Detroit Lions Rookie Progress Report for Preseason Week 2
The first week of the Detroit Lions' preseason is in the books so it's time to check in on how the rookies have been getting along.
Has anybody made a move to solidify a starting spot? What about a step toward significant playing time?
Or what about just locking down a roster spot?
Click through to find out.
Tight End Eric Ebron
Eric Ebron's first game week didn't treat him too well to start.
Jim Caldwell said Eric Ebron has an injury that will keep him out "a couple days."— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) August 7, 2014
Of course, the Lions being the Lions, there wasn't a stitch of information regarding what he hurt. The only nugget head coach Jim Caldwell dropped on the public was that it was "nothing serious," per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com.
Caldwell was true to his word as Ebron did play in the Lions' preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns. He lined up all over the field, including the backfield, but failed to make much of an impact on the game.
Eric Ebron hauls in his first career catch. Short of a first down, though. #Lions have to settle for a field goal.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) August 10, 2014
Aside from that one catch out of four targets, he was up and down in terms of blocking. While he did better with pass protection, it's clear he won't be opening any holes for the running backs. And that's fine. The main takeaway is that he made a tough catch, didn't drop any balls and gave a preview of the different ways offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will be employing him.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy
I pored over the game tape from the Browns game and didn't notice Kyle Van Noy often. Part of the reason was the lack of available coaches' tape, where you can see every player, but it wouldn't have mattered. For most of the game, he was invisible.
And then lightening struck.
Officials ruled the play incomplete, but Kyle Van Noy hit Gray on the catch. That's why the Lions liked him, forces turnovers.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) August 10, 2014
Birkett hit the nail on the head. That ability to make a game-changing play is what makes Van Noy special. Yes, the referees determined it was an incomplete pass, but it hardly matters. All we're looking for in the preseason is improvement.
Not everything came up roses for Van Noy though. On one particular role out from Johnny Manziel, Van Noy charged forward and his lack of a proper angle not only allowed the rookie quarterback to evade his grasp, but also broke contain giving Manziel an open lane to the first down.
That's hardly anything to get too worked up about. Manziel will soon be a league-wide problem. For now, registering a quarterback hurry and forcing one fumble (just go with it) is a good start for the second-rounder from BYU.
Offensive Lineman Travis Swanson
Things didn't go smoothly for the third man selected by Detroit in the 2014 NFL draft.
Travis Swanson struggled from the get go. Whether it was missed assignments or getting manhandled by Browns, he never looked comfortable.
To make matters worse, Swanson didn't handle the most basic of his duties.
According to fellow Bleacher Reporter Jeff Risdon, that's his ninth bad snap of training camp and the preseason. You can forgive a rookie offensive lineman for struggling to learn the right calls or handle the jump in talent opposing him. However, it's getting a bit worrisome that he can't focus on handling a task he's been doing for years.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson
All summer, pundits have been taking aim at Detroit's secondary and scolding the front office for its lack of action. Rookie cornerback Nevin Lawson heard them. He didn't seem to like it.
Lawson played with a serious edge throughout the game, racking up four tackles including one stop, meaning the play resulted in a failure for the offense. In fact, his play inspired me to note the word "feisty" when taking account of his play.
In addition, he proved he'll find a way to contribute, even if he's buried on the depth chart.
Nevin Lawson just saved a TD on that kickoff. #Lions— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) August 10, 2014
His instincts on special teams and defense were apparent throughout the game. Due to the lack of coaches' film, I can't comment much about his coverage (although he did get flagged for holding) but he was the only one to not over pursue on a third-quarter screen pass.
There was a lot to like from Lawson in the first game. If he can continue to be physical while learning the craft, he should see some significant playing time in 2014.
Defensive End Larry Webster
The up-and-down nature of rookies in their first preseason is being borne out in this slideshow. And defensive end Larry Webster attempted to prove the adage true in just one game.
I didn't come away from the first game too high or low on Webster. And a Pro Football Focus grade of -0.3 and tweets during the game bear that out.
Heard Larry Webster looked good, which would be building on an impressive showing in camp.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) August 10, 2014
Lions rook DE Larry Webster looks like he's a long way from getting into the rotation. His Special Teams ability will keep him relevant tho.— Daniel Jonsson (@HighDesertScout) August 10, 2014
The rookie did land a big hit on the elusive Johnny Manziel en route to two quarterback hurries and a tackle. The latter was very impressive as he looped inside on a stunt, read the running play correctly and weaved his way to the back.
However, he was often rendered ineffective when an offensive tackle got his hands on him. If he's going to carve out a specialty pass-rushing niche, he must learn how to shed blocks.
Defensive Tackle Caraun Reid
The defensive ends underwhelmed against the Browns, but the defensive tackles as a group (Nick Fairley excepted) did not. Caraun Reid was among the standouts.
The love for the Princeton grad was widespread.
Nice play by the rookie Caraun Reid there. Blew that play up. #CLEvsDET— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 10, 2014
Caraun Reid with a nice series there. Could start next season, play heavily this year.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) August 10, 2014
And the statisticians of Pro Football Focus, who handed Reid the third-highest defensive grade for the Lions, backed up the observations of the Twitter-verse.
Reid penetrated at will, stuffing two different running backs behind the line of scrimmage. He's well on his way to solidifying himself as the fourth defensive tackle.
Wide Receiver T.J. Jones
The good vibes of a key preseason win (insert sarcasm font here) weren't enough to heal sixth-round pick T.J. Jones' shoulder.
The rookie from Notre Dame has yet to participate this training camp due to his residence on the PUP list. He's the lone Lion left after Detroit announced that defensive end Ziggy Ansah is back in business.
At this point, he's too far behind to make a dent in the wide receiver depth chart. Don't expect to see him this preseason, if at all this year.
Kicker Nate Freese
The battle for Detroit's place-kicking duties will continue to be fought throughout the preseason, but rookie Nate Freese did his part Saturday night.
#Lions Nate Freese kicks 32-yd FG to tie game at 6-6. Twenty-five long seconds left in half...— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) August 10, 2014
Additionally, Freese knocked in one from 37 yards out earlier in the evening.
Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com points out that he also hit "all five of his attempts" in practice last Friday. Giorgio Tavecchio converted on his 33-yard point-after attempt late in the game, which also provided the winning margin, but it appears the rookie is hitting his stride.
Notable Undrafted Free Agents
Three undrafted free agents really stood out against the Browns, albeit for different reasons.
Jerome Couplin, the safety from William & Mary, wasted no time introducing himself to the Ford Field crowd with an earth-shattering hit. The more impressive aspect was his form—he broke down, exploded into the player and wrapped up.
He added a tackle for a loss in an effort to make the practice squad, if not the 53-man roster.
When the Lions signed defensive tackle Gregory Hickman, it didn't register anywhere. This particular writer didn't think he'd be anything other than camp fodder, but Hickman isn't having it. He constantly wreaked havoc in Cleveland's backfield, earning PFF's top grade for the game.
He doesn't have a chance at Detroit's roster, but if he clears waivers, he's making a case for the practice squad.
Lastly, ballyhooed offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas didn't get off to the best start. He was responsible for the sack of Dan Orlovsky and looked like he had no clue of what to do on the play. He reached out in an effort to make a help block, but the man he swatted at appeared to be his responsibility.
However, he found his footing as the game wore on and the level of the competition dropped. He demonstrated an ability to dance with speedsters and had no problem using his big frame to absorb power rushes.
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.
All grades, rankings and advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.