Detroit Lions Rookie Training Camp Progress Reports
The Detroit Lions are looking for 53 good men, and the rookies will figure into that mix so long as they prove they're better than the next guy on the roster.
This begs the next question—how is each rookie doing?
Glad you asked. I've scoured the depths of every report, tweet and interview coming out of Allen Park and offer them to you here.
Seriously. You couldn't send a thank you card? Ugh. Fine. Just click through to find out how each rookie has gotten along through the first nine days of camp.
Tight End Eric Ebron
Getting a read on Eric Ebron right now is like dating in your early 20s—there can be a lot of attractive qualities present but the maturity isn't there yet.
Ebron has flashed the potential that excited the Lions enough to pull the trigger early in the first round. His speed and size make him incredibly difficult to match up against, and he capitalized on that advantage with a sick one-handed catch (he's done this before).
Ebron with a tight one handed grab, couldn't tell if he brought it down from my vantage point.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 4, 2014
He also scored the only first-team touchdown in the team's scrimmage last weekend, per The Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
As promised above, however, not everything has been impressive. The drop issue that plagued him in college has reared its head on more than one occasion.
MT @davebirkett at Lions camp, father to son on Ebron; "That's the new guy. He's got hands like feet ... That's how you feel as a Lions fan"— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) August 1, 2014
But just like that hot chick who's a bit too wild to take to Sunday brunch, it's entirely too early to start yelling about how the Lions should have taken somebody else. He's a rookie who will be lining up all over the field, meaning he's learning at least three positions right off the bat. He'll be fine. He just needs time to figure it all out.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy
Lions fans are perpetually wary. When Kyle Van Noy hurt his hand on the first day of practice, Governor Rick Snyder kept the National Guard on high alert, assuming the worst.
Kyle Van Noy left practice today with a thumb injury. Caldwell said he'll be re-evaluated tomorrow— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 28, 2014
For once, it appeared that everything was fine. Van Noy quickly returned with a "soft cast" and no further complications have arisen.
There has been some general praise, like that found here from MLive's Kyle Meinke, but it's been difficult to track down specific instances where Van Noy has shined.
In fact, fellow Bleacher Reporter and friend Jeff Risdon went to camp over the past weekend and had this to say:
Kyle Van Noy lined up in nickel over the slot twice, once vs. Ebron and once vs. Tate. Neither went well for the rookie.
Again, it's early for a rookie who is going to be used in a number of positions, giving him a steep learning curve. Meinke's optimism probably relates to how well he looks in drills, so trust that the defensive staff will get him up to speed so it can reap the benefits of the second-rounder.
Offensive Lineman Travis Swanson
Third-round offensive linemen don't lead too many reports. Apparently, they don't carry the cache of multi-use "jokers."
So the most exciting news you'll find on Travis Swanson is a nugget only a true football geek would enjoy.
When Sims and Raiola took a breather today, rookie Travis Swanson was at LG, Rodney Austin at C w/ first-team offense. #Lions— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) June 10, 2014
Other than that tantalizing tidbit, you'd be hard-pressed to find much on the positive side. A backup center or guard hitting the practice dummy well doesn't move the needle.
Unfortunately, the only other news that did stand out is a missed snap that was returned for a score during the team-wide scrimmage. Mike Rothstein of ESPN paints the picture here:
In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
You can take a missed snap as a rookie mistake, but he's not new to the center position or shotgun snaps. Regardless, don't read too much into a lone negative note. He only needs to be a backup guard in 2014 and the team can worry about the rest later.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson
As the first three rounds melted away, you could feel the fury growing within Lions fans angry over the lack of a cornerback.
Then general manager Martin Mayhew pulled the trigger—and no one was happy.
Nevin Lawson from Utah State doesn't fit the mold of cornerback that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants. He stands 5'9" and doesn't seem to possess the stature of today's top corners.
But as Mayhew told Justin Rogers of Mlive, Lawson is "very scrappy." Unfortunately, scrappy can be another word for "handsy."
Nevin Lawson, hands all over Edwards.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 1, 2014
While getting hands on the receiver early is the point of the new defense, the point remains—Lawson has a lot of work to do in the press-man scheme. He's a lock to make the roster. Where he'll be on the depth chart though, is a mystery that has to play itself out.
Defensive End Larry Webster
When general manager Martin Mayhew took defensive end Larry Webster in the fourth round, draft observers—myself included—immediately called it a reach. The kid posted workout numbers that were similar to top pick Jadeveon Clowney, but Webster is a basketball player learning a very physical position.
No one told Webster that. And now he's the one reaching out to pick up observers' jaws.
That awful snap from Swanson sails over Moore. Larry Webster plucks it with one hand off a bounce and off to races— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) August 2, 2014
Obviously, a former basketball player should have the agility, speed and hand-eye coordination to pull off that play. But can he get off a block?
