Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder: Unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.
Position: Wide receiver
Likely roster spots: 5-7.
What to expect in camp: Johnson is an automatic. He is typically one of the more well-conditioned athletes on the Lions and one of the most impressive athletes in the NFL. Tate figures to get a lot of reps early -- more than someone who has his position locked down. Similar to Joique Bell with the running backs, most of that will come because Tate missed a good portion of the spring with an injury.
Tate’s reps are more important than Bell's because he still needs time to develop rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford both on timing routes and variations of the route tree the Lions might run. Tate is a smart, instinctual player so it shouldn’t take too long for that to happen.
After those two, expect a free-for-all for the remaining receiving spots. Ross should be on the team regardless as a returner but has been adamant he wants to turn into a reliable receiver as well. He should have a good shot to win the slot spot. Joining him there will be Broyles, who should be healthy again, and rookie Jones. They all have at least a decent shot at making the roster, especially since Ross can play outside as well if necessary.
The outside is where it could become interesting. Durham, Ogletree and Fuller will likely be playing for one spot -- maybe two depending on roster composition. Durham has more size. Ogletree has the most experience. Fuller has the speed but is still pretty raw. Another option for Detroit is to put Fuller on the practice squad again.
Other than that, the other receivers are long shots to make the roster.
What Detroit needs to see: Health. Over the past year, Johnson, Tate and Broyles have all had issues with injuries, although not all have had the same severity. Broyles is coming off his third straight season-ending injury. Johnson had two surgeries in the offseason, to fix his knee and a finger. Tate has the shoulder issue.
Don’t be surprised if Johnson’s workload in the preseason is similar to last season -- not much. He won’t need it to get into playing shape.
Other than health, Detroit should hope to see some sort of reliable option develop behind Johnson on the outside among Ross, Durham, Ogletree and Fuller. Considering the issues the Lions had when Johnson missed games last season, this is paramount. Adding Tate and tight end Eric Ebron should help. None of the players mentioned above can come close to replicating Johnson, but one of them needs to emerge as at least a decent option in case he or Tate miss any time.
What would be best for Detroit is if Ross can become similar to Jacoby Jones in role. If that happens, it could open up a roster spot the Lions could use elsewhere. This was an issue last season, when Micheal Spurlock took up a roster spot as essentially just a returner and gunner while being listed as a receiver as well.