Lions camp is an exciting time. There’s plenty of optimism, and conversely there’s always plenty of pessimism when it comes to the team’s prospects in the coming season. Yesterday, I took a long look at the Wide Receivers and DBs, but I missed out on the RBs, lines, and LBs like I had hoped. Well I got all of that in spades today, and there’s plenty more ground to cover!
The forgotten draft pick from this season’s draft class, many have looked at Theo Riddick as someone who is on the outside looking in. Based on their play last season (And at least one contract), the first three spots of the Lions RB corps looks shored up between Bush, Leshoure, and Bell. If the Lions kept a 4th RB, that RB would have to be a ST contributor, and they went out of their way to sign Bonamego favorite Montell Owens to a contract with guarantees, making him the easy choice. As such, guys like Riddick and UDFA Steven Miller will have a fight on their hands to make the roster. No player made it more apparent today that they are not only in it to win a spot, but in it to contribute all over the place than Theo Riddick. Riddick made a huge impression on me today during drills, and it was pretty much all of them. When Team drills began, Riddick lined up on the outside, something I was hoping to see some of (he played both RB and WR at Notre Dame). His first play was a hitch, and he was WIDE open as the defender was playing off and barely looked at him (probably the fault of the QB looking elsewhere). He wasn’t targeted on the play, but even if he was tackled by the corner covering him, it was an easy 5 yards. The very next play Riddick ran a flat route from the RB spot and caught a great pass that he took downfield. Later, he would line up at RB again and carry the rock off right tackle, where he was sprung by Jason Fox and Michael Williams for a very long gain. The Safety was over the top, but wasn’t in a good position to make a play and there is a possibility he would have been gone. Later, during ST drills, Riddick was the first man downfield nearly every play, showing that he’s a very versatile weapon the team could use. If this becomes a trend during the preseason, not only could Riddick secure a roster spot, but he might do so over a previously “Safe” RB like Owens (limited offensive value) or Bell (limited ST value).
The Best Returner Drill Ever
Prior to every practice, the team often kicks things off by having the returners field some punts. In general we are just watching to see how the players field the ball, whether they muff, how quickly they move upfield, how quickly they get up to speed. Today was a little different. First, let me get over the technical stuff. Steven Miller, Patrick Edwards, and Mike Thomas all looked very promising during drills, fielding the ball well and getting up to speed quickly. All of the returners reacted to the ball well, and what would have been the curious pick of Joique Bell looked very well adjusting to the ball’s placement, though he struggled to get up to speed. What stood out, a LOT, though, was that 6’7″ Defensive End Devin Taylor was fielding punts. Um. So. He caught them all. I’m not sure if it was punishment for something, or if he was just working on his ball skills, or what, but I’ve never even HEARD of a DE catching punts.
Getting the cliché out of the way, Darius Slay looked fantastic…yesterday. Prior to rolling his ankle during one on ones, Slay was looking like the best CB on the field, more than justifying his second round selection. The injury was minor, so I wouldn’t start chest beating over it just yet, but his attempts at doing drills were about as clumsy as you’d expect someone like me to do them, not an athletic cornerback. It was pretty bad, so the Lions shut him down as a preventative measure.
I was on a mission to catch some Tight End action in camp and I failed miserably yesterday (They were so far away I doubt binos would have helped). Today, they moved to a closer part of the field, so I got a much better view of them. During individual drills, they all looked sharp. During team drills, I got a much better look of the group and there were several things that stood out for better or worse. First off, I was sorely disappointed in what I saw of Joseph Fauria in camp. Yes, I know I’ve been talking him up. It wasn’t all his doing, as his assignment was almost always a look in route, where the player makes like an inside slant but stops after a few steps and turns to face the QB, stopping. That route doesn’t get you anything even if you catch it. He wasn’t targeted during those drills. I was happy to see the team splitting him out into the Nickel on several occasions, but disappointed he wasn’t utilized more. Michael Williams is as advertised as a blocker. I mentioned his one block earlier, but on the few run plays that were ran during team drills Williams always seemed to be a factor. That’s what you hope for when you draft a guy specifically for blocking. He made at least one great catch as well, running a slant (or drag) underneath, he was targeted by Kellen Moore on a bullet between two defenders. Tony Scheffler, like Fauria, was barely used. He was targeted twice that I saw, but both were overthrown. Matt Veldman looked very good when he was targeted, and alright as a blocker, so I wouldn’t discount his outside chance of making the roster. The story of the Tight Ends was it’s most visible player, Brandon Pettigrew. After allegedly losing significant weight to become faster, Pettigrew still looks every bit the TE, but was very light on his feet and surprisingly quick out of his breaks. Pettigrew has broken records as a Lion, but his drops have largely overshadowed his accomplishments, and he’s coming off his worst year when you combine the drops with the otherwise uncharacteristic fumbling issues he developed last season (1 fumble from 2009-2011, 4 in 2012). Pettigrew looked sharp, quick, and hungry and I’m more optimistic for his season after having seen him play.
