Detroit Lions: Chris Houston

DETROIT -- Darius Slay has spent the past year trying to claim the No. 23. On Wednesday, he finally got it.

Slay
The second-year cornerback initially approached veteran Chris Houston for the number after he was drafted in 2013, but Slay said Wednesday night that Houston rebuffed him and that he didn’t want to offer him anything for the number -- a typical tradition for a requested number switch in pro sports.

Then, Houston was released in June and Slay approached Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, asking for the switch.

“He said, 'You got to work for it,'” Slay said. “Obviously, I’ve been doing my work in practice and he felt like I deserved it today.”

Slay said Caldwell told him during lunch Wednesday he could finally make his desired switch from the No. 30 to his desired 23.

Caldwell said after practice Slay earned the jersey switch and that he held a competition between players who wanted it to see who played the best.

“It was a fairly popular number,” Caldwell said.

Why did Slay want 23?

Part of the reason is it is his favorite higher number since he can’t wear a number between 1 and 19 due to NFL regulations. So he wanted 23. And there was another reason, too.

His favorite player in the NFL -- something he mentioned often last season -- is Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, who he will coincidentally see Saturday night when the Lions open the preseason against the Browns.

Now that Slay has the number, the Lions are hoping he can do more than just idolize Haden. They hope he can start playing like him as well.

“That’s my role model,” Slay said. “I look up to him and [he’s] one of my favorite players.”

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
The Detroit Lions' offseason is already a week old and the team made one somewhat surprising move in releasing cornerback Chris Houston a year after signing him to a $25 million contract.

What else is there to potentially look for before training camp starts in late July? A few things pop up as possibilities between now and then.

Suh
The Suh situation: Whenever team president Tom Lewand has discussed Ndamukong Suh's contract situation, he has pointed to when the Lions signed Matthew Stafford to an extension a year ago. It took until the summer. Well, summer has begun so it would seem to fit when Detroit is hoping to extend its defensive star. If this doesn't happen over the next month or so, it is legitimately time for the Lions to wonder if an extension will happen at all.

A veteran signing: Yes, cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the market, as are a multitude of veteran wide receivers. These seem to be the two areas of need for the Lions at this point and general manager Martin Mayhew has shown in the past he is comfortable making veteran moves to improve his roster whenever necessary. Look at the Rashean Mathis signing from last year. So don't be surprised if there is a little bit of a roster shift between now and training camp. Another player to watch here could be defensive tackle Derek Landri, whom the team brought in earlier this spring.

Warford
Improvement of Larry Warford: Warford told me he is heading to work with his offensive line guru, LeCharles Bentley, for a portion of June and July. It was during this same time frame last year when Warford made the jump into being the player who started every game and played every snap for Detroit in his rookie season. In talking with Warford this spring, he's still not completely happy with his game, so he's headed to Bentley for a tune-up and some tweaks for his second season.

Accountability and the unexpected: Without fail, during every offseason around the NFL, something happens. Before the players left, new head coach Jim Caldwell preached accountability both on the field and off of it. This will be their longest time away from the team until next offseason, so whether his message stuck will be displayed here.

Cool traveling on Twitter and Instagram: This is the time of year where players often take some of their more exotic vacations. Reggie Bush -- it's for a sponsorship thing, it seems -- has been in Australia most of this week. DeAndre Levy is likely headed somewhere interesting as well and he already spent part of that offseason out of the country. Then there's Suh, who will be on television again in an episode of "American Muscle" on July 16 on the Discovery Channel. (It was already filmed with former Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis at Barwis' training facility in suburban Detroit.)
The offseason workouts have concluded and with players and coaches about six weeks away from the start of training camp, one last rest and individualized training period will commence.

After a month of workouts, though, there have been some players who have made cases for potential roster spots in the fall and others who did not help themselves nearly as much.

Just like the start of the spring workouts, here is a look at the Detroit defensive and special teams depth chart -- along with a post-minicamp guess at the 53-man roster that could end up being the Lions' team in the fall. Remember, a lot can change between now and then.

Changes from our May defensive prediction are in parentheses. The offensive roster prediction lives here.

DEFENSIVE END:

Starters: Ezekiel Ansah (open); Jason Jones (closed)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Larry Webster, George Johnson, Kalonji Kashama.

