Detroit Lions training camp preview
By Ty Finch
The Detroit Lions start the 2016 season in training camp on July 29th. Real football is almost arriving. Before the official start of camp, we are previewing key aspects such as positional battles, training camp clichés, player predictions, and possible camp heroes. Without further adieu, your Detroit Lions training camp preview extravaganza!
The battle for the starting safety opposite Glover Quin is likely the most heated battle of them all. Three players: Tavon Wilson, Rafael Bush, and Miles Killebrew, are eyeing the open spot. As training camp opens, Bush seems to have a slight edge over the others simply because of his experience. Tavon Wilson was a draft pick during Quinn’s time in New England as Director or Pro Scouting, but did not live up to his 2nd round status. Killebrew was a 4th round pick this year, and is likely the future more than the present. It will not be surprising to see any of these three grasp this opportunity, however. Given Teryl Austin’s track record with the secondary, I have faith they will make the right call, too.
The fight to guard Matthew Stafford’s blind side is another intriguing camp story. Throughout the offseason training activities, Taylor Decker was playing left tackle while Riley Reiff, who held the position for three years, lined up as the right tackle. It is possible that Bob Quinn and the Lions wanted Decker on the left to see how he handled it early, and has plans to move him back to the right as training camp moves along. However, the Lions seem set on Decker as the future LT, whether or not it is this year is something we will see in camp.
There was a 300-word piece on this spot that was undoubtedly the greatest piece of writing ever on a slot wide receiver battle, but the Lions decided to render it worthless by signing Anquan Boldin hours ago. Blame the Lions for not getting to read it. Anyway, Boldin will almost assuredly be the slot receiver in 2016 baring injury, and will line up outside in some sets.
TJ Jones has the advantage for the 4th receiver role, having played under head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter last year. Under Cooter, Jones was targeted 15 times in the last five games, catching nine for 121 yards and a touchdown. 84 percent of TJ Jones’ snaps came in the final five games (via ESPN). As long as he does not flop like an Italian soccer player in training camp, I expect Jones to win the 4th role. This means Jeremy Kerley, Andre Caldwell, Andre Roberts, Jay Lee and company will be hunting for a roster spot. Quinn has done well to mitigate Calvin Johnson’s retirement as best as he can at this position.
Even though Jimmy Clausen worked out with the Lions he is not expected to sniff the 53 man roster if he is to sign. This fight is between Dan Orlovsky and Jake Rudock alone, and frankly, I doubt it is very close at this point. As Jeff Risdon points out, Orlovsky has multiple advantages over Rudock. He is not a popular figure in Detroit for obvious reasons, but he is a fine backup. Orlovsky will not win your team a game by himself, but he also will not lose one on his lonesome. That is just about all one can ask from a backup quarterback in this league, and some teams would take that from their starter at this point. Rudock has an uphill grind to make the 53, as any 6th round quarterback draft pick would. Unless the Lions keep three quarterbacks this year, Rudock is heading to the practice squad.
Matt Urben detailed this battle well in his recent article. His conclusion is spot on. This will be a fiercely contested battle in camp and the preseason, and I expect Travis Swanson to win the job initially over Graham Glasgow. If the Lions see Swanson struggle early, however, the baton may be passed sooner than expected. Swanson does not have a long leash this year. Glasgow was a 3rd round draft pick for a reason, and it was not to ride the pine.
Bob Quinn has not exactly liked what he has seen out of the running back depth chart so far. He cut Joique Bell early this offseason, drafted Dwayne Washington, signed Steven Ridley, and was going to work out Arian Foster until Miami signed him. It would not be surprising to see another addition before or during training camp. There are carries to be had after Abdullah. The popular choice is Zach Zenner, but there are reasons to be skeptical about his ability to be a big contributor. Steven Ridley was in New England with Quinn, and probably has a small leg up on Zenner, Winn, and Washington. Theo Riddick will be in line for a few more rushes, but likely will not see a significant increase, as his worth is mostly as a pass-catcher.
Next: Cliches and Potential Camp Heroes