I hear you asking. I got a much better view of the Linebackers playing today and I have to tell you…I have no idea where we stand. I really tried, again, to see Palmer but was once again denied. He was a ghost if he was ever on the field. The Linebackers as a whole looked exceptionally fast, as I mentioned yesterday, most noticeable were Brandon Hepburn (who was also the first player on the field today) and Tahir Whitehead. Carmen Messina was also back on the field, which is good since I was beginning to doubt his chances of making the team. And then coverage drills commenced. None of the Lions linebackers were particularly well in coverage, and while some of that can be explained by playcalling (The targeted players were almost always running some kind of flat or underneath route), I would have expected a much better showing (like an at all showing) by at least one or two of the Linebackers. Nobody impressed me with their coverage ability and that was very disappointing. Carmen Messina, who was a liability in coverage last season, had one of the only good coverages on a flat route where he undercut the route and forced the throw off target. Later, though, he would cover Matt Veldman very tightly but fail to turn his head, making Veldman’s catch and subsequent breakaway pretty easy. The one spot that sort of shone bright for the group was on a sweep pass to Bell and later a dive run from someone (didn’t catch the RB). On the first play, Bell caught the pass early and the crowd cheered as he ran. He wasn’t ‘tackled’ since they don’t in camp, but he barely made it back to scrimmage, if he did at all. Later, both DTs were split (Mosley and Saddler-McQueen) leaving a gaping hole up the middle for the RB to charge through. Levy and Hepburn bottled up the center and it was again no or little gain. Outside of that bit of promise, the Linebackers were underwhelming at times and disappointing at others. From what rumblings I’ve heard, it’s likely that Travis Lewis is out of the battle at OLB, as Gunther Cunningham pretty much said as much when he said he was more of a MLB than OLB. The battle for starting OLB is heating up, but it’s more of a hot mess than it is a hot fight at this point.
Team drills were run pretty quickly today, so it was tough to get a bead on the Oline battles. The team seemed to be experimenting a bit with who went where, as at one point I saw Hilliard at RG and another had Warford at LG. From what I could gather on my own and from talking to others, it was Dylan Gandy who once again got the most work at RG. Warford has as of yet been a let down in camp, and it’s looking less and less like he’ll be the day one starter. Fans shouldn’t concern themselves, however, as it was sort of unfair to expect him to come in day one and take the league by storm and the likely reason for his being held back so much is because of his initial get out of his stance, a known and correctable issue. Jason Fox impressed today, moreso than Corey Hilliard, and it seemed like he was getting more time in, so after the OLB disappointment we may finally be seeing a frontrunner in the RT race. The offensive line as a whole was a mixed bag, however, and outside of Reiff and Sims on the left side and possibly Raiola (Who isn’t getting replaced, and has looked the best he ever has), it’s not only a question mark but potentially a liability. Gandy has been described as the best guard so far by several sources, and after seeing Gandy attempting to block CJ Mosley I am less than confident the right side of our line will be tolerable, let alone acceptable.
Devin Taylor is not as good as some of the bigger outlets have been saying. With that out of the way, he may prove to be one of our best draft picks long-term. The gigantic Defensive End had as many rough spots as he did bright spots, but when he screwed up it was generally minor (Aside from getting pancaked by Raiola yesterday), while when he shined it was pretty spectacular. There will be a steep learning curve with Devin Taylor, but he will contribute as a pass rusher, and he will contribute this season. I didn’t get to see much of Ansah, and in general he was facing off against Reiff and it’s been the only battle Reiff has had all camp. I got to see Ronnell Lewis playing on the line, finally, but was neither impressed or disappointed. He plays bigger than he is, but didn’t win many battles. Braylon Broughton and recently acquired Xavier Proctor are just guys (didn’t notice them at all, if they were even ever on the field). The Lions are probably going to sign another DT during the preseason, that or they will truly roll with only three and use Jones and Idonije in that rotational role. Ogmedi Nwagbuo, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, and Andre Fluellen may have been rag dolls. Overall, the guys we know to be good, Suh, Fairley, and Mosley, were all good and we don’t have to worry about the starters. Depth? Huge question mark along the Dline.
