With a record turnout of over 6,000 Lions fans, today was IN-sane. The layout of camp didn’t change much, but the flow was far more up tempo and very hard to keep up with. I ended up having to revert to ye olde shorthand to keep track of anything, and I was watching both sides of the field at once. Craziness. So my goal today was to get a better view of RBs and LBs, along with both lines. As expected, the team wanted to do a lot more passing drills to get the fans going, but this time they included the RBs and TEs pretty early (Likely to get Stafford, Johnson, and Bush on the field at the same time) and fans were ecstatic. There was plenty of fun to be had out there today, and for those Lions fans with kids I can comfortably recommend bringing the kids out to Family Day both tomorrow and next season. You didn’t come here to hear about that stuff, though, you came hear to find out about today’s camp, so without further ado!
Today started out well, devolved quickly, and then stabilized for David Akers. After mysteriously sidelining yesterday, leaving the bulk of the work to Rugland, David Akers started out the day punting at the net for the fans, as there were a group of kids beneath the nets who were catching the balls as they came down. It was punting, not kicking, but he had a ton of leg behind it and it is always fun to see a player excel out of their comfort zone. When Rugland and he began kicking, it was Rugland from 30 yards (ish) out and Akers from 50. It kind of broke down for Akers there, despite being a no pressure practice session. Akers was hitting his kicks all over the place shotgun style, and he looked very sloppy for a veteran of his experience. Later, during actual ST drills, he looked just fine and nailed all 4 of his kicks, which is exactly how you’d hope a player would finish their day…perfect. Upstart Havard Rugland had a good day (despite getting beaned by a Sam Martin punt) and also landed all 4 of his FGs. Out of four days of practice, Rugland would miss one and have another blocked, while Akers would miss only one.
You’d thought I had forgotten this one, hadn’t you? The QBs were doing a little skills expo, attempting to drop passes into a basket, quite literally a trash bin. Stafford consistently overthrew, Hill was close but a little to the side each time, Moore the same, and only Thaddeus Lewis netted one in the bin. Later, they were practicing throwing back shoulder passes at a static dummy. Not Hill or Moore’s strong suit, but Lewis again consistently threw at or near the ‘back shoulder’ of the dummy. Stafford was close each time, but did hit it right in the shoulder once, hard. I had predicted Lewis would have a good camp since he is the superior athlete, and it was pressure that caused him the most trouble. This battle will still go into the preseason, but I can see why folks are calling it a dead heat. During passing drills later, Lewis got limited reps, but it was Moore throwing bullets over the middle. His arm strength is noticeably improved, but his mechanics are obviously suffering as a result. He looks like a pitcher doing his best to add an extra 10MPH to his fastball.
Return of the Returners
While there were no surprise Defensive Ends returning punts, the return game featured a wide open battle between, well, nearly everyone. It was a rough showing for Steven Miller and Joique Bell, both of whom muffed punts early, while Cody Wilson, Reggie Bush, Pat Edwards, and Mike Thomas. The guys I didn’t mention didn’t do poorly, they were just given punts right to them and didn’t have to show any adjustment, just not muff. Cody Wilson faces an uphill battle to the roster, and showings like today give coaches something to look for during preseason.
So about those Linebackers. Travis Lewis started with the 1st team today despite Gunther Cunningham all but pushing him out of the race for that spot, which is not comforting. Lewis did play some MLB and I can see why they like him there instead of the outside. He is a natural MLB, and a vocal player on the field. Since he’s played both outside and in, he will likely take on the role of 1st backup regardless of who wins the OLB spot. I kept looking out for Ashlee Palmer and was rewarded with some fine play in coverage despite the play going the opposite direction. Palmer correctly ran the WR and TE’s routes and covered the middle of his side of the field while passing off the receiver to the Safety and staying in towards the TE. That was about the only time I saw any sort of good coverage by this LB group, however, with Carmen Messina and Jon Morgan on consecutive plays making horrible reads in their zones. This is particularly concerning since the Lions had good coverage from Tulloch and Levy, but that other OLB spot has always been a problem, and I would doubt it gets better regardless of who wins it and it will definitely get worse if a starter goes down. This is probably a good time to seamlessly transition into…
The Tight Ends are Tight
Reliable is not a word I would use to describe the Lions tight Ends last season. Pettigrew was once again terrible with drops, but added fumbles (Which were never a problem before) to his repertoire. Scheffler was also plagued with drops, and while his TD and reception percentage plummeted his yardage went up only because of a career high 84 targets. Despite the increase in usage in the offense, Scheffler posted only his 3rd most yardage and his career LOW 1 TD. It was, for both, a down year. The group the Lions are fielding right now are probably the best the Lions have seen in a very long time based on this camp performance. Pettigrew had one of his trademark drops today, but was otherwise perfect and still looks light and quick on his feet. I didn’t personally see Scheffler catch at all in camp, but I was told he was doing just as well and although I didn’t see a catch, I DID see him running free on a wheel route from LTE and a streak from WR on plays that went elsewhere. I didn’t see Micheal Williams today, but he looked great yesterday, and it was Fauria and Veldman‘s turns to shine. Both young Tight Ends were showing good awareness in zones, adjusting to the coverage around them and turning to face the QB when they were open. Both made good catches and showed good form pulling the ball in. Both even looked good on blocking drills today. All in all, the Tight Ends came to play today, and the Lions will have a legitimately difficult decision to make when it comes time to cut.
