Detroit Lions: Joique Bell

The NFL season is approaching and as always, Las Vegas is trying to tempt everyone with some interesting odds and futures bets.

Some of them include the Detroit Lions, courtesy of Bovada.

Bovada has quarterback Matthew Stafford as fourth on the odds chart to lead the NFL in passing yards during the 2014 season at 15/2 -- behind just Drew Brees (11/4), Peyton Manning (11/4) and Aaron Rodgers (7/1). He is just ahead of Tom Brady (12/1), Matt Ryan (16/1) and Andrew Luck (18/1).

Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are both longshots to lead the NFL in rushing yards -- each sitting at 100/1. Frankly, consideirng the history of both players and the way the Lions offense will run, taking either one of those odds would not be intelligent.

Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson has the best odds to lead the NFL in receiving yards at 13/5. Behind him are Dez Bryant (15/2), Julio Jones (8/1) and Demaryius Thomas (8/1). Golden Tate also makes an appearance on the odds chart, but at 100/1.

Bovada even offers a special wager on the Lions, offering 15/1 odds on Johnson leading the NFL in receiving and the Lions winning the NFC North.

Lions Camp Report: Day 11

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
4:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Kind of a weird practice for the Lions on Friday as it was a hybrid of what Jim Caldwell said he tries to accomplish on Fridays and Saturdays. So the length was a bit longer than a typical walk-through, but players weren't in pads, there was no hitting and most things were done at a speed much slower than what anyone will see Saturday night. This is all pretty typical and a sign that actual football is close to happening for the 2014 season in Detroit. It was also the first practice of the season not open to either season-ticket holders or some portion of the general fan base, so an overall quiet morning of work.
  • The better news for Detroit is the return of Eric Ebron and Calvin Johnson to practice Friday. Since Johnson missed Thursday as an excused absence, it wasn't too surprising to see him back on the field Friday. Ebron's return to the walk-through gives a little larger window to his potential debut Saturday night, but it'll still be a tricky call for Caldwell on how much to use him, depending on what his undisclosed injury was. Unlike a veteran such as Johnson, Ebron could use the work to familiarize himself with the offense and the pace of the NFL as a rookie. Joique Bell missed Friday's practice for "personal reasons," per Caldwell.
  • An area of concern for Detroit at this point might be Ezekiel Ansah. It would be stunning if Ansah played Saturday night considering he is still on the active physically unable to perform list, and days of practice to get him up to speed both physically and mentally with the new defensive scheme are starting to dwindle. The positive for Ansah is he keeps working on the side with athletic trainers and appears to be moving well when he does this, but until he is medically cleared and practices for a few days with his teammates, it's unclear how far behind he may be. He is a critical part of Detroit's defense this fall as he is expected to occupy the open defensive end spot that will have many pass rushing responsibilities. It is where Ansah thrived his rookie season, but at some point the Lions need to see him on the field.
  • Caldwell discussed the backup quarterback situation earlier this week and it sounds like there are no minds made up on the No. 3 quarterback slot -- or whether the Lions will carry three quarterbacks at all. At this point, if the team kept three on the 53-man roster, that third quarterback would almost definitely be Kellen Moore, but unless things change drastically, he won't be the No. 2 quarterback. James Franklin is still a major question mark, but from the limited amount he has shown, he is a long way from contributing to an NFL team. At this point, his best shot of sticking would be if the Lions kept two quarterbacks (Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky) and keeping him as a major developmental project on the practice squad. It'll be interesting to see what happens during preseason games, though, where he should get some snaps.
  • The Lions don't practice again until Monday -- playing Cleveland in the preseason opener Saturday before an off day Sunday.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Two of the Detroit Lions' biggest targets returned to practice Friday morning, but it is unclear if either will actually play a snap Saturday night (7:30 ET) against Cleveland.

Calvin Johnson returned from an excused absence Thursday. Eric Ebron missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an undisclosed injury. Considering the Lions' were essentially just doing walk-through-type motions Friday, there was little harm in either player being out there.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, though, continued to be coy whether either would play against the Browns. He was like that for all of his players, including how long the starters might end up being on the field.

"It depends, you know. We talk about it in a couple different ways," Caldwell said. "We talk about it in both regards actually because you can't tell. If the opposition gets the ball and they have an eight-minute drive and you’re only going to play a group the first quarter, you’ve got to re-think it. There’s just it kind of depends. We have our parameters set."

While Johnson and Ebron returned to practice, running back Joique Bell was absent with what Caldwell said was a non-injury excused absence for "personal reasons."