Phat Pat and a Real Reality Star
Best receiver in camp so far, besides Megatron of course, has been Patrick Edwards. Edwards had a strong showing in camp last season, before disappearing in preseason, but he has been uncoverable in camp. The best part of that news isn’t that nobody can cover him, but that he’s been doing all this good work playing the OUTSIDE receiver spot. Most assumed from his size that Edwards was a slot guy, and it’s true he has skills that would make him a good fit there, but I’ve been preaching for two years now that despite his size his route tree would allow him to play outside if given the chance. The team would seem to agree, as he’s made waves all over camp from the outside spot and has a shot to be a dangerous downfield speed threat a la Mike Wallace or Desean Jackson. Better still, Edwards is fast in and out of his cuts, making his ability to move around the line even more dangerous. If only there was someone who could play in the slot as well. Oh yeah, Recent reality start Ryan Broyles. So I had heard some rumbling that Broyles was having a poor camp, looking sluggish and lacking explosion in his cuts. I was already curious because I hadn’t noticed Broyles in camp so far despite looking for him yesterday. There wasn’t anything negative to report, but nothing positive either. Today fared much differently for the second year receiver and it was extremely positive. Broyles made Chris Houston, the Lions consensus best CB, fall down when he was locked up on him with a simple fake to the outside and caught a slant pass for good yardage. Quin was over the top and likely would have taken Broyles down, but it was a successful play. Later he would catch a hitch with Bentley over the top and juke him right out of his shoes. Later still he caught an underneath pass with his corner nowhere in sight and made Quin take a bad angle to him, which would have been a TD in a real game. Broyles looked sharp in his routes, and while the speed probably wasn’t where it should be Broyles has never been a fast receiver. Explosion out of his cuts? Totally there. Broyles is poised to have a very good year, if his surgically repaired knees allow it.
You should know the drill by now!
- Durham’s hands are still very good, and when limited to routes that keep him moving in a straight line, he could be a dangerous receiver. Catching balls away from his body, showing a noticeable desire to put himself on the line to make a catch.
- Cody Wilson managed a good play in a receiving capacity, and it was on Chris Houston (But was overthrown). The rest of his plays went the same way as yesterday, he’s just not ready to be an NFL receiver.
- Ron Bartell made a great cover manned up against Corey Fuller.
- DeQuan Menzie can cover on limited routes, showed good ball awareness covering Matt Willis.
- Reggie Bush will need to be covered by a Safety or Corner, and even then it will be difficult.
- Ross Weaver had a good cover today, the first I’ve seen from him so far.
- Shaun Chapas isn’t going to make the team. Not surprising considering he’s a FB, but he hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself. Might be the next one cut.
- Chaz Schilens made a fantastic catch over Glover Quin, continues his good camp.
- Mike Williams made a GREAT close catch on a short pass with Ross Weaver draped all over him.
- Leshoure looks faster than he did last season and showed good burst on passing routes. Didn’t get the ball enough to make a more solid impression.
- Steven Miller is Reggie Bush lite. Made his guy miss on flat routes, would have 8-10 yards easy.
- Right after that, Miller had a BAD drop, which was perfectly placed by Hill.
- Mike Thomas made some good moves in team drills.
- Mike Williams can trap block. Steven Miller gets through the hole very fast and bounces upfield.
- Kellen Moore has more zip on his passes, but probably not enough to secure his job.
- Leroy Harris had a huge brace and wrap on his knee, was later removed from practice. Chances slim he makes the team to begin with, worse if he can’t see the field.
- Bill Bentley was the only CB who was able to cover Patrick Edwards in camp. Kept pace with him and mad e great dive to deflect an on target pass from Moore.
The Question of Stafford’s Mechanics
While I would like to end on a positive note, I’m unable to since I felt this deserved attention. Matthew Stafford’s mechanics were always poor in camp, and not much better during the regular season. They have not improved this offseason despite the entire offseason being spent in Detroit preparing. Stafford still throws at about a 3/4 trajectory, and his deep throws still sail on him. Even with a clean pocket, he often failed to set his feet to pass, and while his accuracy was generally on in camp it was severely disappointing to see such a glaring flaw not addressed. Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, all examples of players who had poor mechanics and corrected them, this isn’t an unprecedented move by a team to force a player to correct his throwing motion and his passing mechanics. Yet, the Lions did nothing despite extending Stafford until 200oforever. Keep in mind, Stafford’s mechanics have always been worse in camp than they were in the regular season, but even that speaks to a concern over his work ethic. We’re all stuck waiting to see him pass in a real game to see if he has truly improved or not, but early signs are not that promising that he has improved the biggest flaw in his game. He DID look better progressing through his reads, but that was such a minor part of why his play suffered when compared to not planting his foot and unnecessarily throwing sidearm and sailing intermediate and even short passes. Something to monitor going forward.