Detroit Lions: Answering the Post-OTA Mailbag

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Detroit Lions: Answering the Post-OTA Mailbag
Duane Burleson/Associated Press

These are the dog days of the NFL calendar. Not much is going on either on or off the field in most places, and Detroit is no exception. 

So instead of yet another piece breaking down Eric Ebron's fit in the offense, or speculation on what happens with Ndamukong Suh, it's time to turn the topic choice over to you, the fans. 

I got several interesting questions from Twitter, the comment sections of prior columns, and via email from some more long-term readers. Here are five of the best.

The optimist in me really want to believe Rodney Austin can step up and take over at left guard. Having the athletic youngster push Rob Sims off the roster would free up a lot of salary-cap room that the Lions could use to sign Eric Ebron, and perhaps a veteran defensive end or tackle too.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

Early returns from OTAs are that Austin has improved his vision as well as his command of his pretty solid athleticism. He needs to show that when drills move to full contact in full pads, something he did not do well in the 2013 preseason.

Until the Elon product definitively proves he can successfully engage and defeat targets when the heavier-caliber bullets start flying, Sims should sleep well. It's hard to see the new coaching staff dumping a perfectly capable starter for an unproven youngster without a multitude of compelling evidence.

Then again, this is a team that overlooked LaAdrian Waddle dramatically outplaying his tackle competition last summer before finally acquiescing to common sense and letting him play. Austin will get his chance to prove himself, and I do think the potential is there for him to be this year's Waddle. 

 

I don't think new head coach Jim Caldwell's job is in jeopardy if he doesn't make the playoffs, but with the talent on this roster, it will definitely be a disappointment if the Lions fail to qualify for the postseason. 

Detroit is loaded and built to win right now. I might be a bit of a homer here, but the Lions have the deepest cast of quality players and impact talents in the NFC North, and most of the core has played together for a few years. The division is theirs for the taking. 

Caldwell and his radically anti-Schwartz approach to handling people should be the kick in the pants the Lions need to get over the proverbial hump. Anything less than a playoff berth—and either a win or a highly competitive loss once there—will fall on Caldwell and be considered a lack of success. 

 

 

Cornelius Lucas is very intriguing. The Lions found him attractive enough to pay him a ridiculously high $20,000 signing bonus for an undrafted guy.

Uncredited/Associated Press

He is being given every chance to earn the fourth offensive tackle spot, at minimum. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press quoted Coach Caldwell as saying he's "got great upside". 

The problem is he is still not 100 percent recovered from the stress fracture in his foot, which was no small part of the reason Lucas went undrafted. Right after the draft I wrote this about Lucas over at Detroit Lions Draft:

I rewatched two KSU games, the BWW Bowl against Michigan and the Oklahoma game. The first thing that stands out, as it did earlier, is that he’s a natural knee bender even though he’s over 6’8”. He uses his length very well and understands how to extend his arms at pad level to defenders who are often several inches shorter than him. He even cut blocks well, although once he goes down he’s not getting up until the play is over. His foot frequency is subpar and he doesn’t reset well against quicker rush moves or stunts/twists.

The biggest issue to his game is his feet, and right now one of those feet is not healthy. That must temper the pretty lofty expectations fans seem to have for him as a rookie. At this point, I'm more bullish on converted tight end Michael Williams making a dent than Lucas at tackle. 

This next question comes from DC R on the comment section of another article. I shortened it a bit. 

DC R-

This time last year, though, Pat Edwards was getting the "Theo Riddick" treatment - all the off-season hype you could imagine. From what you've seen, has he improved from last year's (hideous) showing? What about Corey Fuller and Cody Wilson?

First off, it's interesting you brought up Edwards. He's sort of forgotten in the wide receiver battle...and that's likely because he was, to use your word, hideous last year.

Mike McGinnis/Associated Press

Edwards was, is and always will be a downfield receiver in a slot receiver body without great speed. His route running is sharp, but it has to be in order for him to be effective at all. He's a longshot to stick around another year in Detroit.

Fuller is the deeper wideout who has shown viable improvement. A year ago, the game looked too complex for the 2013 sixth-round pick. He had straight-line speed and decent size but little refinement to his game. 

This spring, Fuller has been more comfortable. He made a great catch (h/t Michael Rothstein of ESPN) in the practice that was open to the media this past week.

When I talked to a daily team observer last weekend, he advised me that the Virginia Tech product is doing things more naturally and not thinking too much. That's real progress, and it gives Fuller a chance to unseat Kris Durham for the final wideout spot.

Cody Wilson has never moved my meter much, even during his days at Central Michigan. He's not going to be cut due to lack of effort, though.

The next question is from ajaX82:

Do Jonte Green or Chris Greenwood even make the roster, let alone live up to some of their perceived potential?

I liked Greenwood's chances headed into the spring sessions, after he played impressively in the 2013 finale against Minnesota. But he's been out of action with sports hernia surgery, the latest medical setback for the former fifth-round pick from Albion.

He's not going to get better by not playing, and all his work with the old coaching staff means nothing to the Jim Caldwell regime. He's supposed to be ready for the full training camp. Greenwood will need to shine brightly quickly.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

If the final cuts were today, I strongly believe Jonte Green would be one of the odd men out. I really don't see him beating out Cassius Vaughn or fourth-round rookie Nevin Lawson in the battle for reserves spots behind Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley.

Because Greenwood showed more promise in one game than Green had in two seasons and has more desirable length, my guess is the coaching staff would give him the benefit of the doubt over 2012 draft classmate Green. 

Don't forget Aaron Hester, who also has good length and blazing speed. He's impressed everyone I've asked, and the UCLA product was running with the second team at times in OTAs.

Thanks for the questions! We'll try to do this again in the next couple of weeks.

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