Thoughts: Ansah didn’t practice this spring but he is a starter and should have a good year. Jones started to look healthier and will likely be pushed by Taylor throughout camp. Taylor may end up winning the job. Tapp is a good veteran and Webster is raw. Really raw.

Roster locks: Ansah, Jones, Taylor. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Webster. (Webster up from practice squad)

DEFENSIVE TACKLE:

Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley.

Backups: C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Greg Hickman.

Thoughts: The Lions cut a lot of marginal veteran weight here during the spring and really somewhat set their defensive tackle depth chart. Suh and Fairley, at least in the spring, look like they could be the dominant pairing the Lions wanted the past few seasons. Both Jones and Taylor can play inside, so that gives the Lions flexibility.

Roster locks: Suh, Fairley, Mosley (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Suh, Fairley, Mosley, Reid, Proctor (practice squad) (Add Proctor to practice squad)

LINEBACKER:

Starters: DeAndre Levy (weak side); Stephen Tulloch (middle); Kyle Van Noy (strong side)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Cory Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson.

Thoughts: The starters are pretty set here with the two veterans and the rookie, Van Noy. Palmer will end up playing his way onto the team, but watch for Whitehead here. He is a potential candidate to push for playing time or at least be a stable backup in the middle. The last spot here could be between Stanford and Lewis for a mainly special-teams spot. In this version, I cut both Stanford and Lewis in favor of a sixth cornerback, but could easily see that changing by the time the next roster projection is done before camp.

Roster locks: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Palmer, Whitehead, Hepburn (practice squad). (Jackson off practice squad, Palmer to the 53-man roster).

CORNERBACK:

Starters: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis (Chris Houston off team).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Chris Greenwood, Nevin Lawson, Jonte Green, Aaron Hester, Mohammed Seisay.

Thoughts: The release of Houston opens up this competition and a roster spot for another cornerback, potentially. Slay and Mathis are likely starters here with everyone else fighting for time and, other than Lawson, a roster spot. It’ll be one of the toughest battles of camp. This was one of the toughest cuts I had to make.

Roster locks: Slay, Mathis, Lawson. (Add Mathis, subtract Houston)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson, Greenwood, Seisay (practice squad). (Houston, Green off; Seisay on practice squad).

SAFETY:

Starters: Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes, Jerome Couplin, Gabe Lynn.

Thoughts: The Lions are good with their top three safeties in Quin, Ihedigbo and Carey. Carey can play both nickel and corner in an emergency, which makes him imminently valuable for the Lions. Abdul-Quddus and Gomes might be competing for one roster spot and that should be an intense battle throughout camp. Between these two was the last cut I made. Initially had both making the roster until the end.

Roster locks: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, Abdul-Quddus, Couplin (practice squad)

KICKER:

Starter: Nate Freese

Backup: Giorgio Tavecchio

Thoughts: Still Freese's job to lose, but this might be a tougher competition than anticipated. Tavecchio has the stronger leg and if he can add consistency, he’ll win the gig. Otherwise, it’s Freese’s. Right now, it’s a toss-up.

Roster locks: None.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Freese.

PUNTER:

Starter: Sam Martin

Backups: None.

Thoughts: None. It’s Martin.

Roster locks: Martin.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Martin.

LONG-SNAPPER:

Starter: Don Muhlbach.

Backups: Jordan Thompson.

Thoughts: None. Barring injury, Muhlbach will be the team’s long-snapper.

Roster locks: Muhlbach.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Muhlbach.
The Detroit Lions are officially in their final break before training camp starts up at the end of July, but that doesn't mean questions about the team are going to stop.

With minicamp over, if anything, some small answers are starting to emerge about the 2014 roster. We touch on that and more in this week's Mailbag.

To ask a question for the Mailbag -- which will also take a summer hiatus at some point -- email michael.rothstein@espn.com or use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter.

@mikerothstein: As of now, I wouldn't expect any big surprises. Three positions are set barring injury -- Riley Reiff at left tackle, Dominic Raiola at center and Larry Warford at right guard. Left guard should still belong to Rob Sims as long as he is able to play, although the reps Rodney Austin received in the spring could help him push to make it a competition early in camp. Right tackle is the only place really up for grabs. LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard both started games last season and split first team reps there in the spring. My feeling is Waddle ends up winning the job, but this battle will end up going down to the last preseason game. Don't expect many surprises as far as who makes the 53-man roster, either.