No matter who plays and who doesn't, it would be surprising to see any Lions starter on the field for more than a couple of offensive or defensive series during the preseason opener.

As for what fans could see offensively from Detroit, expect a lot of different formations and personnel packages.

"Pretty versatile offense but efficiency is the thing that we’re looking for, putting points on the board," Caldwell said.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been praised by teammates all spring long and even into the first few practices of training camp as someone who could end up with a larger role on the Detroit Lions, but Theo Riddick is having none of it.

The running back, while not exactly ignoring the increased attention his game is receiving, doesn’t appear to actually be buying into it at all.

Riddick
“I haven’t really proven anything,” Riddick said. “Those are just words.”

They are, but when those words are coming from defensive players, established players on offense, and even from one of the men who will be making a decision on how much Riddick will play, there is some validity to it.

Add in what he has done on the field so far -- appearing explosive during his repetitions and trusting his first cut and going with it -- and the attention on him begins to make some sense.

As a rookie, Riddick was often anxious about what was going to happen. He was, in effect, still learning everything as he received some repetitions -- nine carries for 25 yards -- but not enough to make a real difference. Instead, he ended up as a valuable special teams contributor as both a blocker on kick returns and someone who could make plays on coverage units.

“Before coming here, there are a few guys that jump out at you on film,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I was watching special teams and every single time on the unit he’s on, he shows up.

“He’s got intensity, he hustles, he’s got desire, toughness, all of those things, and he’s a very, very capable runner. Also, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. [Riddick is] very tough to handle in one-on-one situations, so he had a great spring and we anticipate this fall he’s going to perform equally as well, so we’re excited about that.”

That was Riddick’s goal from the outset. He wanted to be more than a special teams contributor, though, so when the new coaching staff came in there was a chance for an offensive role. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi likes using multiple backs out of the backfield and places an emphasis on running backs who can run precise routes and catch the ball.

In Riddick, they have someone who can slide in behind Reggie Bush to do that. Riddick won’t supplant Bush or Joique Bell in Detroit’s offensive scheme this season, but he should be able to find himself a role.

“Coming out of the backfield I’m very versatile and I think I put pressure on defenses, but at the same time I haven’t proven anything yet,” Riddick said. “I’m just excited to come out this year and hopefully play well.”

So far, he has.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
  • Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
  • The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
  • One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
  • In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
  • This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder – unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.

Position: Running back/Fullback

Starter: Reggie Bush/Joique Bell (running back); Jed Collins (fullback)

Bush
Bush
Bell
Riddick
Depth (in training camp): Running back – Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Montell Owens, Steven Miller. Fullback – Owens, Chad Abram

Likely roster spots: 5-7.

What to expect in camp: Don’t be surprised to see Bell take more reps than Bush during camp. This won’t have anything to do with a switch at the top of the depth chart, but could have more to do with Bell missing time throughout the spring because of a knee injury. Bush practiced throughout the offseason, so this would be time for Bell to catch up since Detroit will need both in the fall. Figure to see Riddick also receiving a good share of snaps, in part to rest Bush and also to see if his spring breakout performance without pads translates into when he is fully dressed and being hit as well.

Fullback would seem like Collins’ spot to lose since Detroit brought him in during the offseason during its renewed commitment to the position. Yet Owens offers potentially more flexibility as he can play both running back and fullback. Abram is still an unknown but could be one of the undrafted free agents who can push for an actual spot on the 53-man roster. How things shake out could end up affecting other roster spots as well – and vice versa.

What Detroit needs to see: Bell has to have no adverse issues with the knee injury that bothered him but didn’t keep him off the field last season. Riddick needs to show he can continue to improve in his second year. He was one of the team’s better special-teams performers as a rookie but to keep a roster spot, he has to show the ability to become more involved in the offense as well.

More than the health of players, though, the Lions have to see reliable hands from Bell, Bush and Riddick. Those three will be the primary backfield players to receive passes and there were major issues there in 2013. Bush dropped 11.4 percent of the passes he was thrown. Bell dropped 8.8 percent of his attempted catches. Riddick dropped 12.5 percent of passes thrown to him, although he only had eight targets so it was a small sample size.

At fullback, Owens is the intrigue. If he can handle both roles, it could open up a roster spot at another position or bump Collins or Leshoure from the team. Abram is probably headed toward a practice-squad spot unless he really impresses during training camp both on offense and in special teams.
The Lions, lying in wait for the new year ...

Training camp doesn't start for another five or so weeks and there are still over two months before the season, but it is never too early to start preparing for fantasy drafts -- especially in dynasty leagues.

Colleague Matt Williamson rated the top offensive players at each position in terms of dynasty figures and not surprisingly, some Detroit Lions made the list.

