Detroit Lions Early Rookie Progress Reports
The Detroit Lions have wrapped up the initial rookie camp and the first session of OTAs. While the media still hasn't seen a lot—just one full day and one half-day of OTAs were open to view—there have been some revealing glimpses on the newest Lions.
From various chat sessions, tweets and interviews, here are some quick observations on the early progress of the Lions' rookie class.
Kyle Van Noy
Second-round pick Kyle Van Noy is quickly showing his positional versatility in the early sessions.
The linebacker from BYU is lining up at both SAM backer and tight on the line as a defensive end during OTAs. This is nothing new for Van Noy, who also lined up all over the defensive formation during his days in Provo.
He's not yet running with the first unit, but that's more of a formality; expect him to rocket past holdover Ashlee Palmer well before preseason begins.
As Kyle Meinke of MLive reports, coach Jim Caldwell isn't placing much emphasis on what players are getting which sorts of reps, quoting the coach:
It should be looked at more as a rep chart than a depth chart. It doesn't matter when you see them coming in. Don't make any assumptions that that's the role he's going to play for us.
One other note on Van Noy is that he's currently wearing No. 95, but that is expected to change before the season:
Don't go out and buy a Kyle Van Noy No. 95 #Lions jersey just yet. Sounds like he intends to change jerseys once some other options open up.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 18, 2014
Although keeping No. 95 might be a more unique option, it appears he is gunning for a more traditional linebacker jersey number.
First-round pick Eric Ebron, like Van Noy, sort of defies a real defined traditional position. While he's listed as a tight end, much of what made the Lions covet him with the 10th overall pick is his ability to emulate big wide receivers who operate down the field.
Thus far Ebron has been working in the tight end rotation (h/t Paula Pasche from The Oakland Press) and not yet doing any activities with the wide receivers, but that doesn't mean he isn't going to see a lot of action as a de facto wideout.
But first, he will have to sign a contract. Right now, that's a problem.
The Lions do not currently have enough salary-cap room to sign Ebron to his anticipated rookie deal. According to Over the Cap, his contract is expected to cost the Lions $2.2 million in 2014, and as of June 2 the team has only half that amount available under the cap.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson is trying to distinguish himself in a crowded depth chart. One of the ways he's doing so is by showing his versatility, as noted by Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website:
CB Nevin Lawson said he's working both on the outside and in the slot so far.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) May 17, 2014
One of the reasons I really liked Lawson was that he comes to the NFL with significant experience in the slot. As I wrote at Detroit Lions Draft right after the Lions picked him in the fourth round:
Lawson is a slot corner, but what makes him a great pick is that he’s already played in the slot. Most times, the slot corner is a guy who played outside in college but has to learn how to play inside. Not Lawson.
If he can also demonstrate the ability to play outside, that greatly augments Lawson's value. He's locked into a battle with Bill Bentley in the slot, and they are similar talents.
Lawson has a real opportunity to cement himself a prominent role if he can show he can carry the slot receiver motioning outside and hang with him down the field.
The Utah State rookie is also learning to be less grabby, trying to clean up the holding that plagued him in college. As he told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press,
In the NFL, you can’t touch them past 5 yards so that’s something I’ve definitely been working on and something I take pride in. I’ve been doing a great job so far.
Judging from that quote, confidence will not be a problem for Lawson. That's a positive; the Lions need some swagger and outward confidence in the secondary. Former safety Louis Delmas offered that in spades, but nobody else really brings that element. That's a niche Lawson can fill.
Kicker Nate Freese is not exactly making the best first impression...
K Nate Freese missed FGs from 48 yards (off left upright) and 46 yards (wide right today. They were his longest attempts. #Lions— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) May 28, 2014
That's not a strong showing for a player who did not miss a field goal in his senior season at Boston College.
Freese is locked into a battle with Giorgio Tavecchio for the placekicking job. While the seventh-round pick carries a leg up because of his draft status, he will have to prove his merits on the field.
Because punter Sam Martin is a strong option at kicking off, it's all about the field goals for Tavecchio and Freese. Right now, Tavecchio has to be considered ahead of the rookie.
Caraun Reid has already beaten out one veteran competitor along the defensive line. On Monday, the Lions released veteran Vaughn Martin:
Detroit Lions sign 2 local players, release DT Vaughn Martin http://t.co/F4cYVfggFN— Detroit Lions News (@LionsMLive) June 2, 2014
That's an encouraging sign for the fifth-round pick. Reid is clearly no lower than fourth on the depth chart at his position, and it's hard to see any of the guys below him usurping that status.
With Nick Fairley sidelined, Reid is getting a chance to play with the top units and is apparently taking advantage of it. Michael Rothstein of ESPN noted this about Reid's play:
To highlight one of the players on the line, rookie Caraun Reid particularly impressed. He often beat his defender and ended up in the backfield. He appears to be picking things up fairly quickly.
Even though the rookie from Princeton cannot see clearly, he has not let that stop him. As seen in this video snippet from the Lions' official website, he uses his blurry vision as a motivational tactic. It's also pretty easy to see why the erudite, engaging Reid is so well-liked.
The lanky rookie defensive end from D-II Bloomsburg has a long way to go to make it in the NFL. After all, basketball was Webster's primary focus in college, even though his father, Larry Webster, played in in the NFL for many years.
Early returns are hard to come by, but Justin Rogers from MLive did some digging by interviewing Webster's coaches at Bloomsburg. Head coach Paul Darragh and defensive line coach Bill Perkins opened up about the rookie's quick learning curve and rapid progress from cager to pass-rusher.
One of the quotes from Perkins is could be taken as a harbinger for a big leap from Webster.
In essence, you're trying to get off a block to an open area in basketball. He was able to use his body to that advantage. In all the plays I watched Larry, there were guys who could block him, but nobody ever got a lot of wood on him, just because he has a great sense of body positioning and awareness in space.
Those are instincts and skills that are very difficult to teach. Webster still has many other things to work on, notably adding some weight. But at least there are promising signs.