@mikerothstein: Already been answered. Chris Houston was released Friday.

@mikerothstein: Are there receivers available? Sure there are. The question is all about dollars and sense for the Lions here. They need to either restructure contracts or re-sign Ndamukong Suh to open enough money for the Eric Ebron rookie deal. They'll also need to leave some money as a cushion due to injuries or perhaps a defensive back. Considering Ebron can play on the outside as a receiver, don't know if the need is truly there. Detroit has Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Ebron and even Jeremy Ross who can play on the outside. The Lions will likely have Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Naaman Roosevelt and Corey Fuller to play on the outside, too. Can they find someone on the open market better than one of those guys? Maybe, but probably not at a price that would be logical. For your question, Danario Alexander would probably be the most attractive option, but he is a major, major injury risk. 


Joe from Parts Unknown asks The Lions surely have a lot of talent but the NFC is loaded and it seems they don't have a great shot to make the playoffs this year. If they were in another division or even in the AFC, do you think they'd have a better chance to win a division or make the playoffs? Thanks!

Joe,

Interesting question. Let's start with the NFC. The Lions would not do well in the NFC West with San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona all lurking there (assuming they'd replace St. Louis). The NFC South could be manageable, but New Orleans is a step above the Lions. The NFC East would be a good landing spot. The Giants are beatable. Dallas, on paper, seems very ordinary. Washington has a new coach. Philadelphia would be the biggest challenger there, but the Lions could hang with the Eagles. In the NFL in general, the NFC East might be the best spot. The AFC East still has New England. The AFC South has Indianapolis and the AFC North has Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore. For this season, the AFC West has some guy named Peyton Manning and the Broncos, along with Kansas City and San Diego. So to sum up, the Lions' best shots would be the NFC East or AFC South.



Cannon from Decatur, Georgia, asks why won't Detroit take the time to reinforce their secondary? Last season they suffered tremendously in the back field.

They did reinforce their secondary -- kind of. They replace Louis Delmas with James Ihedigbo, who is clearly a safer, more reliable option. They did add Cassius Vaughn in free agency and while he isn't going to end up as a starter, he could provide decent depth if he makes the 53-man roster. Plus, they re-signed Rashean Mathis, who could end up starting again. I've been one of the biggest supporters of adding to the secondary, however, after watching OTAs and minicamp I'm much more impressed than I expected to be with Detroit's secondary. Whether that says more about the Lions' offense of their defense is up for debate. Depending what happens with Houston, it wouldn't stun me if Detroit did add another secondary piece at either corner or safety, but not yet.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions' minicamp might be mandatory, but apparently not for everyone.

Two players missed the first day of the last offseason workout before training camp. One, rookie receiver T.J. Jones, had been around for everything else and had an excused absence. The other, cornerback Chris Houston, has not been around at all.

Houston
Houston
Houston, who is coming off toe surgery this spring, has not been around at all during the OTA period or now during minicamp. Apparently, head coach Jim Caldwell isn’t expecting him here, though every other injured player who isn’t participating is still here -- including defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and running back Joique Bell.

Neither has practiced this spring, either, but they have been around to learn the new offense and defense mentally. Houston has not. So how does he keep up with the rest of his teammates?

“I would think that was sort of a trick question. He hasn’t been here,” Caldwell said. “How does he keep up? He hasn’t been here. We understand he hasn’t been here. He’s been excused.

“When he gets back or whatever happens, we’ll work it out at that time.”

It is unlikely that "whatever happens" would be a release. Houston is due $4.8 million against the salary cap this fall and would be owed a total of $5.2 million in dead money. That makes it cost prohibitive to cut the 29-year-old, who signed a five-year deal before the 2013 season.

With Houston not even on the premises, let alone at practice, the Lions have started Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis at cornerback with Bill Bentley in the slot. Those have been the two top cornerbacks for Detroit during spring workouts.

This is after Houston struggled with injuries -- and therefore, consistency -- throughout last season. He was a starter for the Lions, but was benched against Cincinnati after being routinely beaten by double moves from Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

Houston had a career-low 44 tackles last season and only two interceptions. The 12 games he played in also tied a career-low, matched in 2009 with Atlanta.

And now, he hasn’t been around -- even if Caldwell didn’t expect him to be.

"We excused him. He is not expected to be here," Caldwell said. "He is right where he’s supposed to be at this point in time. It is where we expect him to be."

