Detroit Lions: Jonte Green

Most significant move: By cutting kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, the Lions ended their kicking competition by settling on rookie Nate Freese from Boston College. Detroit coach Jim Caldwell continually called this a tight competition. However, Freese always worked with the first team and was the first kicker out in all three preseason games. Tavecchio had the more consistent camp of the two players, but Detroit invested a seventh-round draft pick in Freese. He may be Detroit’s kicker for now and could end up as its kicker throughout the season, but another miss or two and the team might want to consider the free-agent wire, including recently released Jay Feely from Arizona.

Defensive backfield getting settled: Detroit released corners Jonte Green and Aaron Hester and sent safety DeJon Gomes to injured reserve on Monday, giving some clarity to their secondary. Green was a somewhat surprising cut since it seemed like the team might at least keep him around until Saturday’s final cuts, but Chris Greenwood clearly beat him out. The questions in the secondary is now how many corners and safeties the team takes and whether it looks at a sixth corner (likely Greenwood) or a fifth safety (either Isa Abdul-Quddus or Jerome Couplin). Those will be two situations to watch Thursday night.

What’s next: The Lions will probably search the waiver wire for secondary help, maybe take a look at a receiver or kicking options. Otherwise, they play Buffalo on Thursday and make final cuts Saturday.

Lions moves: Cut CB Jonte Green, CB Aaron Hester, FB Chad Abram, K Giorgio Tavecchio, P Drew Butler, QB James Franklin, OG Alex Bullard, OL A.J. Dalton, DT Gregory Hickman, RB Steven Miller, DE Kris Redding and WR Conner Vernon. Moved S DeJon Gomes to injured reserve. Moved WR TJ Jones to PUP/reserve.
The Detroit Lions are halfway through their preseason schedule and players are starting to emerge either as surprise candidates for roster spots or surprisingly on the roster bubble.

The Lions gained some game evidence against Cleveland and even more against Oakland last Friday as first cuts loom in less than a week.

Here are some players that stood out -- positively or negatively -- on defense against the Raiders:

Defensive end George Johnson: Really good effort. Able to sidestep linemen pretty well. A little bit slow coming off the line and doesn’t have great speed, but his size makes up for that. On his first pressure, Matt Schaub danced away from him, but fight into Stephen Tulloch. He definitely pushed the pocket when he was able to rush in passing situations. Xavier Proctor was credited with a second half sack, but it was Johnson who really made the play -- and probably should have been credited for the sack, too. On the following play, he almost had another big play but was held.

Defensive end Larry Webster: Did well coming off the edge. Didn’t always get to the quarterback, but caused pressure enough to make a difference -- including the pressure that injured Derek Carr. He was in a pretty good position over and over, although it didn’t seem like he used a variety of moves. He basically appeared to rely on his instinct and speed and win the battle.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley: Watched him intently. Was pushed off the line really easily pretty often. Even on the Ihedigbo interception, where he was dictating his matchup with the offensive lineman, he didn’t create too much pressure and the lineman still had good position on him. Was handled by the offensive linemen in one-on-one coverage on a lot of plays, although he did draw double teams on occasion.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy: Thought he was much more active Friday night. Was good in coverage -- handling a wide receiver -- and also took some good rush lanes against Oakland’s passers. He received a ton of snaps and is really in a split situation right now with Ashlee Palmer.

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch: Smart blitzer. Both times he was sent early, he got pressure -- once with DeAndre Levy and once with Johnson. If the Lions use him more in that role than in prior years, then he should end up having a good season. He seems to have good instincts from the second level to reach the quarterback.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis: Pretty decent night for him. Gave up some passes, but had a really strong pass breakup in the second quarter and also broke up the pass that led to a James Ihedigbo interception. He really looks like the Lions’ top cornerback right now. Mathis had a bad holding call against James Jones, though.

Cornerback Drayton Florence: Yes, he was a late signing, but the only thing of note he has done in his first week-plus with the Lions was get burned deep on a double move by Greg Little. The only reason he still has a shot here -- and it probably isn’t a big one -- is neither Chris Greenwood nor Jonte Green has established themselves either.

