Early Observations from Detroit Lions Training Camp
The Detroit Lions' training camp is in full swing and for fans that means the regular season is just around the corner. For the Lions that means there is a renewed sense of urgency.
There is much to do between now and September 8 (Week 1 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings).
Jim Schwartz, and possibly even GM Martin Mayhew, are in the hot seat this year. It's playoffs or bust for them and training camp is where they can set the tone for the regular season.
Preparation and focus are keys for success this year. The Lions can't afford to have any distractions if they hope to rebound from their 4-12 record of a year ago.
So far so good. After five days of camp everyone is working hard and keeping their noses clean and out of the papers.
Here are five more early observations from the Lions' training camp.
Havard Rugland Is Still a Long Shot to Make the Roster
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Don't let the title of this slide fool you. I think Havard Rugland is a great option for the Lions, now and in the future. He's obviously younger than his competition David Akers, and his leg is stronger at this point in his career as well.
Although to Akers' credit, he did kick a 63-yard field goal last year in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers.
Rugland's leg strength has been on display in Allen Park as well. According to Mlive, he made all four of his attempts Monday, including a 58-yarder.
His performance so far is working in his favor, but Akers' performance is not. The 16-year veteran is finally healthy and is showing no signs of the inaccuracy problems that plagued him last season.
He hasn't missed a kick and on Tuesday he booted a 48-yarder.
Akers hasn't worked his way up to 58 yards yet, but as long as he's healthy and his accuracy continues, the Lions will opt to go with the proven veteran over the YouTube sensation.
Rugland's leg is impressive, but his technique is still inconsistent. That's something that comes with repetition and time, two things that he needs more of.
Jim Schwartz alluded to this when speaking with the Detroit News' Josh Katzenstein:
That’s going to be the thing with Rugland is not just hitting one 58-yarder. It’s being consistent over the course of time. Those are the things that you look for in a placekicker. He certainly has the talent to do it.
Schwartz is right, he does have the talent. He just won't be where the Lions need him to be by the time camp and the preseason are over.
Akers is there right now and has been for years. The Lions love his experience and barring an injury setback, he's the favorite.
Undrafted Free Agent Steven Miller Is Making a Name for Himself
Steven Miller (40) is trying to stand out in a crowd of talented players.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
According to Mlive.com's Justin Rogers, Steven Miller is impressing everyone with his speed and versatility during team drills.
Rogers reported that on two separate occasions on Sunday Miller bounced runs outside and got around the edge untouched. He's also been a reliable receiver out of the backfield for Kellen Moore and Thad Lewis.
His potential as a return man is something the Lions are also looking at.
If Miller continues this type of performance and makes plays during the preseason, he's a legitimate dark horse to make the roster.
That would be quite an accomplishment for the undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State. Especially considering the Lions drafted Theo Riddick, a running back with a similar skill set as Miller, in the sixth round of this year's draft.
The results on Riddick have been mixed. On Monday he dropped a pair of short slant passes.
There Will Be No Challengers for Dominic Raiola's Starting Job
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Weeks ago, Detroit Lions fans were still predicting Bill Nagy would return from injury and compete for the starting center job with Dominic Raiola. In fact, many felt he was the Lions' future at the position.
The Lions certainly hoped he would be when they claimed him off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys last year.
Given Nagy's injury history it was a bit of a risk, but the Lions didn't lose anything and Nagy had tons of potential.
As a seventh-round draft pick he started four games for the Cowboys.
It wasn't meant to be. Nagy didn't play or practice a snap of football for Detroit since they picked him up. He wasn't able to come back from they ankle surgery he had last August.
So, when training camp rolled around and Nagy wasn't ready, the Lions did what any team would have done: they moved on.
Freep.com's Dave Birkett reported the Lions released Nagy last Friday and that means one thing: Raiola will not be challenged for his starting job this year.
There is no one on the roster capable of beating him out.
The Lions signed seven-year veteran center Leroy Harris this offseason, but he just came off the PUP list Monday. It's going to take all of training camp just to build up his strength and endurance.
He's not a serious challenger.
Harris might be the short-term answer for the Lions if Raiola retires after this season. For now, Dom is the unquestioned man in the middle.
Joseph Fauria Is Proving His Doubters Wrong
Since the Lions' signed Joseph Fauria as an undrafted free agent this offseason, fans have marveled at his potential impact on offense.
At 6'7" and with great hands, he could be an excellent red-zone target for Matthew Stafford this year.
No one questions his talent offensively. The knock on Fauria has always been his perceived lack of blocking ability. In college he was rarely asked to block on the line of scrimmage. In fact his senior year at UCLA was primarily used as a slot receiver.
So it's understandable that blocking would be a big weakness.
Fauria is doing his best to dispel that notion though. Mlive.com's Justin Rogers has the latest on him from Tuesday's training camp:
Tight end Joseph Fauria is known for his receiving ability, and he's flashed excellent hands all offseason, but it was a pad-popping block that deserves mention today. Joique Bell took a hand-off and bounced it to the right edge. Fauria lowered his shoulder and cleared out an unidentified linebacker with authority to spring Bell for a big gain.
Granted, this is one play during preseason, but it does prove that Fauria isn't afraid to mix it up and has the ability to be a strong blocker as well as receiver.
More importantly, if he can demonstrate consistency in both aspects of his game the Lions will have no choice but to strongly consider him for a roster spot.
That could spell trouble for Tony Scheffler's chances of remaining a Lion in 2013.
Lions' Secondary Continues to Be Cursed
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
As a whole, the Lions have avoided major injuries to any likely starters this offseason.
DE Jason Jones sat out on Monday with a sore knee, but it's nothing serious. It's early in camp so the Lions are exercising caution.
While there have been no major injuries, the Lions' secondary continues to be cursed. They simply can't get any relief from the injury bug.
Everyone knows about Louis Delmas. He's not yet fully recovered from knee surgery and the Lions are taking it slow with him. He participated in team drills for the first time Tuesday, but he's only taking the field every other day.
Over the weekend three players from the Lions' secondary joined Delmas on the sidelines. CBs Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood tweaked their hamstrings and nine-year veteran Ron Bartell injured his shoulder.
According to Mlive.com, the Lions will have MRIs done on Bartell and Green.
So, the good news is that Glover Quin, Darius Slay, Chris Houston and Bill Bentley are healthy. The bad news is, for the moment, there's not much depth behind them.
Of course it's better that these injuries happen now than in September. They have time to get healthy.