn't. Regardless, very little investment was made in him either way.
Fast forward to minicamp. Akers is still rehabbing from a groin injury that hampered him throughout 2012, and according to Justin Rogers of MLive, Rugland is reportedly learning rapidly and drilling consecutive 50-yard field goals with great ease.
Rugland will still need to have an outstanding training camp and preseason to prove he's ready to unseat a six-time All-Pro kicker, but the odds of him doing that are no longer as outlandish as they once seemed. He has real talent.
He's still far from assured of a roster spot, but quarterback Kellen Moore appears to have made some greatly-needed strides in his second professional offseason.
According to Justin Rogers at MLive, Moore's arm strength appears to be improved over last season, which makes his biggest physical flaw slightly less apparent now.
Will that be enough to beat out Thaddeus Lewis—who sports three years of NFL experience, including a start against the Pittsburgh Steelers—for the backup quarterback role? Maybe. One year of bench experience with the Lions organization should even out with three years of bench experience with the Rams and Browns.
Moore still has a lot to prove in the coming months, but if his improvement over the last year is as legitimate as it appears, it will justify keeping him on the roster for another season, if not longer.
Most of the players listed here are turning heads because they're playing well or impressing in some way early on.
Safety Louis Delmas is turning heads because people are looking for him. Delmas hasn't been able to participate in any on-field offseason activities due to his knee injury.
Yes, this is the same knee injury that bothered him last year and the year before, the one that was his biggest concern as a free agent, and the one that Delmas says "feels just like how it was last year."
That's not a good thing, as Delmas only played in eight games last year and was never fully healthy. Now we have to wonder if he ever will be. Is his knee injury slow to heal, or is it not healing properly? Or is it maybe the fact that it can't heal?
Delmas is an impact player when he plays, but so was Jahvid Best and Bob Sanders. Unfortunately, those players couldn't get on the field often enough to make that impact on a consistent basis.
Talent on the trainer's table doesn't win games.
The Arms of the New Defensive Linemen
The wingspans of the new additions to the Lions' defensive line is something we're probably going to be hearing about a lot more in the future.
The Lions are experimenting with a crop of particularly long-armed defensive linemen, and according to Justin Rogers of MLive, this has resulted in a bunch of batted passes so far.
Ezekiel Ansah, C.J. Mosley and Jason Jones, all newcomers to the Lions' defensive line, have gotten hands on pass attempts early in minicamp, and that means two good things.
Most obviously, Lions defenders getting their hands on passes means a greater chance of batted balls resulting in incompletions or interceptions.
But perhaps even more importantly, that means Matthew Stafford and the other Lions quarterbacks get to practice against a defensive line that excels at deflecting passes. This means they can more effectively adjust their rhythm and tactics to avoid pass-block attempts in the upcoming season.
Pass deflections at the line of scrimmage tend to be an underrated skill (though J.J.Watt has popularized it in recent years), but it could be a common sight if the Lions' wall of arms are as much of an obstacle for opposing quarterbacks during the season as they have been for Lions quarterbacks so far in camp.
Nate Burleson/Ryan Broyles
If Louis Delmas turned heads because of his slow recovery from injury, receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles have done the opposite.
Both players were anything but certain for the season opener, having each suffered devastating injuries last season (Burleson a broken leg and Broyles a torn ACL). However, both players have defied expectations by being full participants at this week's minicamp.
Burleson appeared weeks ago as a surprise full participant in OTAs, despite not being expected back until training camp. Broyles appears to have followed suit, as he was a full participant in minicamp, despite only being six months removed from ACL surgery.
With injuries being such a major part of the Lions' lack of development last season, it's encouraging to see both a veteran player and a young guy working so hard to get back ahead of schedule.
Considering how neither player is up to 100 percent yet, it's even better to see them playing at such a high level.
Broyles, in particular, is showing all the signs of an outstanding slot receiver. He lined up at both the left and right slot positions, and he was able to slip in behind the linebackers and attack the middle of the field with regularity.
There really isn't all that much to report where running back Reggie Bush is concerned. He has been exactly what the Lions thought he would be.
Aside from a minor tweak to his ankle (which didn't result in him missing a single rep, much less extended time), he has been completely impressive. According to Mike O'Hara of the team's official website, Bush has been a hard worker who has shown the ability to do everything the Lions need him to do, and with great success.
After being used as a more traditional runner in Miami, Bush looks to be reprising the psuedo RB/WR role he held in New Orleans, and with similar results. He hasn't forgotten how to catch passes out of the backfield or from the slot, and he cites his NFL experience as something that makes him better even than he was with the Saints.
Whether that's true remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that Bush has been every bit of the perfect fit that he appeared to be when the Lions signed him this offseason.
Coming out of Auburn, the concern with defensive tackle Nick Fairley was not his physical ability, but rather it regarded his mindset, motivation and maturity.
Maybe having his first two years wracked with injuries, arrests, and lackluster play helped give him a wake-up call because the player who has appeared wearing No. 98 for the Lions this year is motivated and vocal.
According to Justin Rogers of MLive, Fairley spent a good deal of time during individual drills cheering on his teammates, issuing challenges and then backing up his own talk. He looks, for all we can tell at this point, fully invested in both his own career and his team.
Add that revitalized drive to a player who has been dominant (but inconsistent) in stretches over the past couple of years, and we could be looking at the evolution of Fairley into a major star.
But again, it's early. Fairley certainly has a long way to go, but he's on a far better track now than he was in either of his first two seasons.
The Lions' Legal Department
This isn't really a "player," nor is this a head-turner. It's actually sort of the opposite.
The good thing is that people aren't paying attention to this department in 2013.
So yes, I'm breaking the rules a bit, but it's for a good reason. It's worth noting how few negative headlines the Lions have made this offseason.
Granted, for most teams, staying out of jail (and the tabloids) is the expectation and not something to be celebrated. But the Lions had a difficult go of it in 2012, with scuffles in camp, seven arrests in six months, and a malcontent of a second-year player.
To put it mildly, 2012 wasn't a great media year for the Lions. Whether that contributed to their underwhelming 2012 season on the field or not is up for debate, but nobody is arguing that it was a good thing.
By contrast, 2013 has been markedly better. While there aren't a lot of particularly lofty expectations for the team, they've also remained out of the legal spotlight.
It hasn't been scot-free, with Amari Spievey working to get an assault charge dropped and with Titus Young going on a crime spree and always headlining as "former Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young."
Still, Spievey is quietly working through his family issues, and Young was cut loose from the team long before his personal issues became legal ones. Lions players have, on the whole, done nothing to create the kinds of distractions the team faced in 2012, and the organization itself has done nothing but add high-character players to reinforce that image.
Is not getting arrested something for the Lions to throw a parade about? No, and it should be an expectation. But at least it appears that this expectation is being met in 2013, rather than being betrayed.