Cornerback Jonte Green: He was picked on mercilessly by Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. Even when he didn’t give up the reception, he was beaten on a play -- including on a deep route where Carr overthrew Greg Little. If it was a more accurate pass, Little had a touchdown. Green also picked up a defensive holding call on the final drive. On the final drive, McGloin went at Green at least five times. Green was also in the general area of McGloin’s touchdown pass (although that wasn’t his fault since it appeared to be zone coverage and there were multiple players around).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Since the start of the offseason and really, continuously for the last decade, the Detroit Lions have been searching for a way to solidify their secondary.

They’ve tried mid-round draft picks coupled with free agent signings, with some minimal success, for the most part.

It worked for Detroit last season, when the Lions signed Rashean Mathis in the middle of training camp. The veteran made the roster and ended up as one of the team’s starters, along with Chris Houston, for the majority of the season.

Florence
Now general manager Martin Mayhew is at it again, hoping he can pull off the same veteran trick for the second straight season. The Lions signed veteran corner Drayton Florence on Thursday. The 33-year-old played one season in Carolina and was an occasional starter.

This is Florence’s second stint with the Lions -- he played eight games during the 2012 season under former coach Jim Schwartz.

This time, this is a signal that the Lions at least have some concern about the depth on the back end of their cornerback chart. Starters Darius Slay and Mathis are locks to make the roster. So, too, is rookie fourth-rounder Nevin Lawson, who is likely a backup cornerback and nickelback this season. Bill Bentley, last season’s starting nickelback, also will likely make the team.

Depending on whether or not the Lions keep five or six cornerbacks, Florence is likely competing with Cassius Vaughn, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood for one or two roster spots. Vaughn and Green have had good moments during training camp; Greenwood has struggled throughout most of it.

If Florence shows he can still play at age 33 – somewhat ancient by standards of cornerbacks – he could end up stealing a spot from one of those guys. Florence also joins Mathis, 33, as the oldest members of the secondary and the defense and second-oldest on the Lions roster in general, behind veteran center Dominic Raiola, who is 35.

Typically, cornerbacks don’t stick this late in their careers, but considering Florence’s experience and skill, he’ll have a shot to make an impact if he shows he can still play. Florence has not been a full-time starter, though, since the 2011 season, when he started all 16 games for Buffalo, making 50 tackles and intercepting three passes.

It will be interesting to see how Detroit uses Florence.

Lions Camp Report: Day 8

August, 5, 2014
8/05/14
9:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the more interesting things to come out of camp on Tuesday was watching Lions running back Reggie Bush running routes with the receivers and tight ends during part of the individual period instead of working with the running backs. This shouldn’t be too stunning, though, considering how Bush has been used in the past and how the Lions could use him this season. Bush ran 51 routes out of the slot last season and 37 routes while lined up out wide. Expect more of that this season if the Saints’ offense is any indication. Last season, Darren Sproles ran 93 routes out of the slot and 27 lined up out wide. If Bush is thrown into that role -- and it would be likely he would be -- then it would not be surprising to see him used in the slot fairly often. It also adds up because one of the things stressed by this coaching staff from running backs is running precise routes.
  • It was another good day for the Lions kickers. Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese appeared to make all of their field goal attempts Tuesday, although it was somewhat difficult to tell without officials signaling in the end zone. Wednesday could be an interesting test for both of them since it will be their first time kicking inside Ford Field, where they will also be Saturday night for the preseason opener against Cleveland.
  • Ezekiel Ansah worked some more Tuesday as he continues to slowly move closer to being removed from the active PUP list and actually being able to practice with his teammates. He did individual work on the side for another practice, and Lions coach Jim Caldwell indicated “he’s progressing well.”

    “They keep ramping up his activity,” Caldwell said. ‘He hasn’t had setbacks so we feel good about where he is.”

