Detroit Lions: Joseph Fauria

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: Tight end

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Fauria
Fauria
Starter: Eric Ebron/Brandon Pettigrew

Depth (in training camp): Joseph Fauria; Jordan Thompson; Jacob Maxwell

Likely roster spots: 3.

What to expect in camp: This might be one of the easiest positions to predict both in terms of roster and what will happen in camp. Since Detroit moved Michael Williams from tight end to offensive tackle before spring workouts and then drafted Ebron, it has been clear Ebron, Pettigrew and Fauria would be the team’s tight ends this fall.

All three have different strengths and issues. Ebron can spread the field open with his speed and has the flexibility to line up in the slot, on the outside and next to the offensive line if necessary. His issue throughout camp was the same problem he had at North Carolina -- catching the ball.

Pettigrew can both block and run routes and the team invested in him by bringing him back during free agency on a four-year deal (only two seasons guaranteed). His strengths come in his blocking and that he can run routes if necessary. He had issues with drops throughout his career but with Ebron on the roster, he likely won’t see the same amount of targets.

Fauria’s height and vertical make him a good red zone threat and his hands are the best of the three tight ends expected to make the roster. He has more speed than Pettigrew and can move down the field when he needs to. His route-running needs to improve, as does his blocking. Drafting Ebron also likely takes away a bunch of potential targets for Fauria, but if he improved his blocking during the offseason he should still see more snaps than last season.

Ebron
Thompson and Maxwell should not factor into the roster, although Thompson could end up as a practice squad player.

What Detroit needs to see: This all begins with Ebron. The Lions took a chance drafting him instead of a defensive lineman (Aaron Donald) or offensive lineman (Zack Martin), both of whom were probably safer choices. They also bypassed an obvious need at cornerback (Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard) and safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor) to take Ebron.

He struggled at points during offseason workouts and while that is not surprising for a rookie at a tough-to-adjust position in the league, the Lions drafted him with the No. 10 pick, so he is expected to come in and contribute immediately.

Seeing him catch consistently and run routes well would help ingratiate him into the offense faster as an opening-day starter and someone quarterback Matthew Stafford can rely on.

The other potential surprise would be development from Fauria. If he shows that, it could provide cover for Ebron to develop at whatever pace he needs to if he isn’t quite as ready as the Lions would hope. This could benefit Fauria as well, as the former undrafted free agent wants to continue to prove he can be more than a red zone option in the NFL.

The Lions know what they have in Pettigrew and not much will change there.
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. -- 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.
The true workout portion of the Detroit Lions' offseason activities begins Friday with the start of rookie minicamp, followed by OTAs and the mandatory minicamp in June.

Before that officially begins, here is a look at the Lions' depth chart -- along with a first shot at what the 53-man roster could look like come fall. And please remember, a lot can change between now and then.

QUARTERBACK

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions have used the offseason to add weapons to their offense for starting QB Matthew Stafford.
Projected starter: Matthew Stafford

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Dan Orlovsky; Kellen Moore; James Franklin.

Thoughts: This is one of the most stable positions on the roster. The Lions have an entrenched starter in Stafford who the entire focus of offseason building appeared to be around. Orlovsky is a capable backup who has some starting experience. The third quarterback will come down to Moore or Franklin. That decision will depend on whether the team feels there is reason to continue to invest in Moore for a third season.

Roster locks: Stafford.

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

RUNNING BACK

Projected starter: Reggie Bush/Joique Bell

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

Thoughts: Like quarterback, there is some stability at this position. Bush and Bell are locked up for a decent stretch and they were an effective tandem last season. They should be even more so this season as they will likely get less carries but more touches with short passes. Riddick, as long as he can still be an effective special teams player, should also have a roster spot. Leshoure is an interesting situation because if Detroit emulates New Orleans, it will need more than two main backs.

Roster locks: Bush, Bell

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Bush, Bell, Riddick, Leshoure

FULLBACK

Projected starter: Jed Collins

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

Thoughts: The Lions, crazy as it sounds, might keep two fullbacks on the roster -- mostly for special teams. They will certainly keep one, and Collins seems like a front-runner because he is less expensive and already understands the likely playbook. Plus, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi knows him and clearly trusts him to bring him in. Owens’ hybrid abilities make him intriguing, and Abram was a special teams dynamo at Florida State.

Roster locks: None

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Collins, Abram.