Joique Bell and Reggie Bush (Nos. 24 and 25) were back to back in Williamson's eyes at running back -- almost the perfect handcuff duo. Matthew Stafford, due to his age and his numbers, ranks somewhere in the top 5 among quarterbacks.

And, not surprisingly, the Lions also have the top-rated receiver according to Williamson (and Golden Tate also makes the list). So start preparing accordingly (but don't forget to enjoy your summer).

And now, looking for Lions news across the Interwebs:
 
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 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 offensive prediction are in parentheses.

QUARTERBACK:

Projected starter: Matthew Stafford (no change)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Dan Orlovsky; Kellen Moore; James Franklin (no changes)

Thoughts: Stafford remains Detroit’s starter and barring injury, that won’t change. Orlovsky will be the No. 2 quarterback – and that probably isn’t changing, either. The main battle in camp will be between Moore and Franklin for the No. 3 spot, if the Lions take a third quarterback. Franklin took no snaps in the spring, but Lions head coach Jim Caldwell indicated he’ll see live game action in the preseason.

Roster locks: Stafford; Orlovsky (add Orlovsky)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Stafford, Orlovsky, Franklin (practice squad) (Franklin from 53-man to practice squad)

RUNNING BACK

Projected starter(s): Reggie Bush/Joique Bell

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Steven Miller.

Thoughts: Bush and Bell aren’t going anywhere. Riddick was one of the stars of the spring and looks like he’ll end up having a role in the offense beyond special teams this season. Leshoure missed part of spring workouts, so it is tough to say where his role will be this season, if he has one. But Detroit has its first three running backs pretty set right now unless it makes a free-agent move at the position.

Roster locks: Bush, Bell, Riddick (add Riddick)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Bush, Bell, Riddick, Leshoure (no changes)

FULLBACK

Projected starter: Jed Collins.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Montell Owens, Chad Abram.

Thoughts: This is a tough position to pick. Collins is the clear favorite heading into camp, although Owens’ spot on the roster could depend how Detroit feels about the rest of its teams units. If there is comfort there from other spots, Owens might be out of a job. If not, the Lions might keep him along with Collins because Owens can be a running back as well. Abram is probably headed toward the practice squad.

Roster locks: None. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Collins, Owens, Abram (practice squad) (add Owens to 53-man, move Abram to practice squad)

WIDE RECEIVER

Projected starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Jeremy Ross, Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, TJ Jones, Corey Fuller, Naaman Roosevelt, Patrick Edwards, Cody Wilson, Andrew Peacock.

Thoughts: This was the spring of Jeremy Ross. He will make the roster at least as the team’s returner but probably showed enough during the spring to at least enter training camp with a good shot at being the team’s third or fourth receiver. Another surprise was Broyles, who if he can stay healthy could end up making a contribution in the fall. He isn’t a roster lock yet, but will certainly get some opportunities. The competition for the third (or fourth) outside receiver will be one to watch in the fall.

Roster locks: Johnson, Tate, Ross (add Ross)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Johnson, Tate, Ross, Durham, Broyles, Jones, Fuller (practice squad). (Add Broyles to roster from PUP, move Fuller from roster to practice squad.)

TIGHT END

Projected starters: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Joseph Fauria, Jordan Thompson, Jacob Maxwell.

Thoughts: Moving Michael Williams to tackle all but assured Fauria a roster spot in the fall. It also means Detroit is probably going to carry only three tight ends on the roster unless either Thompson or Maxwell makes a massive move during training camp. The other thing benefiting Fauria is Ebron’s struggles with catching the ball at times.

Roster locks: Ebron, Pettigrew, Fauria. (Add Fauria)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ebron, Pettigrew, Fauria. (Minus Williams)

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Projected starters: Riley Reiff (LT); LaAdrian Waddle (RT).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Corey Hilliard, Cornelius Lucas, Michael Williams, J.B. Shugarts, Bryce Quigley.

Thoughts: This position seems fairly settled other than the No. 4 tackle spot. Reiff and Waddle aren’t going anywhere and Hilliard will likely push Waddle for a starting spot. As of now, Lucas has the inside shot on the fourth tackle position.

Roster locks: Reiff, Waddle (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Reiff, Waddle, Hilliard, Lucas.

GUARD

Projected starters: Rob Sims (LG); Larry Warford (RG).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Rodney Austin, Travis Swanson, Alex Bullard, D.J. Morrell.

