After two months, three meetings with the media and the beginnings of revamping the Detroit Lions' roster, Matt Patricia finally gets to start doing one of the things he most enjoys Monday.
Coaching. And meeting his players – many of them for the first time.
As the Lions open up their offseason program with the first phase of spring workouts, players will finally start to get a better feel for what Patricia is like in person and what could be expected of them this year. For others, it’ll likely be a first true meeting with their new position coach and, in the defense’s case, coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
And they’ll start to get to know some of the free agents brought in – including in the linebacker and tight end rooms where half the players are new faces.
The path to a potentially successful season or not will start to take shape this week. Patricia can start implementing the type of team he wants to be – and how much different that may or may not be from his predecessor Jim Caldwell.
With that in mind, there are some areas Patricia is going to have to focus on with his players and coaches over the next few weeks before voluntary minicamp at the end of the month and then the draft, where rookies will once again change the composition of the roster.
What does the defense look like: It remains one of the bigger questions about the Lions in 2018 – and based on what Detroit has done thus far in its offseason, thinking the Lions will be a team capable of running both a 4-3 and 3-4 base scheme up front seems possible. Within that, what ends up being the role for new players such as linebacker Devon Kennard as well as returning standout defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Detroit’s defense is still an area that needs pieces – the draft should provide one or two more linemen and perhaps another defensive back or linebacker – but having a better grasp on what is going to be expected begins here.
What will his installation be like: Returning Lions players are ]used to Jim Caldwell’s style, which was installing things almost essentially from scratch at various points during the offseason in hopes that repetition of installation made sure all of his players were familiar with what Detroit was going to run. Patricia is known as a teacher – and a coach that had no problem giving his players extra and sticking around to make sure everyone understood what was going on – so it’ll be interesting to see and hear how he starts to make sure his message and scheme get across.
How do certain players look: They won’t get to see a ton, but there are a few key players for the Lions who are coming off season-ending injuries – including wide receiver TJ Jones and defensive end Kerry Hyder. Hyder is being looked at as a potential starting defensive end, and Jones is a key contributor on special teams and as a receiver. Making sure both of those players are making smart, significant progress is important. In Hyder’s case, his explosiveness and quickness getting off the ball – something that helped propel him to being a surprise player in 2016 – is going to be something to watch because his season-ending Achilles injury can be tricky to come back from.
What does Matthew Stafford think: Stafford and Patricia have talked – Patricia said as much when he was hired in February -- but Stafford has not talked publicly about his new head coach since he was hired in February. That Jim Bob Cooter was retained will be a positive point for Stafford, although it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about his old quarterbacks coach, Brian Callahan, not being retained considering the role he had in helping him develop over the past couple of years. Stafford has never been a player to say anything controversial, so it would be a surprise if he said anything other than positive or neutral things, but his opinion on the offseason moves does matter.
Does Ansah show up: Ansah was franchise-tagged in February and has spent a good amount of time – based on his Instagram page – in his native Ghana this offseason, where he does some foundation work. But will Ansah, who battled injury almost all of the offseason, show up for the start of workouts or will he take the approach of working out on his own since these practices are voluntary anyway? That could send a message about how he feels about being tagged and his potential future with the Lions. The key here is that Ansah is going to need to be a leader in the defensive line room after Haloti Nga>’s departure, so if Ansah isn’t there, it’ll likely be up to Akeem Spence, A'Shawn Robinson, Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington to be the defensive line leaders. For the first time in a long time, the defensive line doesn’t have a clear veteran leader (other than Ansah, who hasn’t been full-fledged in that role before).
Who leads: Following on that, the defensive line room is not the only one going through a leadership shift. The linebackers no longer have Tahir Whitehead, so second-year pro Jarrad Davis might have to emerge as a leader. In the tight end room, either Luke Willson or Levine Toilolo will have to learn the offense and plan to lead the tight ends at the same time. Tight end, though, isn’t as big of a deal as the front seven on defense since the communication will be critical there.