WIDE RECEIVER

Projected starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate

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

Thoughts: There are a lot of players here for not many available spots. Working on the assumption Johnson and Tate are going nowhere and Ross takes up a place as a return man, that might leave 2-3 spots for the rest. How the receivers shake out could be one of the most interesting battles of OTAs, minicamp and training camp. This is also a position where the Lions could go grab an unexpected free agent.

Roster locks: Johnson, Tate

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

TIGHT END

Projected starters: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew

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

Thoughts: There might be a lot of tight ends in camp, but when you look at experience, that number thins out a lot. Ebron and Pettigrew are the likely unquestioned starters and should end up on the field at least 75 percent of the time each by midseason. Fauria is the biggest question here, the decision will be based on how much he has improved in the offseason. Anyone else who makes the roster is on special teams.

Roster locks: Pettigrew, Ebron

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

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

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

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

Thoughts: This is a tricky position right now. There is not a ton of depth here, but Hilliard could present an interesting case if it ends up being a close battle for either the starting right tackle slot or depth. Lucas could end up being Waddle-like in how he surprises people throughout camp. As long as Waddle builds on last season, though, he should end up as the starter.

Roster locks: Reiff, Waddle

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

OFFENSIVE GUARD

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

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

Thoughts: Didn’t put third-round pick Travis Swanson at guard, because he’s going to project as the backup to Dominic Raiola at center. Warford is set, and barring someone showing very well over the next month, so is Sims. After that, it's murky. The Lions clearly liked Austin enough to keep him around last season when Tennessee tried to take him off the practice squad. Bullard is intriguing because he can play all five offensive line slots.

Roster locks: Warford.

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

CENTER

Starter: Dominic Raiola.

Backups: Travis Swanson.

Thoughts: Raiola should end up being the starter here this season. He will groom Swanson to take over in either 2015 or 2016, depending on Raiola’s play in 2014.

Roster locks: Raiola, Swanson.

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Raiola, Swanson.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After the Detroit Lions hired Joe Lombardi earlier this season and the new offensive coordinator made it obvious he was going to pattern the team after what he learned in New Orleans, the thought of Jimmy Graham has been prevalent.

When the Lions spurned defense Thursday night to take tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL draft -- despite already having two capable tight ends on the roster, a fairly deep draft class at the position and major needs on defense -- it focused the team's dependence on the position even more.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsEric Ebron gives Detroit the option of running more three-tight-end sets.
Then Lombardi mentioned something more interesting. When asked about the role tight end Joseph Fauria could still provide, he said he could envision the Lions lining up three tight ends on the field at one time. In the past, that type of package typically has meant a jumbo-type set designed for short-yardage or goal-line offense.

Not now. Not in Detroit.

The Lions could use three tight ends all across the field. Between Lombardi's talk about the formation and the six tight ends currently on the roster, it's clear there will be more emphasis on the position overall.

"Listen, Joseph is still going to have a strong role in the red zone," Lombardi said. "There is nothing to say that we aren't going to have three tight ends on the field at some point."

In Lombardi's five years with New Orleans, where he was primarily the quarterbacks coach, the Saints played 141 snaps with three tight ends on the field at once, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They ran the ball 69 times out of that set and also completed 44 of 71 passes in those five seasons.

The team used it the most in 2013, for 49 snaps, scoring seven touchdowns when three tight ends were on the field. The Saints completed 16 of 32 passes with a three-tight-end look last season, good for 185 yards and four touchdowns. Interestingly, 100 of those yards were after the catch, likely signifying it wasn't only used in the red zone.

Ten of those 16 catches in the formation went to tight ends.

At the very least, drafting Ebron probably means the definitive end of the favored formation under then-offensive coordinator Scott Linehan last season, which was one running back, three wide receivers and Brandon Pettigrew somewhere on the field.

Now, it could be Calvin Johnson, Ebron, Pettigrew and Golden Tate lining up a bit of everywhere. So don't think Ebron will be primarily in the slot. At North Carolina last season, Ebron caught the majority of his passes lined up as a wide receiver.

"I never want to say primarily anything," Lombardi said. "He is going to line up all over the place and you are going to have to find him. That's kind of one of our goals in not wanting to be predictable for defenses.

"We don't want them to say, 'Calvin is always here, we know how to deal with it.' You just want to keep mixing it up so the defense can never really hone in on what your plan is."

