Detroit Lions Training Camp: Week 1 Stock Report
Two days of training camp are now in the books for the Detroit Lions, the last team to kick off the annual rite of summer football passage.
First impressions can often be lasting ones, and with a new coaching staff in Detroit it's been an opportunity for all these players to create momentum in one direction or another for Jim Caldwell and his assistants.
It's still quite early in the evaluation process but early reports from beat writers and camp observers indicate there are already some players trending up or down. It will be interesting to see if these initial trends stick, or if the perceptions change as the preseason inches closer.
Practices are open to the public over the next four days, the first opportunity for fans that are not season ticket holders to view the team. The complete camp schedule can be found here on the team's official website.
Stock Up: Defensive Line
The Detroit Lions have invested heavily in the defensive line over the last few years. The front features three first-round draft picks from 2010-13 in Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah, as well as veteran free-agent signings Jason Jones, C.J. Mosley and Darryl Tapp from the last two offseasons.
Early reports from the team training facility in Allen Park suggest that investment looks like it is going to pay off handsomely in 2014.
While Suh captured the headlines from Monday with the contractual impasse off the field, on the field he's been a beast. He showed up with a physique that drew comparisons to a Greek god.
Fellow tackle Fairley has also impressed. He reported in great shape after a year where his weight ballooned, as nicely chronicled by Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com.
Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com highlighted the strong early work and versatility Jones has shown. He also shone a light on lightly-regarded George Johnson, a player the Lions signed off the street back in April.
MLive's Justin Rogers noted that Johnson was even getting first-team reps at end.
Even though Ansah remains sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery, the line looks very strong in the early returns from camp.
Stock Down: Kickers
Detroit has two kickers competing for the job in Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese. Neither distinguished himself in OTAs, and that lackluster performance continued in this week's camp.
Both were given golden opportunities to impress at the end of Tuesday's practice: The chance to hit a walk-off 49-yarder. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press documented the disastrous results:
Lions end training camp with two 49 yard field goals, both kickers missed. Tavecchio short, Freese wide left— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 29, 2014
Choosing between the lesser of two evils is not what the Lions had in mind. Freese, the team's seventh-round pick, was expected to win the gig with a strong showing. Tavecchio (pictured) would get a chance to seize the job if he emphatically out-kicked the draft pick.
Right now, neither is happening. After last season's underwhelming performance by faded veteran David Akers, it appears kicker might still be the biggest position of need in Detroit.
Stock Up: Sam Martin
It might seem counterintuitive that a player's stock is on the rise when the team signs a direct competitor for his job, but that's precisely the case with the Lions and punter Sam Martin.
Last Friday Detroit signed Drew Butler, a third-year player from Georgia. Butler served as the Pittsburgh Steelers punter in 2012 before losing out to Zoltan Mesko last season. The Chicago Bears signed and released him as well.
There is no chance that Butler wins the punting job from Martin, who was very impressive as a rookie. Martin ranked seventh in the league per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and was quite reliable, other than one bad day in snowy Philadelphia. He even performed quite well as the kickoff specialist.
Martin did admit to getting a tired leg down the stretch, as noted by MLive's Kyle Meinke. In order to prevent that from happening again, the Lions smartly brought in a camp leg to reduce Martin's workload.
How little a chance does Butler have of earning a roster spot in Detroit?
Drew Butler's practice jersey has a number but no name. #lonesomepunter— SideLion Report (@SideLionReport) July 28, 2014
Consider that a sign of respect to Martin.
It's not all negative for Butler, however. He's in an NFL camp and gets to show his skills to coaches and opponents and earn a job elsewhere. That's what happened with Martin's 2013 camp competitor, Blake Clingan, who now has a legit chance to win the job in Washington (h/t Washington Times).
Stock Down: Eric Ebron
Expectations are very high for first-round pick Eric Ebron. He is an athletic marvel with the versatility to line up at wide receiver, tight end or even fullback.
One of the requisite skills for any of those positions is catching the football consistently. And that has been an ongoing issue for the North Carolina product.
It is way too early to panic, but keep in mind this same issue dogged Ebron in the draft process as well. His CBS Sports draft profile noted that Ebron "needs to be more aggressive and strong at the catch point, especially in contested situations. Has his share of focus drops and needs to be more consistent finishing catches."
As the MLive guys noted in their video, the Lions are throwing a lot at Ebron. He's lining up all over the formation and having to deal with rockets from Matthew Stafford. Perhaps it's a little too much, too soon.
Stock Up: Kevin Ogletree
Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree entered this summer firmly on the roster bubble. Through two days of practice, it seems as if his bubble is in little danger of bursting.
Every Lions beat reporter either tweeted about Ogletree or included him in their notes. The early returns are quite positive. From Birkett's notes at the Detroit Free Press:
Ogletree continues to get a lot of work with the No. 1 offense. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singled out Ogletree (along with Riddick and Ross) as early camp standouts, but he missed time in OTAs with a dental issue. Ogletree took the first rep in offensive install today and caught a number of passes in 7-on-7 and team drills.
With the third wideout spot wide open, Ogletree appears to have given himself a strong leg up on the competition. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and Ogletree's leaving a very positive mark on the new coaching staff.