    He is one of three players who sat out practice Tuesday along with receiver TJ Jones, who is still on the active PUP list, and offensive tackle Michael Williams, who has missed five straight practices due to injury.
  • Alex Bullard was somewhat surprising Tuesday during practice. He worked with the first team during a red zone period at left guard, spelling Rob Sims. The Lions have appeared to be careful with the reps for both Sims and center Dominic Raiola throughout the early portion of camp. Raiola did not do much work Tuesday, either, being replaced by Travis Swanson. Caldwell said he will give veterans days off from time to time to give them some rest during a long training camp to ensure health during the season. That said, Bullard looked decent during his run with the top unit. He’s still a longshot to make the roster at this point, but he offers interesting position flexibility since he worked at all five offensive line positions during his time at Notre Dame and Tennessee.
  • Cornerback Jonte Green put together another good practice, especially in one-on-one drills, registering a pass breakup. Considering the questions at the bottom of the depth chart at cornerback, Green could be putting himself in position to secure a roster spot at some point.
  • The Lions practice again Wednesday night at Ford Field at 7:30 p.m. The practice is open to the public.

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
8/02/14
3:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions had a scrimmage Saturday during their yearly family day, dividing the roster into the first-team offense and second-team defense on one side and the second-team offense and first-team defense on the other. The first-team offense and defense had all the typical players save Calvin Johnson, who did not practice Saturday. That wasn’t surprising considering the Lions’ focus on keeping their star as fresh as possible. In their daily switch, LaAdrian Waddle lined up with the first team at right tackle and Corey Hilliard with the second team, but that competition between two players who will make the roster continues. Defensively, Tahir Whitehead received a lot of time at linebacker spelling Stephen Tulloch.
  • Big day for Eric Ebron, who caught a really long pass from Matthew Stafford and appeared to be more confident on the field than he has at any point this camp. It’s still going to be a learning process for him for a bit and there will certainly be mistakes, but Saturday was encouraging. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed comfortable with Ebron’s progress as he learns the multitude of spots he is expected to line up at this fall. Ebron’s play was one of the highlights for the Lions’ offense of the scrimmage considering his issues with drops.
  • The Lions had some issues snapping the ball when Dominic Raiola was not part of the scrimmage. Both Darren Keyton – playing with the first group – and Travis Swanson had bad snaps to quarterbacks, causing issues. In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
  • Detroit’s cornerback situation behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis could get interesting. Jonte Green had his best day of camp thus far, breaking up two passes intended for receiver Ryan Broyles, who has not run with the first team much this camp. Chris Greenwood struggled again Saturday as well as those two potentially compete for one roster spot. Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and probably Cassius Vaughn appear to be ahead of both Green and Greenwood on the depth chart – although Lawson is going to mostly play nickel. Still a long way to go in this competition with not much settled in the first week.
  • Another good day for Detroit’s kickers as Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio made all their field goals attempted during the scrimmage, including a 50-yarder from Tavecchio that sailed through the uprights with ease. Unlike last season, when David Akers won the kicking job fairly easily, this season it seems like this could go on for a while. A wrinkle here could be something Caldwell said Saturday – that the team would consider using punter Sam Martin on extremely long field goal attempts. He compared it to his situation in Indianapolis, where Caldwell considered using punter Pat McAfee on long field goals. McAfee never attempted a field goal in a game, though. So something to consider as this competition progresses -- especially as Martin has an extremely impressive camp punting.

The Lions will take Sunday off before practicing again Monday at 8:30 a.m.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The rest of the NFL has been waiting.

Now, starting this afternoon, every team can say they have started training camp.

The Detroit Lions are the last of the league’s 32 franchises to step onto the practice field with their full 90-man roster this summer, and it will happen at 3:30 on Monday afternoon.

So what should you be watching for if you show up or listening for if you don’t during the first week of camp? Here are five things to pay attention to:

Ansah
Ezekiel Ansah's health: The second-year defensive end is a key piece of whatever the Lions are trying to do defensively this season, and he has yet to practice with the team following offseason shoulder surgery. He was put on PUP with receiver TJ Jones, and when coach Jim Caldwell was asked about a potential timeline for Ansah’s return, he essentially said it was up to the Lord. This could leave the team without one of their top pass-rushers for an undetermined amount of time. If Ansah is out for too long during camp, it will be interesting to see how fast they work him back into the lineup as he has had a concussion along with ankle and shoulder injuries since entering the league last year.

