Armed with only an index card and a sharpie marker in hand, Max DeMara is heading to training camp and taking you inside the huddles.
Ever since the days of Chris Spielman and Stephen Boyd, the Detroit Lions have lacked consistency and playmaking from the linebacker spot. Considering what the team has added in the past few years, those days are likely finally over.
In addition to the already steady Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy, the Lions have drafted a quality rookie in Kyle Van Noy. Though his adjustment has been slow at times in camp, there’s no doubting Van Noy has the body to play in the league.
Monday, watching Van Noy go through drills was a sight to be seen. His explosive hands knocked the pad from the staff member’s hands. He was able to get low and use powerful leg drive to stand up quick and progress through drills. Standing up, his size and lateral quickness is obvious, as is his ability to pursue.
Will Van Noy start immediately? Though it seems likely thanks to his draft position, nothing is guaranteed, seeing as he will likely be competing against Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whithead, both of whom have played well in spots when given a chance and have been with the team.
The hunger of Palmer, Whitehead, Travis Lewis and others will only help this group to have more success. Tulloch and Levy are entrenched, but the battle between Van Noy, Palmer and Whitehead should be outstanding for all players involved. Most would likely agree Palmer shouldn’t have been handed the outside linebacker job last season. With more bodies this year, he’ll have to fight off two other very hungry competitors to keep it.
Such elements are important for a team, and will assure that the roster’s cream actually does rise to the top, a phrase Jim Caldwell enjoyed using when he took over in January. The sheer number of camp battles in other places will likely ensure that occurs roster-wide.
Finally, with Tulloch, Levy and whomever wins the final outside spot, the Lions have plenty of depth at linebacker and should enjoy stability at every spot the position offers. For those who remember the ghosts of Teddy Lehman and Chris Claiborne past, that’s excellent news.
Here’s a bit more about the first day of camp this week, which featured a visit from a surprise guest nobody could have anticipated.
Slay’s Scare. Early in one-on-one drills, Darius Slay got locked up with Golden Tate and landed awkwardly. After spending plenty of time on the ground being observed, the staff finally got him up to rounds of applause. According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, it turned out Slay had fallen on his neck, but walked off under his own power and came back later. It was a lucky break for a Detroit defensive backfield which cannot sustain injuries this season. Thankfully, Slay seems to be alright.
Large Lucas. Tackle Cornelius Lucas is a large human being, which is emphasized nearly every time he stands next to most teammates. That size might be giving him a leg up at winning a roster spot. The undrafted free agent from Kansas State was taking second team snaps at times on Monday, which might give a small indication of how the staff might value him.
Fuller Standing Out. For the fourth straight day, Corey Fuller made a huge impression. His burst off the line in one-on-one drills with the cornerbacks was impressive, and he routinely beat his competition for deep balls. One time, he went up and pulled down a long pass for a touchdown. More than his hands, though, Fuller’s body looks much better. He looks to have filled out, and has the speed to go with the hands. Most would agree, Fuller should be threatening for a spot with the wideouts this fall.
Theo’s Short Game. There’s been plenty of hype about Theo Riddick this offseason as a possible offensive difference maker, and so far, it’s looking justified. The area to watch him most in is the midrange passing game. Due to his size and stature, Riddick can hide behind the line and scoot free in an instant. He did that a few separate times on Monday, turning a few simple passes into what would have been big gains. That could help him make some waves.
CB Size Doesn’t Always Matter. The defensive rage in the NFL is now finding taller, wider cornerbacks who can eat space and defend bigger receivers. In Chris Greenwood (6-1) and Mohammed Seisay (6-2), the Lions have a few of those competing. In camp thus far, however, that size hasn’t meant much going one-on-one. Seisay struggled at times on Monday, and Greenwood did, as well. Smaller options such as Nevin Lawson and Jonte Green have impressed more frequently than many larger bodies.
Number To Note: 2, the amount of notable drops Joseph Fauria had during practice. One was on a lower thrown ball near the ground, but the other was one that should have been nabbed. Fauria knew, and quickly slammed his hands together in frustration. All in all, it was still a decent day for the tight-end, who was being used on more routes across the middle of the field and down the sideline. Perhaps he’s no longer to be considered a red zone only man?
He Said It: “No I don’t, I’ve seen them, though.”—Sam Martin. I asked the Lions’ punter if he had yet gotten his hands on a “Punters Are People, Too” shirt, which is a movement that has been made popular by NFL Network broadcaster Rich Eisen. Martin had seen and heard of the movement (and shirt) but didn’t yet have a souvenir to commemorate it. It’s time for Eisen to give Martin some love and hook him up with a shirt. After all, the punter Martin’s a person too, and not a rookie anymore.
Play Of The Day: The Lions’ defensive backs must get sick of going up against Calvin Johnson in practice. He made a fantastic grab on a Matthew Stafford pass, shifting from side to side and reaching across his body to nab a ball that most receivers would find impossible to touch, drawing cheers from the fans. It was another moment with Johnson for people to wonder if what they had seen was real.
Laugh Of The Day: For 5 minutes, a female duck circled the entire practice field, flying low and intriguing the fans. It finally touched down on the sidelines, ironically enough, staying just on the edge of the action while snacking on bugs in the turf. As a fan comically pointed out, the duck was a possible spy sent from Green Bay. Maybe Bill Belichick needs to evolve his thinking from video taping methods.
Special Note: Happy Birthday wishes to Lions’ running back and Detroit product Joique Bell. A trio of devoted fans actually brought Bell a birthday cake to camp, which they managed to get to him with help from the team staff. Later, they reported he was seen snacking on their creation after practice. Always a man of the people, Bell signed autographs for a considerable amount of time along the fence.