ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions offseason officially began around 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when Jim Caldwell finished his final media obligation of the spring and the players all shuttled off to begin a six-week break.
When they reconvene, things will become much more serious at the Lions’ facility to start training camp and prepare for the 2014 season. But there were some things to learn throughout the time Detroit spent here in the spring, both from an installation perspective and from who might actually see an increased role come the fall.
Here are some thoughts on the final day of minicamp -- and of the offseason program as a whole.
Jeremy Ross had the most impressive minicamp/organized team activities session of any player -- at least from what the media was able to see. He established himself as the team’s returner and spent enough time on the first team that he is going to have a role in the offense as well this fall. Yes, Golden Tate's absence had something to do with the amount of snaps Ross saw, but his speed and size make him attractive as a player who can be used in the slot and on the outside.
The player of the final day of minicamp might have been Joseph Fauria. The tight end caught multiple touchdown passes in team drills and used his size well in the red zone. Some of the touchdowns were over undrafted free agents, but he needed to have a good camp and he did that.
Conversely, Eric Ebron had what seemed to be a rough indoctrination to the NFL. He struggled with dropped passes throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp, including two drops on the final day of practice. Drops were an issue for him at North Carolina, so to see him continue this trend during his first few weeks as a professional should be at least a little bit concerning to the Lions. That said, it is still early and he is clearly still learning everything, so it could be an issue of just overthinking on routes and not letting instincts take over. This will be a situation worth monitoring during training camp.
Right tackle is going to be a competition, and it could last all the way through the end of camp. LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard essentially split first-team snaps throughout the spring practices, and Caldwell did not give an indication one player or another was going to win the job anytime soon. Tough to see Cornelius Lucas winning the job, but the undrafted free agent could end up playing his way into the conversation at some point. His size alone makes him attractive. This will be the spot to watch on the line in camp. If Rob Sims doesn’t come into camp healthy, left guard could be a spot to pay attention to as well.
The defense looked a lot better than the offense Thursday -- a day after the offense looked incredibly sharp. There were not a lot of big plays on the defense, but the secondary broke up a lot of passes throughout the morning session. Seeing something like this is fine by Caldwell, because he almost expected the offense and defense to rotate having good practices. Makes it more competitive that way. The defense was particularly stout in the two-minute offense, where it held the offense to three-and-out on two straight possessions.
Giorgio Tavecchio rebounded from his rough Tuesday practice to make all of his kicks Thursday. Nate Freese didn’t fare as well, missing at least one field goal attempt and almost missing an extra point. Caldwell seemed fine with how both kickers have performed thus far in the spring, and it sounds like both will enter camp with a shot at the job.
One player who saw no action during the entire spring was James Franklin, the undrafted free agent quarterback from Missouri. He took no snaps at quarterback during team drills in any practice open to the media. Why? Just not enough reps. It will be interesting to see how he does in July and August, because it sounds like a lot of his snaps will actually come in preseason games from the way Caldwell spoke.
Spent some time watching Nick Fairley on Thursday since it will be the last time we see him until training camp. The weight loss really is staggering. He looks much more explosive than he was at any point last season, and he’s just moving a lot better. He is still bigger than Ndamukong Suh, but he looks like he can keep up with him more.
It will be interesting to see where Devin Taylor fits into the defense. He will definitely have a role, but he couldn’t compete much at the closed end position because he spent a lot of time with the first group at open end since Ezekiel Ansah did not practice. Taylor could play either spot and even some on the inside. He’s going to see more snaps in 2014 than he did in 2013 -- that’s a fairly confident prediction right now.
The defensive aggression will fit the secondary well. They were making plays on the ball and being smart about their reads and coverage. This is without the ability to really bump receivers at the line or press receivers at all. When they are able to do that, the Lions will likely become even more aggressive. Much different than a season ago.