Matthew Stafford’s chemistry: The quarterback will always find a good rapport with Calvin Johnson. The two are entering their sixth season playing together and it has reached a point where one likely knows what the other is thinking when it comes to certain play calls and routes. The rest of Stafford’s most thrown-to players will all be new as the team signed receiver Golden Tate and drafted tight end Eric Ebron during the offseason. Tate missed a chunk of spring workouts with a shoulder injury, so timing will still need to be worked on between quarterback and receivers early in camp.

The interior of the line: As of now, both Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are officially in contract years with Suh yet to sign a contract extension and the team declining the fifth-year option on Fairley. So if there is a little bit of extra motivation with the two former first-round picks, one could start there. Fairley appears to be in better shape than he was last season, when he weighed north of 320 pounds. Suh has been in his typical dominant shape as he begins his fifth season with the Lions. Having both of them healthy and in prime shape will be a key for Detroit.

The back end of the roster: Though a lot of focus will be on the stars like Johnson, Stafford and Suh, the real competition is when the reserves start receiving snaps. They are the ones truly fighting for roster spots, jobs and livelihoods. At receiver and cornerback, where there are a lot of questions after the starters, those position battles should be particularly grueling where every rep could matter. So if you’re heading out to a Lions practice, pay attention to receiver-defensive back matchups like Kevin Ogletree vs. Jonte Green or Kris Durham vs. Cassius Vaughn. By the second week, some of these battles might shake out.

Kicker: It isn’t a sexy battle, but Nate Freese vs. Giorgio Tavecchio will be more important than any roster spot competition the rest of training camp. As mentioned in this space many times, Freese is the more accurate leg. Tavecchio is the stronger leg. Both had good and bad days during spring workouts, but every kick is going to be charted now. Freese, by virtue of being a draft pick, has the upper hand entering camp, but Tavecchio isn’t too far behind. Another aspect to this is Sam Martin's kickoff duties. If Freese wins the job, it’s reasonable to think Martin remains the kickoff guy. If Tavecchio wins, kickoffs could go to him as well, letting Martin focus on punting.
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: Cornerback

[+] EnlargeDarius Slay
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThis will be a critical year for Darius Slay as the Lions look to shore up their cornerback position.
Starter: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis

Depth (in training camp): Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green, Nevin Lawson, Aaron Hester, Mohammed Seisay

Likely roster spots: 5-6.

What to expect in camp: This will be one of the most intense battles in training camp, from a starting slot all the way through the end of the roster and even the practice squad. The main reason for this is other than veteran Mathis, none of the cornerbacks on the roster have proven anything with consistency.

Slay will slide into a starter's role in his second season with the club, but his rookie season had the predictable unpredictability. Throughout spring workouts, Slay consistently appeared as a cornerback capable of going through the necessary maturity from his rookie season. Some of that had to do with hints received from his work with Rod Woodson during the offseason.

Beyond Slay and Mathis is a bunch of questions. Bentley should end up as the team's nickel back, although he'll likely be pushed there by safety Don Carey and the rookie Lawson. Expect him to hold on to the job, though, as he is the most confident he has ever been in the pros.

The other outside corners are a major question. Assuming Bentley and Lawson end up at nickel, there will be a couple spots for Vaughn, Greenwood, Green, Hester or undrafted rookie Seisay.

This is where the real competition will come. Vaughn looked the best of the group during the spring, but the team has invested more in Green and Greenwood and they are at the point in their careers where something has to be more consistent for them.

Don't expect all three to make the team, but figure at least one or two of them will end up on the roster. Pay particular attention to this during camp as it would not be surprising to see at least one of them end up in a critical situation in 2014.

What Detroit needs to see: Growth from everyone other than Mathis. The Lions know what they are getting in the veteran, who should have at least one more season of playing at a consistent, decent level.

With pads on and the ability to press, the Lions need to see steps from the other players, though. Both Bentley and Slay have insisted at various points this spring that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's new defense fits their style of play better -- but they have to prove that now.

