ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions have been organizing as a team the past few days for their first team workouts of the 2016 offseason. On Thursday, the media will be able to watch for the first time.
As covered earlier this week, there are a bunch of questions surrounding the Lions as they enter the team portion of the offseason program, including some secondary concerns and the primary question of Detroit’s offense without Calvin Johnson.
There are also specific players who will merit particular attention during Thursday’s workout for multiple reasons – be it an increased role, coming back from an injury or expected progress from one season to the next.
While it is always tough to gauge things from non-padded workouts, here are the players to watch.
1. LB DeAndre Levy: When we last saw Levy on the field, it was for 17 snaps in the first half of Arizona’s 42-17 crushing of Detroit in Week 5. He re-injured his hip during that game, had surgery and was placed on injured reserve. He told me toward the end of last season he was “looking toward April” for his return. While it’s not definite he’ll be on the field Thursday, Levy continued his optimism during the offseason as well. Considering the injury was to his hip, seeing how he moves and runs will be a strong component in gauging progress in his rehabilitation process.
2. DT Tyrunn Walker: He’s posted a bunch of rehab videos and the Lions decided to re-sign him to another one-year deal this offseason, so they believe he should be healthy. Because his injury was a broken left leg and dislocated left ankle, movement could be a key to his progress. His Instagram and Twitter videos showed progress, but seeing him on the field, if he participates, would provide another clue to his return. The real test in Walker’s rehab won’t come until training camp, when the interior line work in pads begins.
3. TE Eric Ebron: Ebron is entering his third season and needs to show more consistency than in his first two years. The flashes were there that he could be a stretch-the-field, potentially strong receiver. The Lions will him to be that in 2016, particularly because of Johnson’s retirement. Ebron becomes the possible No. 1 target in the red zone and the biggest mismatch Detroit will have for quarterback Matthew Stafford. If he is consistently making plays during OTAs, that will be a good sign.
4. CB Nevin Lawson: Lawson has the first shot at replacing the retired Rashean Mathis and his journey to a starting role starts in OTAs this week. He won’t win the job by the end of spring workouts, but he’ll be able to separate himself from a crowded group that includes Alex Carter, Darrin Walls and Crezdon Butler. The Lions didn’t take a corner in the draft, so they clearly believe they have a starter and some strong depth in that group opposite Darius Slay. If Lawson can make some plays, that should give him confidence to win the job.
5. QB Matthew Stafford: No list would be complete without the starting quarterback. While his job is safe and the battle behind him between Dan Orlovsky and rookie Jake Rudock is more interesting, seeing Stafford perform with a level of comfort will be important for the Lions to see. With Johnson gone, seeing him build a rapport with Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley – he already has one with Golden Tate – will also be something to pay attention to over the next month. Stafford is the public face of the Lions now and the franchise needs him to pick up where he finished the 2015 season to feel good about where they are headed.