The Lions have carried a lot of receivers into their Training Camp. Some have made bigger impressions than others, and I think it’s safe to say the gap is narrowing. The first three are set with Johnson, Burleson, and Broyles, but the ultimate test will come down to the preseason as always (less than a week away), but some players have put themselves into a position that I feel is safe enough to say is their spot to lose. Those players are Patrick Edwards, Kris Durham, and Chaz Schilens. It will take beating out these three to secure a spot at receiver during the preseason, and there’s only a couple that I think could do it. Terrence Austin (Who I referred to as “Just a guy”) has been touted by some to be having a good camp and I can’t really disagree. He’s done nothing wrong, but he’s also done nothing to really stand out, so standing out during the preseason could net him a spot on the roster. Corey Fuller is an impressive athlete, but his camp showing has been sporadic and he will need to prove he can contribute right now and even work himself into the ST discussion to have a real shot at the roster. Mike Thomas has looked good in both receiving and ST drills, but hasn’t stood out in the way Edwards has and will likely be looking whatever he does to make himself a more appealing roster keeper. Cody Wilson showed well today, but outside of today has been underwhelming at best in receiving drills, meaning ST will likely be his only road to the roster. Matt Willis has been poor and is probably the very bottom of the bunch. Micheal Spurlock has been a nonfactor in receiving drills and I’ve struggled to find him even running routes on most plays. Finally, Devin Thomas, a fan favorite since he played at MSU, Thomas hasn’t practiced at all and with everyone ahead of him doing well he has a very distant outside chance of making the roster on Special Teams.
Reading Between The Lines
I’m very concerned about the Offensive Line. Sorry, no hidden meaning or metaphor as the header suggests, I’m just concerned. The Offensive Line got annihilated today. Only Rob Sims was able to hold off Nick Fairley, and nobody could hold off Suh. Poor Larry Warford, already having a rough camp, drew the Suh lot again and was overwhelmed. Nobody else stood a chance against the Lions trio of starting DTs. The Tackles didn’t fare much better. That it was Brandon Pettigrew, Michael Williams, Joseph Fauria, and Matt Veldman that stood out during blocking drills ought to tell you all you need to know about the Tackles today. Jason Fox has pretty much won the job at RT, though I’m sure he will still rotate during preseason. That said, Fox only had good moments when facing off with Ronnell Lewis, getting beaten by everyone else he faced at least once. It is very disconcerting to have an offensive line perform like this. That said, there are some positives here. For one, a big reason for the Oline struggles is how fierce the Lions pass rushers have been. Ronnell Lewis was given an extended look with the 1s today since he missed so much time, and in general he looked very good. Even when he was getting beaten by Fox, it wasn’t as if he was getting a sound beating. Ansah and Taylor could become reliable bookends in the future, which was at one point a kool-aid dream by fans when both were drafted. I had expected Taylor to require more time to develop, but he’s coming along very quickly and may be ready to knock some heads early in the season. Willie Young is still out, which is not helping his chances with everyone else performing at a high level on days like today. Like in every situation, there are two sides to every coin. One could look at it as the OLine having a lot of trouble and needing work, or that the Dline is dominant and even their very young draft picks can contribute right away. I’m inclined to once again fall in the gray and say it’s a bit of both. Nobody facing off against Suh and Fairley is going to do well, and both DEs have consistently been manned up because of the pressure those two have created in the middle (Along with Mosley). This is exactly how we want the defensive line to function, so frankly the Defensive Ends don’t have any excuses this year. Another battle that will go well into the preseason, Lewis’ showing today and Young’s injury (Along with Idonije and Jones’ injuries) make this battle wide open.