If the Lions don't see proper progression from these players, this will be a major, major concern for 2014 and will only call into more question the decisions made by general manager Martin Mayhew to focus more on offense during free agency and early in the draft instead of bolstering the biggest positional question mark on the roster.

The best possible situation for Detroit here is one or two of the cornerbacks behind Slay and Mathis play so well during camp they are no-brainers to keep on the roster, and the four of them can have more reps than everyone else. The other potential good situation for the Lions is that players like Green -- who put himself on a roster bubble after the spring -- to play so well he forces tough decisions for the staff to make on cutdown day in August.

The worst situation is similar to that -- that decisions are tough to make, but mostly because the team is picking from the best of a very mediocre lot of players. Considering the experience levels of the players competing, any of these possibilities could happen.

Don't be surprised if the team signs a veteran here at some point as well, much like they did with Mathis a season ago.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
7/17/14
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.
The Detroit Lions are escaping for the next month or so, and while there are some potential things on the horizon -- including the continuing question of Ndamukong Suh and his contract -- the players are mostly off taking their final vacations and doing some last training to prep for camp.

In that vein, this will be the last Lions Mailbag until just before training camp, so plan your schedules accordingly. I'll also be in-and-out of vacation over the next few weeks -- but there will be fresh content every weekday on the site, so make sure to come on by.

That said, let's get to your questions. @mikerothstein: First, you're both underestimating Corey Hilliard and overestimating LaAdrian Waddle all in the same sentence, so that's impressive. That said, I believe Waddle ends up winning the job, but Hilliard beat him out initially last season for a reason -- and Hilliard is still a good player. Remember, Waddle could theoretically play both sides as well, so both could end up as a swing-type tackle. Both should make the roster, though, barring injury. It'll probably be one of the more competitive early-camp battles.

@mikerothstein: There's a chance -- a probability, actually -- the Lions at least pursue one veteran cornerback. Whether that player is Brandon Flowers or not is the question. There's also the reality of being able to both pay Flowers what he believes he deserves and how a short cornerback who has shown he struggles in press coverage would fit in Detroit's new scheme. Both of those answers lead me to believe the Lions won't end up with Flowers. That said, as rosters shake out, it wouldn't shock me to see the Lions add a veteran corner at some point if they don't like the Jonte Green/Chris Greenwood situation for the final corner spot.

@mikerothstein: It shows some of that, sure. More likely, though, it shows how little confidence Detroit has in Chris Houston contributing to the Lions -- or any other NFL squad -- in 2014. The team was going to pay him too much -- both this year and down the road -- if they felt he wasn't going to return to his 2012 level. Beyond that, the release now allowed them to take care of Eric Ebron and open up some room to make another move if necessary. Those are your real reasons. If Detroit enters camp without signing another cornerback, that's when you can think they really have confidence in Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and that group.

@mikerothstein: If any of them make the team, Mitch, it'll be in a special teams role. Don't see that happening right now, though. The Lions have five good veteran safeties for potentially four slots. There might be a little more room at corner, but Mohammed Seisay -- who I think you're referencing -- is very, very raw and could benefit from a year on the practice squad. It wouldn't surprise me to see Seisay and Jerome Couplin on the practice squad this season. Barring injury or a major jump, it would surprise me to see an undrafted free-agent corner or safety on the 53-man roster in Week 1. 



Ryan from Parts Unknown asks: Sorry I missed the chat but I have a question about Suh and his status going forward. It seems like Suh is definitely angling to get out of Detroit and test the free-agent waters, but does he not realize that it will never happen? Unless I missed something the Lions can franchise him and he will be stuck here anyway. And it certainly seems like he has no plans on giving us a hometown discount so what difference does it make if we have to give him 120% of his current pay? So maybe someone should explain this to him so he can get this deal done and free up some cap space, might as well help the team if you are stuck here, right?

Ryan,

A lot to digest here and in practice, you are correct. Detroit could easily franchise tag Suh and keep him around for a sixth season. That said, his franchise tag number could be massive and depending what the salary cap looks like next season, it would be an interesting conversation for Detroit to have. As far as a "hometown discount," why should Suh do that? This is his chance to make enough cash to set himself and his family up for life. So why should he settle for less just to stay in Detroit? I have no problem with what Suh is doing. None. He needs to look out for himself first, as almost any other person would do.
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.
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.
We chatted all about the Detroit Lions on Tuesday over at ESPN.com and you can relive that experience here. But, as always, there were a bunch of questions we couldn't get to.