Where that is is unclear except for one thing: Right now, Chris Houston is not expected to be in Detroit with the rest of the Lions.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions finished the first day of their mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. While the most important thing for the Lions was no new significant injuries to speak of, there were some points that stood out throughout the session.

For the first time this spring, most of them will focus positively on the offense.
  • This was probably the most balanced open practice Detroit has had this offseason. The offense looked the smoothest it has been during May and June, including one 11-on-11 period when Matthew Stafford completed every pass he threw. For the past few weeks, the offensive players have said it would take time for the timing of the offensive routes to show through. For the first time this spring, it did during an open practice. There were points during last week’s OTA that it looked better, but the Lions had all of their main offensive pieces except for Golden Tate and Joique Bell this practice.
  • Johnson
    The play of the day was easily something Lions fans have seen over and over again throughout the past five seasons with the Lions. Stafford threw a 50-plus yard pass to Calvin Johnson that resulted in a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. It was the perfectly thrown ball that has happened often between the two over the years. Johnson beat two defenders -- cornerback Bill Bentley and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus -- on the play.
  • Play of the Day, Part II: This wasn’t quite as impressive as the all-too-typical Johnson play, but Corey Fuller made a nice sideline grab on a pass from Dan Orlovsky. He had to jump to make the play and corralled the ball while apparently getting both feet down. It was a play a pro wide receiver would make, and Fuller has been spending most of the spring trying to prove he is that.
  • The player of the day was Johnson. The All-Pro wide receiver looked like his normal self for the first time all spring. He caught essentially everything that was thrown to him throughout the day, ran crisp routes and crushed pretty much all of the Lions defensive backs when he was matched up with them. He was a big part of why the offense looked better than it has all spring.
  • Jeremy Ross is going to get some playing time at receiver this fall. Sure, Tate was not at practice, but Ross took advantage of yet another opportunity and integrated himself into the offense once again. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed pleased with Ross, who spent the offseason working specifically on pelvic movement, flexibility and cutting to improve his route-running. It seems to have paid dividends thus far. Ryan Broyles got some run with the first team as well.
  • Following on Ross’ emergence, the same could be said for running back Theo Riddick. The second-year pro out of Notre Dame received a good chunk of first-team reps. Some of those will go to Bell when he returns for training camp, but Riddick has an easy running style and appears to be much more confident than he did last season. He was used sparingly then, but sometimes in key situations. This season, he appears set up for an expanded role if he is prepared for it.
  • Not surprising, but Don Carey is the leader for the third safety spot. He filled in for Glover Quin when he sat out parts of team drills and is going to end up being an all-purpose defensive back for the Lions this season. He can play either safety spot and also drop down and play nickel as well. His versatility and special teams play was part of why the Lions signed him to an extension this offseason.
  • I’ll have more on this later this week, but Rodney Austin has spent more time working at center. He did some work there with the first unit on Tuesday and said after practice it is an area he spent a little bit more time on this offseason. He knows being able to play guard and center effectively is a key for securing a roster spot. Also lining up with the first group at times -- at guard -- was third-round pick Travis Swanson.
  • A rough day for Giorgio Tavecchio in the kicking battle. He missed a couple of field goals, including shanking one after hitting his foot on the ground before he made contact with the ball. After practice, he told me his performance Tuesday was "devastating."
  • Lions not participating in practice: Tate, Bell (knee), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder). Cornerback Chris Houston (toe) was not in attendance. Neither was receiver T.J. Jones (undisclosed). Both, Caldwell said, were excused absences. Houston has not been around the team all spring after having toe surgery. Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola and Quin all also sat out various portions of practice. Talking to Raiola after practice, he seemed fine. Among those returning to practice are linebacker Kyle Van Noy, receiver Kris Durham and tight end Joseph Fauria.
The actual offseason, when players take leave of Michigan for the most part until training camp starts, is only a week away.

But until then, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Detroit Lions so let's get to them.

As always, if you have questions for the Mailbag, either tweet them with the hashtag #LionsMailbag or email michael.rothstein@espn.com. The Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask.

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Golden Tate didn’t practice fully during Tuesday’s open organized team activities (OTAs) session for the Detroit Lions, only running some routes against air as he rested a sore shoulder.

