Detroit Lions OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
This is the first chance for the new coaching staff to interact with the new players on the field. It's also a chance to see some hints about what might transpire as the offseason progresses.
From seeing new head coach Jim Caldwell (pictured) in action to sorting out the crowds at running back and tight end to resolving the elephant in the room that is Ndamukong Suh's ongoing contract, here are some notes and observations from the first OTAs.
Ndamukong Suh Sounds off
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been Detroit's man of mystery this offseason.
He's been in on-again, off-again contract extension talks with the Lions, a process hampered by a protracted agent change and the death of Mr. Ford, Detroit's principal owner.
Even though he's a returning team captain, Suh opted to avoid the team's voluntary workout sessions. That caused some controversy and raised questions about his commitment and leadership, never minding that he does this every year and once again reported in fantastic condition.
Suh finally arrived in Detroit and spoke his peculiar mind after the first day's work. What came out of his mouth didn't exactly mollify the growing vociferousness of his rapidly expanding base of critics.
Here's what Suh said, as relayed by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
I had an opportunity — probably a lot of you guys don’t know, I could have gone elsewhere when I was drafted. Had that decision in my hands. I chose not to take it because that’s just the way I saw it.
He appears to be saying that he could have chosen to force Detroit to not select him with the No. 2 overall pick back in 2010, akin to what the Manning family did to the Chargers with Eli back in 2004.
Suh appears to be trolling the Detroit critics here, demanding credit for doing what 99.5 percent of all players do and play for the team that gives them the best opportunity to make the most money.
It's one thing to be a vapid, tone-deaf bore, clothes that fit Suh a little too nicely. It's another when that person is trying to extract tens of millions in a lucrative contract based in part on his leadership status.
It remains to be seen what happens with Suh's contract and his future in Detroit beyond 2014. One thing is for sure, however: Ndamukong Suh will remain a lightning rod of controversy both on and off the field, and he doesn't exactly help himself by acting the way he does.
Michael Williams Switching to Tackle
The crowd at tight end got a little thinner and the tackle competition got a little more intriguing—all in the same move.
Michael Williams, the team's seventh-round pick in 2013, is transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle.
It's a move borne of necessity for Williams, who was not going to make the roster at tight end with Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria above him on the depth chart.
Williams has the blocking chops to make the switch. By making it official, he has a chance to land a reserve spot on the offensive line and perhaps even serve as the extra tackle in jumbo packages. That's what current left tackle Riley Reiff did in his rookie campaign.
For more about Williams' switch, check out this piece I wrote from Friday breaking down his chances.
Nick Fairley Missing
The news came out with an ambiguity that raised eyebrows:
Nick Fairley missing Lions' practices after undisclosed procedure http://t.co/pUGlf2OoX5— NationalFootballPost (@FootballPost) May 21, 2014
Speculation about the procedure quickly zeroed in on Fairley's sleep apnea. It's a malady that dates back to his Auburn days, as noted by John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Anything that can help get Fairley in better shape has to be viewed as a positive. Lack of sleep is a serious issue with wide-ranging ramifications.
Some of the issues, as described by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute:
- Memory and learning problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Mood swings
None of those are conducive to playing in the NFL. Fairley has exhibited all of those signs in his three inconsistent years in Detroit.
Hopefully, his procedure is successful and Fairley emerges as a more balanced, focused force on the defensive line. The timing couldn't be better, as he is entering a contract season.
Mikel Leshoure Gets Another Chance
After a year buried on the depth chart, running back Mikel Leshoure could be a big beneficiary of the new offensive system.
New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is installing the system the New Orleans Saints have used for the last few years. Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach for the Saints from 2009-13.
One hallmark of those New Orleans offenses was the deep rotation of running backs.
Here's the snap counts at running back and fullback from the last two seasons for the Saints, all courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
With Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, himself a former Saint, taking the top two roles, there is still an opportunity for Leshoure to see lots of action. He has the style and build to handle the Mark Ingram role in the offense.
Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website notes that Leshoure is getting lots of work in OTAs with Bell sidelined. Leshoure himself notes how well the new offense suits him:
We have a lot of down hill runs. There’s a lot of one-cut runs and outside zones. We still have our inside OP runs, which I love, and we have a lot of stuff with the fullback in there. That’s what I come from with a fullback at Illinois.
Like his 2011 draft classmate Fairley, Leshoure is playing for a new contract and is hoping to get an opportunity to prove he can once again carry a big workload. Two seasons ago, Leshoure led the Lions in carries, yards and rushing touchdowns.
He's not likely to see that much of an increase, but getting around 150 touches would give Leshoure a chance to prove himself. It also eases the physical pounding on Bell and Bush, which is definitely a positive.
Golden Tate Gets a Ring
Prized free-agent signing Golden Tate missed the first day of OTAs in Detroit. Yet the reason for his absence is part of the allure Tate held for the Lions as a wide receiver.
As much as the Lions desperately coveted Tate's receiving skills—he led the Seahawks in receptions and yards last season—they're also counting on him to help instill a winning culture in Detroit.
Tate can help fill the leadership void created with the departures of Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas. Those two, while not always the most effective players, were the most vocal leaders during the Jim Schwartz era.
Tim Twentyman noted as much about Tate in a Q&A session on the team's official website:
His replacement is Golden Tate, who not only is a good player on the field, but he’s also a great locker room guy. He also has a Super Bowl ring, which should hold a lot of weight in that locker room.
The Notre Dame product knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. That's something the Lions have not experienced since 1991, the franchise's only year with a playoff victory in the Super Bowl era.