Thoughts: Warford is not going anywhere and Rodney Austin had a good enough spring that both he and Swanson might make the roster as swing backups that could end up as starters by 2015 to replace Sims and Dominic Raiola. As long as Sims is healthy, he’ll make this team and start as well. The interesting question might be a practice squad candidate out of this group.

Roster locks: Warford (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Warford, Sims, Austin, Bullard (practice squad)

CENTER

Projected starter: Dominic Raiola

Backups (in projected depth-chart order): Swanson, Austin, Darren Keyton, Bullard.

Thoughts: Raiola is the starter here. Austin and Swanson will eventually compete for the starter’s role. Pretty cut and dry here.

Roster locks: Raiola, Swanson. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Raiola, Swanson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions offseason officially began around 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when Jim Caldwell finished his final media obligation of the spring and the players all shuttled off to begin a six-week break.

When they reconvene, things will become much more serious at the Lions’ facility to start training camp and prepare for the 2014 season. But there were some things to learn throughout the time Detroit spent here in the spring, both from an installation perspective and from who might actually see an increased role come the fall.

Here are some thoughts on the final day of minicamp -- and of the offseason program as a whole.
  • Ross
    Jeremy Ross had the most impressive minicamp/organized team activities session of any player -- at least from what the media was able to see. He established himself as the team’s returner and spent enough time on the first team that he is going to have a role in the offense as well this fall. Yes, Golden Tate's absence had something to do with the amount of snaps Ross saw, but his speed and size make him attractive as a player who can be used in the slot and on the outside.
  • The player of the final day of minicamp might have been Joseph Fauria. The tight end caught multiple touchdown passes in team drills and used his size well in the red zone. Some of the touchdowns were over undrafted free agents, but he needed to have a good camp and he did that.
  • Conversely, Eric Ebron had what seemed to be a rough indoctrination to the NFL. He struggled with dropped passes throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp, including two drops on the final day of practice. Drops were an issue for him at North Carolina, so to see him continue this trend during his first few weeks as a professional should be at least a little bit concerning to the Lions. That said, it is still early and he is clearly still learning everything, so it could be an issue of just overthinking on routes and not letting instincts take over. This will be a situation worth monitoring during training camp.
  • Waddle
    Right tackle is going to be a competition, and it could last all the way through the end of camp. LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard essentially split first-team snaps throughout the spring practices, and Caldwell did not give an indication one player or another was going to win the job anytime soon. Tough to see Cornelius Lucas winning the job, but the undrafted free agent could end up playing his way into the conversation at some point. His size alone makes him attractive. This will be the spot to watch on the line in camp. If Rob Sims doesn’t come into camp healthy, left guard could be a spot to pay attention to as well.
  • The defense looked a lot better than the offense Thursday -- a day after the offense looked incredibly sharp. There were not a lot of big plays on the defense, but the secondary broke up a lot of passes throughout the morning session. Seeing something like this is fine by Caldwell, because he almost expected the offense and defense to rotate having good practices. Makes it more competitive that way. The defense was particularly stout in the two-minute offense, where it held the offense to three-and-out on two straight possessions.
  • Giorgio Tavecchio rebounded from his rough Tuesday practice to make all of his kicks Thursday. Nate Freese didn’t fare as well, missing at least one field goal attempt and almost missing an extra point. Caldwell seemed fine with how both kickers have performed thus far in the spring, and it sounds like both will enter camp with a shot at the job.
  • One player who saw no action during the entire spring was James Franklin, the undrafted free agent quarterback from Missouri. He took no snaps at quarterback during team drills in any practice open to the media. Why? Just not enough reps. It will be interesting to see how he does in July and August, because it sounds like a lot of his snaps will actually come in preseason games from the way Caldwell spoke.
  • Spent some time watching Nick Fairley on Thursday since it will be the last time we see him until training camp. The weight loss really is staggering. He looks much more explosive than he was at any point last season, and he’s just moving a lot better. He is still bigger than Ndamukong Suh, but he looks like he can keep up with him more.
  • It will be interesting to see where Devin Taylor fits into the defense. He will definitely have a role, but he couldn’t compete much at the closed end position because he spent a lot of time with the first group at open end since Ezekiel Ansah did not practice. Taylor could play either spot and even some on the inside. He’s going to see more snaps in 2014 than he did in 2013 -- that’s a fairly confident prediction right now.
  • The defensive aggression will fit the secondary well. They were making plays on the ball and being smart about their reads and coverage. This is without the ability to really bump receivers at the line or press receivers at all. When they are able to do that, the Lions will likely become even more aggressive. Much different than a season ago.
  • Attendance report from practice: Not there at all: Stephen Tulloch, T.J. Jones, Chris Houston. There but not participating: Tate, Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell, Ansah, Kevin Ogletree.
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 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 Detroit Lions are just a few short days away from the beginning of their true offseason as spring workouts hit their final week with the three-day mandatory minicamp.

