8 Things We Learned from Lions' Training Camp so Far
Training camp is the first taste of the new NFL season. It is a time for some expectations to swell beyond belief and for others to be dashed.
It is a time when optimism is generally at its highest for all 32 teams, as every player who hasn't suffered a devastating injury could theoretically be a superstar in the upcoming season.
As training camps progress, though, we get a clearer sense of the way things will actually go. The "consistently good" starts to separate from the "consistently bad," players recover from injuries and suffer new ones, and roster cuts start to hang over some more than others.
So while the Lions players are starting to learn their assignments for the coming season, fans are able to learn a little about what the 2013 iteration of their team will look like.
So after just over a week of training camp, what have we learned about the team so far? There is nothing definitive, but here are some early notions.
The Offensive Line Is a Talented Work in Progress
The Lions are fully prepared to enter the season with the guys they have on the offensive line, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
That being said, the Lions are returning only two starters from their 2012 season, and one of them (center Dominic Raiola) may himself be in his final season as a pro.
The Lions' offensive line may not have yielded any All-Pros last year, but if there's one thing they have led the league in recently, it's consistency.
Now that consistency is gone, and the Lions will go into 2013 with three offensive linemen who have never before been regular starters at the NFL level. There are some good players in this unit, but they need time to grow together, and the early signs have not been not promising.
On August 3, Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News highlighted the unit's struggles in a tweet: "Besides Rob Sims vs. Nick Fairley, the offensive line got crushed in one-on-ones today. #Lions".
It's worth noting, however, that if the offensive line is getting dominated, at least they're getting dominated by potentially the best defensive line in football.
Kyle Vanden Bosch's Impact Is Still There
Though the man himself is no longer with the team (or any team), defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch did exactly what he was supposed to do as a Lion: provide a couple of decent seasons, be a good example for a young team, then pass the torch.
Vanden Bosch was notable for his motor and not much else. He wasn't the most gifted athlete, so he made up for it by being the last one to quit. He was integral to the early development of young defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and now those guys are following in his footsteps.
According to Jennifer Hammond of FOX Detroit, Suh led a drill in which defenders chase running backs down the field at full tilt, which was basically Vanden Bosch's signature move.
It's a good sign that the "never quit" mentality is being passed on even though Vanden Bosch, its progenitor, is no longer with the team. This is how team identities are formed.
Louis Delmas May Never Be Fully Healthy
Safety Louis Delmas was on an every-other-day practice schedule in training camp. However, according to Gillian Van Stratt of MLive.com, Delmas broke that trend last week by missing two straight days of practice after the team got a day off.
The Lions are handling Delmas much in the way a team might handle a 37-year-old veteran: don't rush it, let him miss practice if he needs to, and do anything to limit his reps and keep him fresh.
Though there aren't any medical degrees behind this assertion, the fact that Delmas has been recovering from an injury of some kind for most of his career would seem to indicate that this could be a long-term issue.
Now, admittedly, this could be a gross overreaction, as many things tend to be just that in training camp. Teams will hold guys out for any little thing, because there's no reason to push through an injury and potentially make it worse when there's nothing to gain.
For the Lions, it's obviously more important to have Delmas for the first regular season game rather than for the seventh training camp practice.
Even still, considering the fact that Delmas is still missing this much practice time from knee issues he started suffering from in 2011, you have to wonder if this injury management plan that the Lions are keeping him on is just going to be part a central part of Delmas' career from now on.
Ziggy Ansah Has an Edge
There's a fair question that needs to be asked regarding Ziggy Ansah's potential career as someone whose job it is to hit people as hard as humanly possible: "Is he mean enough?"
You can see pretty clearly from the above video that Ansah is a very intelligent, likable guy. He is also a pure athlete who ran track and tried out for basketball before finding his way onto the football field.
Is a guy like that, who seemingly plays without that infamous defensive end "mean streak," ever going to be successful?
We may not have to wait that much longer to find out. According to the Detroit News' Chris McCosky, Ansah got an earful during one session last week after hitting running back Theo Riddick with some extracurricular shoving.
Now, that is the kind of thing that could cost a team 15 yards in a game situation, so Schwartz (and some of the linemen) were doing the right thing by letting the kid know that won't fly.
Still, the fact that Ansah is getting chippy in training camp is probably a good thing, especially when the alternative, at its logical extreme, is him playing like a defensive end who doesn't like to hit.
Also, Everyone in Training Camp Is Getting Edgy
You know it's really training camp when guys start wanting to fight each other.
It isn't just Ziggy Ansah, either, as the entire team is starting to get testy, which supports a storyline heard out of 32 training camps every year.
According to Justin Rogers of MLive.com, tight end Joseph Fauria, linebacker Carmen Messina, and newly signed defensive tackle Xavier Proctor all got into the act of some post-play chippiness last week.
Inevitably, somebody somewhere will try to spin this into a bad thing, as though there is internal discord. However, it's almost impossible to have that much testosterone flying around all summer without a fist or two being thrown as well. This incident is probably just a sign that the team is ready to start hitting for real. That's not a bad thing for the Lions; it's a bad thing for the people that have to line up against them.
As long as it also doesn't become a bad thing for the referees, this intensity is a good sign.
The Secondary Is Improved, but Injury-Prone
On August 2, I already pointed out how good the secondary has looked this summer, which has been a consistent theme of training camp. Unfortunately, a consistent theme for the Lions secondary has been that people are getting injured all the time.
Head coach Jim Schwartz confirms both notions. ""Healthy, this is the best group of corners we've had," Schwartz said via Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com, before adding that they need to perform well consistently.
Of course, the key word is the first one—"healthy"—as everything hinges upon these guys actually staying on the field. According to Justin Rogers of MLive.com, veteran corner Ron Bartell has performed well, for instance, but he also suffered an injury early in training camp.
Meanwhile, MLive's Gillian Van Stratt pointed out more of the same. He noted that the secondary has been performing well but is banged up and missing cornerbacks Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, as well as the aforementioned Delmas.
By all accounts, the talent is there for the Lions secondary to be a transformed unit. Now, they just have to be out there long enough to complete that transformation.
That being said...
The Team Is Lucky, Health-Wise
Sure, Louis Delmas has his issues, and there have been other are bumps and bruises along the way, much like any other NFL training camp.
But the Lions have yet to suffer any major injuries early on (knock on wood).
While other teams have seen key players go down for the season—much like what the Lions suffered through with Mikel Leshoure and his torn Achilles in 2011—this year's Lions squad has had a very manageable set of minor injuries so far in camp, and nobody is expected to be out for an extended period.
Of course, we're talking about this with just a week of training camp to look at and no preseason games played yet. There is still plenty of time for fortunes to change, but to this point, the Lions have to consider themselves among the more fortunate teams on the injury front for a change.
Lions Fans Are Awesome
Training camp is always a bit of a spectacle, but this year has been much different for some reason.
On Saturday, the Lions held an open practice at training camp, and according to WXYZ-TV's Brad Galli, the turnout not only topped the previous training camp attendance record, but it nearly tripled it with a turnout of over 6,000.
There were almost as many fans that came to watch the Lions practice that day as the Miami Marlins average in attendance for a regular season baseball game (not really, but you get the picture). And speaking of regular season games, the Lions sold out half of those contests just mere hours after they went on sale, according to the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
That shows impressive loyalty from fans of a team that just went 4-12 last season, even if they did underachieve for their talent level.
This team still isn't terribly far removed from a losing streak that spanned 21 months. The fact that people are turning out at all, much less in record numbers, is a fact that Lions fans should take great pride in.