Rounding Up the Detroit Lions' Latest Offseason Buzz
The Detroit Lions have completed two weeks of OTAs, as well as the first mini-camp. While only a select few sessions were open to the media, there's still lots of tidbits and gleanings out there.
Lions fans might not realize it, but they are blessed to have some of the best beat writers in the entire league. Guys like Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Kyle Meinke and Justin Rogers of MLive, Josh Katzenstein and Chris McCosky of the Detroit News, Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press and Michael Rothstein of ESPN all do admirable jobs in disseminating pertinent information.
Other fanbases have to deal with lesser sources who are more of organizational sycophants than unbiased, informed reporters.
Here are some recent buzz-worthy stories from some of those excellent reporters, as well as how they should be interpreted in the grand scheme of all things Detroit Lions.
Chris Houston Released
Friday's release dominated the Detroit news cycle. It was something of a surprise, though not entirely unexpected. On the surface, the move freed up enough salary-cap space to sign first-round pick Eric Ebron.
Delving deeper, cutting the erstwhile starter and de facto No. 1 corner just a year after signing him to a $25 million contract certainly puts a lot of egg on the face of general manager Martin Mayhew. Yet that can also be seen as Mayhew having security and confidence in his position, as I wrote about for Detroit Lions Draft.
This amps up the pressure on Darius Slay to make the proverbial big leap forward in his second season. One other young corner will also have to play better than the national media anticipates, too.
Still, given his ill-advised delay in getting toe surgery until May rather than in January, Houston likely would not have been playing early in 2014 anyway. Cutting losses here demonstrates that this Lions organization is strong enough to admit a Gob Bluth-esque huge mistake instead of letting it linger.
It also bestows confidence in the young corners like Slay, Cassius Vaughn and Aaron Hester, who has an excellent chance of making the final roster. Considering Houston's recovery is far from given, it's a prudently painful move.
Jeremy Ross Is Stepping Up
Even after signing Golden Tate in the offseason, the Lions are still in sore need of wide receiving talent. Fortunately, in-house option Jeremy Ross is making waves in the offseason.
As Josh Katzenstein notes in the Detroit News, Ross is an undoubted standout:
Ross filled in with the first team and caught nearly every pass thrown his direction. Ross should have no problem winning the return job, and if he continues to play like he did, he’ll battle Ryan Broyles and Kris Durham for the No. 3 receiver spot.
Ross flashed regular-season ability in the evisceration of Green Bay, his former team. His ability to create after the catch, as well as on jet sweeps, reflects the agility and vision that make him a shoo-in for the kick return job.
Consistent hands will go a long way toward locking up the third wideout role. With Broyles a major durability risk and Durham just plain not very good, Ross could wind up running away with the gig. His strong camp so far portends well for the fourth-year California product.
Of course, offseason wonders often wilt once the regular season comes. Three years ago, I was in attendance for four Houston Texans practices, and the best player on the field was a lanky wideout named Lestar (pronounced Le-STAR) Jean. He was demonstrably better than perennial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson in those sessions.
In spite of that impressive performance in his rookie offseason, Jean has managed 10 catches in three injury-plagued seasons in Houston. He's currently on Minnesota's injured reserve list. It's probably best to temper expectations for Ross based simply on what he's done so far in June.
Still, it's nice to hear Ross is catching everything in sight and emerging as a viable third wideout behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.
Theo Riddick Is Making Waves
Second-year running back Theo Riddick has garnered all sorts of positive attention this spring. From this tweet from NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah...
My favorite sleeper for the upcoming season: DET RB Theo Riddick— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 2, 2014
...to new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out for praise, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Riddick is generating a lot of buzz.
As Kyle Meinke of MLive reports, new head coach Jim Caldwell likes what he has seen from the 2013 sixth-round pick from Notre Dame too:
He's eager, he's hungry, he's tough, he can run. He's a very, very fine route-runner. He can catch the ball. He's had a real fine spring, so I hope he continues to develop. We think he will.
Riddick is playing his way into a more prominent role in Lombardi's offensive system, which is imported from New Orleans. The Saints regularly deployed all four of their active running backs throughout a game, which means Riddick is in line to get a lot more action in the base offense.
Having Joique Bell limited from recent knee surgery opened the door for Riddick, and thus far, he has bolted through it.
Kyle Van Noy Is Mighty Impressive
Detroit traded up in the second round to zero in on BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Thus far, their aggressive pursuit looks mighty prescient.
He's quickly asserting his impact on the depth chart in camp thanks to his versatility and high potential.
How high is Van Noy's ceiling? Enough that someone boldly predicted he could win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press is similarly impressed. In a chat session, she gushed about the rookie, saying, "The linebackers have looked good. Rookie Kyle Van Noy has lined up with starters and on the defensive line too - depending on the package. He's going to be very good."
The Lions haven't had a linebacker who can do so many things at a decent level in years. The top linebacker sack total in the last 10 years is Julian Peterson with 4.5 in 2009. Boss Bailey is the only other 'backer with more than three sacks in a year in that time period.
But the rangy rookie can also drop in coverage. He can chase down runners and proactively attack edge plays. He's a perfect fit in Detroit's new-look defense, and he's assimilating quickly.
Cassius Vaughn Makes His Case
Lions fans note with fairly unanimous derision the overwhelming negativity directed at the Detroit secondary by the national media.
The Detroit media has its first impression of the 26-year-old, and the returns are quite favorable. Dave Birkett highlighted Vaughn in a recent piece at the Detroit Free Press, noting:
A minimum-salary signing in the second wave of free agency in April, Vaughn made his presence felt early in organized team activities when he intercepted a pass and played with noticeable energy in the first practice open to the media.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Vaughn rated higher than both Houston and Slay last season. Here's how the current top four corners in Detroit, as well as the departed Houston, fared last year in PFF's cornerback scoring:
Vaughn has starting experience on a team that has won playoff games, something the Lions have done just once in the Super Bowl era.
It's not an optimal lineup by any stretch of the imagination, but if Slay improves as expected and Vaughn fits in well, the cornerback situation is not nearly as dire as many would have you believe it is.