The new-look Detroit Lions are getting back on the practice field. Actually, the rookies and other first-year players already reported to training camp on Saturday.
The full squad will arrive on Tuesday for the start of camp.
This season will be much different than last for a variety of reasons.
First, even with COVID still hanging around, there are precautions and policies in place this year to allow a more normal schedule. Fans will once again be allowed to attend open practices.
Secondly, and perhaps the biggest change is the Lions' new coaching staff and management. With the new regime coming in, there are plenty of new faces and a few notable subtractions.
Lastly, there will be an additional regular season game, in lieu of the typical fourth preseason matchup.
After the Lions finished the 2020 campaign with a 5-11 record, principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp fired general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, and hired GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell.
Expectations will remain low in the first year of the rebuild. That doesn’t mean the Lions can’t surprise a few teams, though, and still be entertaining in the meantime.
At the very least, there seems to be a sense of calm and direction with the new staff.
There was plenty of turnover from this year to last.
Many of Quinn’s overpriced free agents, draft picks and other acquisitions moved on with the new administration in place.
For the first time in a long time, quarterback Matthew Stafford is no longer the Lions' quarterback, as he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009 had a prolific statistical career in Detroit. Yet, it’s a beginning of a new era.
Also, both of Stafford’s biggest receiving weapons followed the money, and followed Stafford out the door.
Receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. left in free agency -- to the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. Even WR Danny Amendola did not return. If you're counting, that's the Lions' three top wideouts all having left the organization.
Not that he ever made much of an impact, but tight end Jesse James -- one of the biggest free-agent busts of the Quinn era – was also released after two years into his contract.
A few other offensive players who are no longer with the Lions are guards Joe Dahl and Oday Aboushi, as well as running backs Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson.
On the defensive side of the ball, where to even begin?
With how bad the Lions' defense was in 2020, it makes sense that the defense saw plenty of change this offseason.
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton, linebackers Jarrad Davis, Reggie Ragland and Christian Jones and defensive backs Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman and Duron Harmon are all gone.
There are many more players who won’t return, but the aforementioned ones are the most notable names.
There is plenty of roster shuffling in most years -- this year more than most. Anytime there is new staff, there is often a purge of the prior regime’s players.
In an effort to backfill all the vacant roster spots, many additions have to be made -- whether through the draft or free agency. Let’s take a look at the free agents who were signed.
First and foremost, the quarterback position is now filled by Jared Goff.
Goff will be the new Lions signal-caller. Make no mistake, he has had his ups and downs in his career. For the Lions' sake, the hope is he will find his Pro Bowl form from 2017 and 2018.
At wideout, the Lions had a lot of work to do to replace Golladay and Jones. Holmes landed on Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams, to attempt to fill the void at the top of the team's receivers depth chart.
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The only free agent the Lions signed from another organization this offseason who received more than a one-year deal was running back Jamaal Williams. Obviously, they must like how he can complement second-year running back D’Andre Swift’s game.
Defensively, Holmes made another trade -- outside of the big Stafford deal -- with his former team, which landed him defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Staying with the familiarity theme, ex-New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone was given a one-year deal.
In the secondary, 2019 standout cornerback Quinton Dunbar was handed a "prove-it" contract by Holmes. To augment the secondary, Holmes also inked slot corner Corn Elder and safety Dean Marlowe to free-agent deals.
- Round 1, Pick 7 -- Oregon OL Penei Sewell
- Round 2, Pick 41 -- Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike
- Round 3, Pick 72 -- North Carolina State DT Alim McNeill
- Round 3, Pick 101 -- Syracuse CB Ifeatu Melifonwu
- Round 4, Pick 112 -- USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
- Round 4, Pick 113 -- Purdue LB Derrick Barnes
- Round 7, Pick 257 -- Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson
Undrafted free agents
- Virginia S D'Angelo Amos
- Marshall LB Tavante Beckett
- Ohio State TE Jake Hausmann
- Kentucky C Drake Jackson
- Arkansas CB Jerry Jacobs
- Notre Dame G Tommy Kraemer
- Notre Dame WR Javon McKinley
- Kansas State CB AJ Parker
- Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt
- Notre Dame TE Brock Wright
Wide Receiver - It is assumed that Williams and Perriman will be the predominant outside wideouts, with the rookie St. Brown seeing time in the slot. As of now, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to think otherwise. Still, a lot can change throughout camp, and many others will be nipping at the heels of the top-three options. The Lions have quantity over quality right now. May the best man win.
Defensive Tackle - The interior defensive linemen rotate plenty throughout the course of the game. Just because someone's name is penciled in as a starter doesn’t mean the backups won’t see the field. There are a few D-linemen in particular who will need to step up if they want to see significant playing time: John Penisini, Da’Shawn Hand and Nicholas Williams, who restructured his contract to stick around. There was a reason Holmes drafted McNeill and Onwuzurike on Day 2 of the draft. It’s likely only a matter of time before the rookies get their time to shine. It’s on the veterans to play well enough to keep the young guys at bay.
Cornerback -- Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and Dunbar will all be vying for two spots at the outside corner position. Okudah likely had the worst season of the three in 2020, but his draft status and potential growth will likely give him preferential treatment to start training camp. No matter the case, though, the cornerbacks will have a real tough battle to win a starting job. Even in the slot -- which is essentially a starting position in today’s NFL -- Mike Ford and Elder are likely to battle for playing time, with Ford appearing to be the favorite to start for the time being.
Things to watch
1.) How does quarterback Jared Goff perform during training camp?
Goff will be the focal point during the early portion of camp, as the organization is counting on the 26-year-old quarterback to bounce back and prove that he is capable of leading a new team.
There may be initial struggles, but Goff should be able to perform at a consistent level, working with new Detroit offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and the offensive coaching staff.
2.) How does Trey Flowers adapt to playing outside linebacker?
The Lions will now be playing a 3-4 base scheme on defense, which means veteran Trey Flowers will play heavily at outside linebacker.
While the veteran defensive lineman does not foreshadow that it will take long to adapt, training camp will provide the opportunity to observe how Flowers performs, while working within first-year defensive coordinator's Aaron Glenn's system.
3.) How does Lynn utilize his running backs?
The growing competition between Swift and Williams should benefit both and the Lions' offense.
While Swift is considered the feature back, the reality is the offense will rely upon multiple running backs to produce via the ground and via the air.
"Jamaal (Williams) is what I'd call a classic 'A' back," Lynn told The Athletic. "I like to break the backs down into 'A' and 'B'. My 'A' backs are normally my bigger backs. They can run between the tackles, block probably a little better than a 'B' back. They can also run the perimeter. I can leave those guys in there for all three downs."
Training camp will provide the first glimpse of how Lynn plans to maximize the talents of the running backs on the roster.
If all goes to plan, rookie Jermar Jefferson will also insert himself into the conversation for increased reps, early in his playing career.