ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn went on SiriusXM Radio in June and said one of the competitions he was most interested in watching was at strong safety.
Then, when training camp came around, it didn’t appear to be a competition at all. Rafael Bush has taken almost every rep with the first unit for almost every open practice in camp -- until Sunday.
Midway through camp, the Lions are at least taking a look at Tavon Wilson -- the other veteran safety signed by Detroit during free agency -- at strong safety. He received a lot of work with the No. 1 defense in practice Sunday after a good showing in the Lions’ second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday.
“I don’t really look at it as first team or second team,” Wilson said. “I just look at it as whenever I get my opportunity to go out there and play, so I just try to go out there and take advantage of every opportunity that I get.”
Wilson had another good day of practice Sunday, almost intercepting a Matthew Stafford pass -- and then doing push-ups when he dropped the ball. Meanwhile, Bush worked primarily with the second-team defense on a day when the Lions did a lot of mixing and matching with their offensive and defensive units.
Wilson signed with the Lions this offseason after spending four seasons in New England, where Quinn was familiar with him. When the Lions signed him, Wilson felt he would get a chance to compete for the starting safety job opposite Glover Quin, along with playing special teams.
His role on special teams is pretty clear. And it seems like the competition at strong safety might be more open than previously thought.
“It still is, because obviously things aren’t over yet,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We haven’t made any cuts, we’re not down to our final numbers. There’s opportunity out there.”
At strong safety, it seems like what appeared to be a one-man job is turning into at least a two-man competition.
Here are some other observations from Sunday's final fully open practice of 2016:
1. TJ Jones might be next up: The receiver worked with the No. 1 offense with Golden Tate sidelined due to injury. Jones took the majority of the first-team reps, ahead of other possible candidates like Andre Roberts, Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis, so that could be a sign of where Jones stands in the eyes of the coaches. Tate, meanwhile, was spotted running on the side with two other injured players: safety Don Carey and cornerback Crezdon Butler.
2. Ameer Abdullah and DeAndre Levy are back: Both did work in team drills Sunday. It was the first time Levy participated in team drills this preseason and the first time Abdullah did so while wearing a regular jersey instead of the no-contact one he had on during training camp. Abdullah was in his regular jersey Saturday as well, but that was more of a walk-through practice.
3. Eric Ebron might be getting closer: The tight end still isn’t practicing, but he appears to be walking much better on his injured ankle -- to the point where there is no visible limp at all. A better sign of his progress came after Sunday's practice ended, when he jogged over to the Jugs machine and caught passes for a few minutes. The fact that he was able to jog -- and looked fine doing so -- is a step in the right direction.
4. The Lions are starting to get banged up: It’s hard to tell how many of these are long-term injuries since Caldwell has been evasive at best about injury questions this preseason. But nine guys sat out Sunday’s practice, which would equate to a Monday in a regular game week: Tate, Ebron, center Graham Glasgow, tackles Michael Ola and Corey Robinson, linebacker Jon Bostic, and defensive backs Isaiah Johnson, Butler and Carey. Of those, Ola and Bostic appear to be the most serious. Bostic had surgery last week on his foot and when asked about Ola’s health being a long-term concern, Caldwell said, “We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.” Of those who missed practice Sunday, Tate, Ebron and Glasgow are roster locks. Ola and Bostic seem to have a really good chance of making the roster, and the rest are in battles for spots.
5. One last snippet from practice: On an odd play Sunday, Lions linebacker Josh Bynes appeared to jump over Larry Warford (or at least the offensive line) trying to make a play. It was tough to tell because of the angle, but it might have been a play that would have been called offside. But want an idea of Marvin Jones' ability to track a deep ball? The play kept going and Stafford threw the ball to Jones 30 or so yards downfield. Jones tracked it perfectly, beat double coverage (which appeared to let up a bit) and caught the ball. He’s been doing that all camp long.