Tate said he has missed "two or three days" dealing with it, but that it is "just a little soreness" and didn’t seem concerned about it hurting him in the long-term.

When asked if sitting out was more precautionary than anything, though, he wasn't willing to say that.

“I don’t know,” Tate said. “You have to talk to the trainers about that. I’m just doing what they ask me to do and trying to get healthy.”

Tate was one of many Lions players who sat out of Tuesday’s practice. Receiver Kris Durham was in attendance but didn’t participate, the same as tight end Joseph Fauria. All Fauria said after practice about sitting out was that he’s "good" and he gave a thumbs up.

Safety James Ihedigbo also sat out practice but was in attendance along with running back Joique Bell, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

The only Lions players not there at all were cornerback Chris Houston (toe) and defensive tackle Caraun Reid, who is graduating from Princeton.

The Lions did have players come back to practice, too. Receiver Kevin Ogletree returned from dental surgery and cornerback Chris Greenwood practiced for the first time in a public OTA setting.

Also returning was a much thinner Nick Fairley. The difference in Fairley’s body was noticeable and while he didn’t participate in all the drills, he did do some work as he recovers from a minor procedure.
 

Mike from Brownstown, Michigan asks: Do you think that making a move for Asante Samuel would be a good idea? I think he would be an instant upgrade compared to who we currently have now.

Rothstein: Mike, probably not. Samuel is essentially what Rashean Mathis is to the Lions right now -- a veteran fail safe if one of the younger guys doesn't work out. Plus, Samuel might cost too much money for Detroit right now considering the team has to restructure deals just to pay Eric Ebron and Kyle Van Noy. It wouldn't surprise me if the Lions make a move for a cornerback at some point, especially if Chris Houston can't get back, but I don't think they make the move on Samuel now. Let's revisit this if he's still a free agent during camp and Detroit is struggling at the position.




Michael from Parts Unknown asks: Mike, I know Mayhew has stated we're staying 4-3, but if youre looking at what hes doing: Reid is a perfect 3 technique, Webster could be a quality rush LBs, Van Noy's versatility could land him basically anywhere in a 3-4, not picking up Fairley's option....it sure seems there could be a move to a 3-4 in the future. Thoughts?

Rothstein: I've had this thought in the past and it wouldn't shock me if the Lions transitioned to this -- or at least to a more flexible defense -- by 2015. After this season could be the time to do it because of all of the expiring contracts at defensive tackle. They could revamp the defensive front at that point with little cost or upheaval to the current roster then. It'll be interesting to see how that progresses.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Detroit Lions' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeTate
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsWith Golden Tate flanking Calvin Johnson, the Detroit wide receiver depth has greatly improved.
Best move: The Lions desperately needed to upgrade their wide receiver corps and making Golden Tate the biggest priority of the free-agent period ended up being a smart move for the club. They signed a player who can complement Calvin Johnson as well as having some of the best hands in the league. As a bonus, he is a really competent blocker who plays above his size.

Riskiest move: Detroit opted to not go after an impact cornerback during free agency and then waited until the fourth round to draft one earlier this month. Why is this a risk? It means Detroit is trusting that one of its unproven cornerbacks (Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood) or one of the players who was inconsistent last season (Chris Houston, Darius Slay) will be prepared to make the jump or return to form in 2014.

Most surprising move: The Lions declined Nick Fairley’s fifth-year option for a seemingly baffling reason. Detroit wanted to use it to try to motivate the talented but inconsistent defensive tackle to improve his game. In doing so, they essentially could be letting him walk out the door. There was no downside for Detroit in picking up Fairley’s option. It is not a guaranteed option and considering the unresolved contract situation surrounding Ndamukong Suh, it could leave the Lions without either of their top two defensive tackles come 2015.

Everything focused on Stafford: One of the biggest themes of the offseason was finding help for quarterback Matthew Stafford, now entering his sixth season with Detroit. The Lions signed him a new target in Tate, drafted him a new tight end in Eric Ebron and brought back a familiar comfort player in Brandon Pettigrew. It hired a coaching staff full of quarterback experience, from head coach Jim Caldwell (worked with Peyton Manning) to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (worked with Drew Brees) to quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter (worked with Manning). In a league driven by quarterback play, the Lions placed a lot of their 2014 focus on making sure Stafford can do as well as he can.

The Detroit Lions opened their organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday at their practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan.