So we'll answer some more here.

Joe (Royal Oak): The Saints offense never seemed to really need Reggie Bush and often just used him as a decoy, which also has its merits, but is it worth paying an aging RB $5 million a year? He was pretty dang good last year so more of a question of whether it is time to push for cheaper players at the position?

Joe,

This is a good question and one that is timely considering there appears to be a de-emphasis on the importance of a featured running back. Look at the way running backs were drafted in May. That said, Bush, when healthy, gives the Lions a game-breaking option in the backfield they don't have from anyone else on the roster.

Here’s something else to consider. While Bush has indicated he wants to be in Detroit for the long-term, his dead money in 2015 is $2 million and $1 million in 2016. Both of those numbers are manageable if the team didn’t see him as a viable option any longer. So keep that in mind when thinking of Bush. I would anticipate either the Lions use Bush a lot this season or the discussion at this point next season is whether or not he sticks around for a while.

Jay (Kalamazoo): Is Larry Webster destined for the practice squad due to how raw he is, or will his athleticism and the lack of depth at defensive end allow him to stick on the 53?

Jay,

On my pre-OTAs roster breakdown, I had Webster on the practice squad and was criticized for doing so because there is the thought he would get signed by someone else pretty quickly. That is probably true and might be why he would stick on the 53-man roster, at least to start. The question would be how fast his development would have to be for him to contribute in a meaningful way in 2014. If there isn’t swift development, then he could eat up a roster spot until he is ready. But there is not a lot of depth there now, so he has a definitive shot.

Ashley (via mobile): Darius Slay is going to be an All-Pro shutdown cornerback this year. Mark it down.

Ashley,

Noted. While I believe Slay will improve and become a good starting cornerback by the middle of the season, All-Pro might be stretching it. He’s not at the Darrelle Revis, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman level of cornerback yet. Not sure if he has the skills to get there, either, but he has a good shot to be a really good corner if he develops right.

Terrence (Richmond, VA): Do you think Golden Tate will make a big difference in the offense?

Terrence, I do. He’s going to take pressure off of Calvin Johnson because he is a playmaker and can be used in the slot or outside. He also has two of the best hands in the NFL, so that will make him much more of a threat. It’ll be interesting to see where he lines up compared to Eric Ebron, but the addition of Tate will help both Johnson and Ebron this fall. If nothing else, he becomes a strong third down option that has a history of reliability in that area.

Otto (happy hour): Do you see the Lions bringing pressure from different spots along with press coverage resulting in more turnovers? Of course the downside is if the opposing quarterback spots the open receiver big plays could result.

Otto,

Glad it is 5 o’clock where ever it is in this awesome, vast world that you are. I think you’ll see the exact scenario you described. The Lions are going to bring a lot more pressure this season than last and part of it will be using a guy like rookie Kyle Van Noy in different spots and sending him to harass quarterbacks. As far as press coverage, Detroit is going to use that a lot. Or, as Darius Slay said, the Lions could use it every play. It’s dangerous, but if it allows Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley more open lanes to get to the quarterback, then the Lions should do it. Probably should have last season as well.

Pat (Troy, MI): The fact that I’m very excited about the early stories on Cassius Vaughn…too much time on my hands? Or very underrated grab for us?

Pat,

Time will be the barometer here, but he has a shot to make the roster. Don’t think he’ll turn into a game-changing cornerback but if he can provide depth and become a potential reliable option then it ends up being a good signing. To add to this with a question I won’t get to, if Vaughn makes the roster, you’re probably looking at Bill Bentley, Jonte Green or Chris Greenwood not making it. If the Lions feel good about Don Carey and Rashean Mathis on the inside (assuming Chris Houston ends up back) then Bentley’s role is in question. Otherwise, it is either Green or Greenwood who would be in trouble.

Lions offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
5/22/14
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

 
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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES