ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions will start their second phase of organized team activities this week and that includes practicing together on the field, including with 11-on-11 drills.
And for the first time since 2006, that will not include wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired in March.
There is a lot to pay attention to as Jim Caldwell, Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions start very early preparations for the 2016 season. The media is expected to have their first OTA access Wednesday and here are some important things to pay attention to over the next month before the team gets one last break before training camp starts this summer.
1. What does the offense look like? We won’t know for sure what Jim Bob Cooter is planning until the season opener on Sept. 11 at Indianapolis, but running some drills could give an idea of what might look different conceptually and structurally in 2016 from Joe Lombardi’s offense in 2015. Stafford hinted at changes -- as have other players -- throughout the offseason. So what to expect? It’ll be tough to get a full gauge because target distribution won’t matter and there won’t be too much running or pressure, but it’ll provide a first glimpse.
2. How are the rookies integrated? It seems Caldwell hasn’t often used rookies with the first unit during his first two offseason programs. When he has, it has tended to portend good things for those rookies during the season -- think specifically about Quandre Diggs picking up first-team reps early last offseason and what that meant for him by the end of the 2015 campaign. So who should you be specifically looking for? First-round pick Taylor Decker should see first-team reps by the end of spring workouts and second-round pick A’Shawn Robinson might see some first-team work due to injuries to players ahead of him and general caution with veterans. Fourth-round pick Miles Killebrew also is in an interesting situation because of the competition around him.
3.Speaking of Killebrew, safety will be a position to watch: Glover Quin is a given at free safety. Who lines up next to him, though, is one of the most open position battles the Lions have. Killebrew is, as of now, a long shot to win the job outright out of camp although he could be the future at the position. Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush are the leading candidates here. Both signed as free agents this offseason with thoughts of being able to win the role. An outsider could be Isaiah Johnson, who spent the majority of last season on the practice squad. Who gets first- and second-team reps could give an early clue.
4. Dan Orlovsky vs. Jake Rudock: Figure Orlovsky to get most, if not all, of the No. 2 quarterback reps throughout the offseason workouts as Rudock begins to pick up the nuance of an NFL offense for the first time. But considering the Lions typically like to mix-and-match this early in the offseason, paying attention to whether one or the other has consistently good days could give a peek into what Detroit might expect from both of Stafford’s backups in the fall. As far as Stafford, as long as he stays healthy, there will be nothing to really pay attention to with him until training camp kicks off.
5. The hot corner: Darius Slay is entrenched at one corner. The other one is as open as strong safety when it comes to competition. Nevin Lawson has the early edge to win the job, but a few contenders should push him. That starts with Alex Carter, who is fully healthy and ready to show he was worth a third-round pick in 2015. Carter’s size, speed and range make him intriguing and a candidate to unseat Lawson. Veterans Crezdon Butler and Darrin Walls will be trying to surprise and win the job along with special teams ace Johnson Bademosi. In other words, it’s a wide-open competition.