The media will watch Wednesday’s session, and here are five things to pay attention to as this part of the offseason begins.

1. What's going on with Suh?

Ndamukong Suh has been the main topic of the entire offseason, from his contract situation to missing the beginning of offseason workouts. But Suh is back in town, and how he ends up interacting with everyone will be something to watch.

Dominic Raiola said Monday night he was looking forward to seeing him -- and there’s a good chance the young defensive players are feeling the same way. There have been some questions about Suh getting up to speed with the defense, but he has never shown up out of shape and there is no reason to think Suh will not be in shape this time around, in what could end up being a contract year for him. Now his storyline can shift back to whether he signs an extension with the Lions.

Fairley
2. What does Nick Fairley look like?

Saw Fairley briefly the first day of offseason workouts in April. He didn’t talk to the media then and he was wearing a baggy shirt, so it was difficult to tell what he looked like. He’s always been able to play with a lot of weight, though, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

What type of shape he’s in -- and how motivated he is after the Lions chose not to pick up his fifth-year option earlier this year -- will be the major questions surrounding him. Fairley is now playing for his second NFL contract, either in Detroit or elsewhere, and money can be a motivating factor for a lot of players.

Stafford
Stafford
3. What will the offense look like?

Since Detroit hired Joe Lombardi as the team’s offensive coordinator, much has been made about the Lions looking like a northern version of the high-powered New Orleans Saints. It is part of the reason the team drafted North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round and brought in Golden Tate in free agency. The Lions should have every offensive piece they will need from a skill position standpoint. How quickly Matthew Stafford and his group pick up the offense will be interesting. While there won’t be a ton of clues Wednesday, by the end of the mandatory minicamp in June, there should be a clue as to what Detroit could look like in the fall.

4. What's going on at the corners?

Chris Houston won’t be out there and may not be ready by training camp. Martin Mayhew has indicated this is a big season for the young, developing corners the team does have -- Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, Bill Bentley and Darius Slay, the last of who is thought to be a potential starter this fall. If that quartet can make the necessary improvements, perhaps cornerback won’t be as big an issue as it has been the past few years. Also curious to see where the team uses Rashean Mathis. The veteran, if he can play as he did a season ago, could provide relief either in the slot or on the outside.

5. How does the team respond to coach Jim Caldwell?

So far, the players have said all the right things and acted in all the right ways. However, it’ll be interesting to see the pace of his practices and the way he interacts with the players during practice. He was brought in to be a calming, more disciplined influence on a team that went through a lot of penalty issues in prior seasons. Expect the team to believe in Caldwell heading into this season -- he proved in his opening news conference he can be fiery in certain situations -- and to be happy to have another fresh-type start.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions declined to select a cornerback in the early rounds of last week’s NFL draft, didn’t sign any impact players at the position in free agency and essentially decided to go with what they had a season ago at the position.

It was looked at as a concern then. It is more so now.

Houston
Houston
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said starting cornerback Chris Houston, who had toe surgery earlier this week, might not be ready for the start of training camp later this summer. For a player the team needs to be as ready as possible and as healthy as possible, this is a concern.

Other than Houston and longtime veteran Rashean Mathis, Detroit does not have much experience at the position. Darius Slay is entering his second year and was inconsistent as a rookie. Jonte Green has some experience, but not a ton. Same with Chris Greenwood. Bill Bentley has been mostly used in the slot.

The Lions signed Cassius Vaughn in the offseason from Indianapolis, but he became more of an injury replacement at times with the Colts and played under 10 defensive snaps in seven of 16 regular season games last season.

So he might be an option as well, but it is still a tricky spot for Detroit.

This is all after both Caldwell and general manager Martin Mayhew questioned whether Houston would return to form in the first place after a 2013 season where he played through injuries and inconsistency. So now a position thin on experience anyway could end up a little bit thinner.

Now it is possible Houston is ready for the start of camp -- Caldwell didn't rule that out, either -- but that the injury lingered as long as it did and that it took until May to really try and fix it should be concerning for the Lions on multiple levels.

Why didn’t it get fixed sooner? What impact will this have on the rest of the cornerbacks? How much pressure does this put on them now? These are questions that, for now, are without answers.

Either way, until Houston comes back and looks healthy, this leaves Detroit in a bit more flux than it already was at one of its more questionable positions in the first place.

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