ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Organized team activities are often an odd time for NFL franchises. They start implementing what they hope to use for the 2016 season and start the learning process they believe will lead to wins in the fall.
Yet it is tough to have a true gauge because so many players end up missing all or parts of voluntary OTA practices for a multitude of reasons ranging from personal reasons to being held out due to recovery from injury.
That was obvious Thursday with the Detroit Lions, where a plethora of likely fall contributors weren’t on the field at all.
1. A bunch of top-flight players out: The two biggest names sitting out Thursday were tight end Eric Ebron (undisclosed injury) and safety Glover Quin (not injury related). Ebron missed last week’s open OTA as well due to injury, while Quin was in attendance but sat out team drills. The Lions were also thin at running back with Ameer Abdullah (shoulder), Stevan Ridley and Dwayne Washington all not participating. Four receivers sat out – TJ Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Corey Fuller and Jace Billingsley. Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew (ACL) were the missing tight ends. Starting center Travis Swanson joined tackles Michael Ola and Corey Robinson in sitting out. The defense was a bit better stocked. Besides Quin, the Lions were missing defensive backs Ian Wells and Charles Washington, defensive tackle Caraun Reid and linebackers Khaseem Greene and Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch’s absence was expected as the franchise is still expected to release him at some point.
2. Absence creates opportunity: One of the biggest beneficiaries of players not participating was center Gabe Ikard, who took first-team reps at center with Swanson out ahead of rookie Graham Glasgow. This could be a case of Lions head coach Jim Caldwell wanting Glasgow to earn the spot, but it’s a good sign for Ikard – at least from a competition standpoint. It could be a difficult road for him for a roster spot with Glasgow and Swanson on the roster, but he’s a guy to watch. Quin’s absence again gave Isaiah Johnson a chance to work with the first team and he’s likely going to be solidly in any backup safety conversation throughout the preseason. Ebron and Pettigrew being out will open up chances for Cole Wick and Matthew Mulligan to both push for the potential No. 3 tight end spot with Tim Wright landing on injured reserve.
3. Taylor Decker at left tackle will be a thing: For the second straight open OTA, rookie Taylor Decker lined up at left tackle next to Laken Tomlinson instead of Riley Reiff. Reiff spent the entire practice, from what I saw, at right tackle after being Matthew Stafford’s blindside protector since 2013. Whille there is still a chance Reiff and Decker could flip spots, every practice Decker works on the left side is more confirmation he could be the Game 1 starter there. Building offensive line chemistry is a big thing and considering Detroit will need Decker somewhere this fall, putting him at the position that is most likely for him to play from the start makes sense. As a reminder, the Lions get a full evaluation since there are no pads or hitting, but it could be a sign this is heading in a certain direction. As for Detroit’s other rookie offensive linemen, Joe Dahl worked a lot at guard on Thursday while Graham Glasgow was at center.
4. Alex Carter is making some moves: File this in the early category, but cornerback Alex Carter picked up some first-team reps opposite Darius Slay on Thursday. While Nevin Lawson will likely hold the lead on the No. 1 job heading into training camp, this is another good sign for Carter after he received some work in the dime last week. He got some reps with the first unit during 7-on-7 drills and in an 11-on-11 period. It’s just another step for last year’s third-round pick after he missed all of the 2015 season with an ankle injury.
5. From the good and bad department: The play of the day might have come from the deep third stringers, when Jake Rudock found fellow rookie Quinshad Davis for a completion over the middle. Davis, who is 6-foot-3, had to jump to make the play and it was one of the more impressive receptions during a practice that appeared to be heavily run-focused. Theo Riddick and Matthew Stafford struggled on a toss to the running back, causing a fumble – the first fumble I noticed in the two days of OTAs. It’s still spring, though, so nothing to be concerned about. Miscues happen this time of year.