Louis Delmas was out yet again. Now, I understand the team has him limited because of his rehab for his knee, and are trying to minimize the risk of injury. He has now practiced once in the past four practices. That’s 25% for those percentage minded folks out there. Additionally, every day that Glover Quin comes onto the field, he is either preceded by or immediately joined by Don Carey, the team’s named #3 Safety. The secondary has performed exceptionally well all of Training Camp, and they have been doing so for days WITHOUT Louis Delmas. Delmas isn’t the only one losing his job quickly because of injury, as both Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood are battling through hamstring injuries and watching players like Dominique Johnson perform well enough to threaten a roster spot. Greenwood especially needed Training Camp to show that he was more than just a project and will be thrown into the fire in the preseason if he is healthy enough. Trial by fire is never the best way to land a roster spot, but that’s where it is with guys like him. The Lions already made it clear with the cutting of Bill Nagy that they lacked the patience to sit on injured players, and the fact they are essentially moving forward with a Delmas-less defense in mind tells me they don’t care about the financial commitment they’ve given players either.
- Carmen Messina 2013=Carmen Messina 2012. Had hoped for improvement, seeing the same guy.
- Calvin Johnson is a mutant or an alien. Every little thing he does is magic.
- Pat Edwards had an incompletion that was his fault, not the coverage (Bentley). That this alone makes it his worst day in camp tells us a lot about how much he’s been dominating.
- A trend emerged. Whenever players like Edwards or Thomas made a mistake, they almost always seemed to gravitate to Nate Burleson. Probably the best leader the Lions have seen in ages.
- Stafford made me look bad today, showing improved mechanics and footwork in general. He only occasionally went back to his poor throwing motion and back footed passing.
- Trevor Coston plays bigger than his size. I admit in hastily judging him when he was signed. Doesn’t look comfortable in the defense, however, and coming from a Cover 2 should feel right at home.
- Where Slay is, Bentley follows, and vice versa. The two seem to click, and that will likely translate to on field chemistry between the two.
- Dominique Johnson can make this roster. I’m not quite as high as the linked article, but I agree he has a shot.Durham in the red zone 2013 is better than Durham in the anywhere 2012.
- Cody Wilson is looking like a decent slot receiver today. Doubt the Lions keep a third slot guy, tough job to take.
- Reggie Bush is a problem. The Lions Linebackers are fast, even playing over the TE the LBs had trouble getting anywhere near Bush on outside passing routes.
Today’s camp basically solidified some of the stuff I saw the first two days. There wasn’t a whole lot of new info, I was just able to get a better view of some of the stuff I’d already seen. Some are reporting that this is the best secondary the Lions have fielded in the Mayhew era, and I can tell you with complete certainty that is true. The addition of Quin and Slay along with the development of Bentley and the young talent the Lions have brought in will showcase an improved secondary. They will need to be since it’s still a question mark at both Defensive End spots. The offensive line and OLB spots are the biggest question marks on the team and both of those things are still very real question marks. Yet another thing we will be relying on preseason for. You can check here and here for my second and first day of camp.
I will be posting a brief write up on all 90 players tomorrow (or the next day, don’t rush me!). This write up will explain briefly what I saw in camp and where I see their chances, along with a token stock up/stock down approach to their chances. There are only 53 roster spots, however, and there are only a handful of spots that are truly locked up with nearly every player on this roster having a legitimate chance of making the roster. Do they all have a good chance, well no and I’ll be making that clear, but a legitimate chance, yes. I will also be rolling out the Roster Rodeo series again this season, though the approach will be a bit more broad. In this I will be covering position groups player by player and asking you, the fans and readers to build a roster. This will be a two article series where I will be taking fan input and the final roster (the third article) will feature quotes by YOU giving reasons for players to make the team. After the roster is finalized, we will revisit of course and hopefully marvel at our forth-sight and laugh at the players we OBVIOUSLY should have seen failing.