LaAdrian Waddle getting blown up by rookie DE Larry Webster during one-on-ones. Got beat on one play, then had to hold on the next.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) July 31, 2014
Now, we're getting somewhere. Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News noted that the coaches have straightened out his heels so he can fire off the ball, maximizing the effect of his speed. It also doesn't hurt that he's shedding that basketball look.
Larry Webster has really bulked up since Shrine Game. Much fuller thru shoulders and chest.— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) August 2, 2014
There's a lot of preseason left. Yet, if Webster continues on this path, he will end up as the most surprising rookie of 2014.
Defensive Tackle Caraun Reid
Defensive tackle Caraun Reid has been a surprise too, although that isn't the fairest way to label his training camp. Perhaps reality check is the better description.
Reid, unlike Larry Webster, appeared to be a steal in his draft slot. That's why the turn of events relating to these two has created such confusion.
Caraun Reid has a long way to go. That will be an unpopular thing to say, but he was well behind at times and streaky. Learning curve.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 2, 2014
Not everybody is surprised. Risdon, who has been banging the drum of patience, followed that tweet with the following analysis:
Despite being compactly, powerfully built, the fifth-round pick from Princeton really struggles to anchor or create much movement along the line. It's clearer now why he "fell" to the fifth round when many projected him much higher.
That's not welcome news for a guy trying to make the active roster. How much can the front office count on future potential when crafting a depth chart?
Very little, unless that potential is incredible. If the Lions have a significantly better option that can help them win, they can't play keep away with Reid by sacrificing the fourth defensive-tackle spot.
What will help Reid's quest for a roster spot, besides his draft pedigree, is Andre Fluellen's move to defensive end. No matter how you slice it, one less competitor is a good thing for Reid, as there haven't been any reports of another defensive tackle making noise.
Wide Reciever T.J. Jones
At the very least, there is nothing negative about T.J. Jones' performance thus far. Unfortunately, that's because he has yet to step onto the field as a full participant.
Jones is still recovering from a shoulder surgery that he had a couple months ago to address an injured AC joint that he hurt during his last college game. Recent checkups haven't indicated when he'll be able to return, and for now he has to sit on the physically unable to perform list while waiting for medical clearance.
There's no upside to a rookie sitting out training camp, except he can't get injured. So long as he uses his time on the sidelines to learn, it won't be complete waste. However, in a stuffed wide-receiver battle, Jones can only fall further behind as he continues to watch from afar.
Kicker Nate Freese
Like many rookies, kicker Nate Freese is locked in an intense battle for playing time. The difference is if he doesn't beat out Giorgio Tavecchio, he'll be on the street.
Well, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole. I'm sure the kid could find a shelter to take him in for a couple nights.
The battle for the Lions' placekicking duties through one week is either a dead heat or tilted slightly in Tavecchio's favor depending on who you ask. You can easily find instances of one doing better than the other simply by putting their names in Google or a Twitter search.
FG drill. No misses so far. Freese appears to have more velocity on longer kicks.— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) August 1, 2014
Tavecchio has made 21 in a row now. If this battle really is data driven, as Caldwell said yesterday, GV would be the leader.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) August 5, 2014
But the latest scuttlebutt has Freese continuing to keep the heat on.
Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio were both 5-for-5 today with a long of 50. #Lions— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) August 5, 2014
I don't buy the Freese-was-drafted-and-has-an-edge talk. The current staff and front office are focused on finding the best players at each position, regardless of whether or not that player was drafted.
You can bet your bottom dollar that if Freese doesn't at least match Tavecchio over the four preseason games, he won't be on the roster come September.
Undrafted Free Agents with a Chance
Much like the backup guard/center combo, undrafted free agent offensive tackles get little love beyond a scant mention here or there. But now that the Lions have dropped their first unofficial depth chart, you can bet there will be more written about the man holding the backup left tackle spot.
I would like to caution against looking into that depth chart too deeply. You'll notice Montell Owens, the guy coming off a knee injury, is currently holding down the top fullback spot over both Jed Collins and Chad Abram.
That seems an unlikely scenario considering when MLive's Justin Rogers dropped his camp notes early this week, he only mentioned Collins and Abram in terms of first- and second-team reps. The depth-chart snub feels like a motivational ploy to give two young guys a kick in the tuchus.
It should be noted that other than Rogers mentioning that Abram "looks intimidating in pads" in that same piece, there hasn't been much to glean about the fullbacks.
As for the bigger boys up front, plenty has been made about the right tackle, but it appears Lucas is holding his own on the other side.
Cornelius Lucas as No 4 OT "@NightMoves212: Guess on which (if any) UDFA makes team based on early practice play?”— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) August 4, 2014
There have been mentions of his performance in individual drills in the above-linked Rogers' article, as well as confirmation of his success against veteran Darryl Tapp.
These guys have a real chance at sticking on the active roster; so (literally) let the games begin.
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.