It has been a fairly quiet offseason for the Lions, who have had almost perfect attendance throughout their organized team activities, and that’s something they’ll likely take as they learn a new offense and new defense.

The only major things of note have been Ndamukong Suh's contract situation (still unresolved) and how fast the offense is picking things up compared to the defense (it’s coming along).

So what will we watch for over the final three practices of the offseason? Here are five things.

Bell
1. Who sits out: Some players will likely not participate due to precautionary measures, but it’ll be interesting to see who does not participate in the mandatory three-day minicamp. Since the club has about six weeks off after the minicamp, players might be more willing to give it a partial run or participate on a limited basis for their last team workouts until training camp.

Among the players to watch here would be running back Joique Bell, who participated in the Stephen Tulloch charity softball game this weekend, along with defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Golden Tate. Tate also sat out last week with a sore shoulder, but appeared to be fine Saturday.

2. Offensive progression: The last week of OTAs showed an offense starting to pick things up, even with offensive pieces Kris Durham, Joseph Fauria, Bell and Tate missing all or part of the team’s open practice. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi didn’t appear to be too concerned with the progression when he talked earlier this spring since he knows this is a learning process. That said, the Lions would probably want to have at least one of three practices where they push ahead of the Detroit defense as a mini confidence boost heading into training camp.

3.Position battles: Nothing will be won over the next three days, but players can place themselves in more advantageous positions heading into training camp with a good week. Among the ones to watch: Right tackle (LaAdrian Waddle vs. Corey Hilliard); SAM linebacker (Ashlee Palmer vs. Van Noy); closed defensive end (Jason Jones vs. Devin Taylor); backup quarterback (Dan Orlovsky vs. Kellen Moore); cornerback (multiple candidates) and wide receiver behind Calvin Johnson and Tate (multiple candidates).

The one other battle to watch is at kicker, where seventh-round pick Nate Freese is battling with Giorgio Tavecchio. Due to the Lions using a pick on Freese -- even if it is a seventh-rounder -- Tavecchio is going to have to be markedly better than Freese to win the job. From the limited amount we've seen, Tavecchio appears to have the stronger leg.

Riddick
4. Theo Riddick's role: While it might be tough to gauge from a set of preseason practices, Riddick is setting himself up to be one of the team’s breakout performers in 2014. Either that, or the second-year pro out of Notre Dame would end up for Detroit as another of a lengthy list across the NFL of preseason hype players who don’t pan out.

Considering how he was used a season ago and his productivity in a very, very limited role in Scott Linehan’s offense, there is reason to believe he’ll fare better in an expanded role. He should end up as the No. 3 back in an offense that will spread the carries and running back receptions around over the course of a season. How much could he improve? Reggie Bush called him a more natural runner coming out of college than Bush was. That could bode well for his future.

5. Secondary play: So far, the Lions have been strong in the back end during the offseason. The safeties have been paired well and Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis have been pretty strong at cornerback. It’ll be interesting to watch the group, where everyone beyond Slay, Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo is fighting for a spot or a role, over a three-day period.

Cassius Vaughn and Bill Bentley have shown flashes of improvement at corner, as have Don Carey and Isa Abdul-Quddus at safety. Doing something in one practice compared to a three-day period, though, could give an idea on real progress and consistency. Those are four guys to watch this week.
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.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Joique Bell did not work out Wednesday during the Lions’ first open organized team activities practice of the season, but afterwards didn’t seemed too concerned that he will be out long-term.

Bell would not specify what his injury is, but said the Instagram photo he posted with a wrap on his left knee was “just an ice wrap.” However, Bell said the injury that is keeping him out of the Lions’ practices is one he initially suffered last season.

Bell would not say whether or not he had the knee drained, just that it was wrapped in ice. Even posting the picture of it wrapped up in ice drew some light criticism from Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew.

Bell, though, didn’t seem concerned about the injury having any sort of long-term issues.

“Just (a) nagging injury,” Bell said. “Something just nagging, nothing that will prevent me (from playing). I had it all last season, so you guys didn’t even really notice. But it’s something we just trying to get rid of before next season. So it’s just being smart.

“I could practice right now if they really wanted me to, but it’s up to them when they want to put me back in.”

Watching from the sidelines, though, has not frustrated Bell, who signed a three-year contract extension in the offseason.

“It’s part of the game,” Bell said. “You can’t get frustrated. It’s part of the game. You have to stay positive at all times.”

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