Realistically, Detroit is not going to sit Ebron or Pettigrew very often -- not after drafting Ebron in the first round and guaranteeing Pettigrew $8 million of his new four-year deal. So the multiplicity of the Lions' offense in 2014 could give Detroit a crazy amount of options. It can use anything from two-back sets with Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, to three- and four-receiver sets, to sets with one, two or three tight ends at once.

This is probably why the Lions felt comfortable drafting offense so early at the expense of addressing the defense.

Detroit will likely cater its offensive plan to what Ebron can do once he arrives this week and starts working in rookie minicamp this weekend. Once the Lions see how well he runs, and how far away his blocking or in-line capabilities might be, then they can further assess his value.

If the team really does view him as what he was at North Carolina, which was a bulkier, taller wide receiver with a tight end designation, Detroit could place him anywhere on the field, much like they do with Johnson. It is also highly likely Ebron's role at the start of the season will be different from his role at the end.

He is still learning the position. He only really started playing football his junior year of high school, after he was offered a scholarship by North Carolina following a one-day camp he attended. So his room for growth is large, and as he improves, the opportunities for Detroit's offense are likely to multiply.

Don't expect Ebron to become Graham, though. He was adamant about that after he was drafted. While he might play a similar role in the Detroit offense as Graham does in New Orleans, it isn't fair to compare Ebron to Graham, a converted basketball player.

If you're looking for a clue of how he'll be utilized, and how the Lions might end up using their tight ends, New Orleans is a good place to start.
The Lions, lying in wait for all of the tight ends....

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After the initial surprise of the Detroit Lions taking tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday instead of a defensive player, one of the next thoughts was somewhat obvious.

What does this mean for Joseph Fauria, last season's breakout undrafted free-agent rookie? Fauria, who played collegiately at UCLA, went from just another player in training camp to a legitimate dancing/scoring option for the Lions early in the season.

However, his role was fairly limited. He was a big target with good hands who was a red zone threat for Detroit in 2013 with seven of his 18 receptions throughout the season being touchdowns.

He was a tight end who could run down the field and jump to catch the ball, but he wasn't much of a blocker and didn't exactly run a full route tree.

Now Ebron comes in, and he isn't known as much of a blocker, either, and has a speed/size component the Lions are hoping creates mismatches. This might mean the expanded role Fauria was hoping for in his second year in Detroit might be a bit more difficult now.

"Listen, Joseph is still going to have a strong role in the red zone," offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. "There is nothing to say that we aren't going to have three tight ends on the field at some point. Every game is different, every game plan is different.

"But Joe has impressed me in the short time we have been able to work with him. I think it is bad for a player to look at, 'Hey, we just drafted a guy at my position. That means that I am out of favor.' Joe is not out of favor."

He may not be out of favor, but his route to more playing time just became much more difficult.

Ebron is a first round pick. Brandon Pettigrew is a former first round pick who just re-signed with the Lions for three more seasons. This probably means he is no better than the third tight end on the roster, depending on what the team plans on doing with last season's seventh round pick, Michael Williams, who is more of a blocker than pass catcher.

And to the Lions, there seems to be a difference in level between Fauria and Ebron.

"Obviously they are two different guys in terms of their skill level," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Joe has a skill level and Eric has a skill level but he is a little different type of guy.

"We will be able to utilize every bit of talent that we have, that's for certain. I can tell you when you talk to Matthew Stafford he will tell you that you can never have too many weapons and this just adds another weapon for us."

How it really changes what Fauria is able to do remains to be seen.

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
 

 
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- With top cornerbacks, the top safety and top defensive tackle on the board, the Detroit Lions instead chose to add to their offense on Thursday night, selecting the draft's top-rated tight end, North Carolina's Eric Ebron.

Ebron
To find out more about Ebron, ESPN ACC blogger Andrea Adelson gave this scouting report on him.

"Ebron is essentially a glorified wide receiver, and became the biggest threat in the North Carolina pass game last season," Adelson wrote. "An ESPN.com first-team All-American, Ebron set school records for single-season receptions (62) and receiving yards (973), and career receptions and career receiving yards for a tight end. To further prove his threat in the pass game, Ebron became the first North Carolina tight end to lead the team in receiving since Mike Chatham in 1979 and 1980.

"There are some questions about Ebron, however. He is not known for his blocking ability, and he has also his share of dropped passes. North Carolina runs a high-tempo spread offense, so because the Tar Heels want to spread the field, Ebron was utilized more for his pass-catching ability. He is not your prototypical blocking tight end by any stretch. But if Detroit envisions using him as a complement to Calvin Johnson, Ebron could thrive."

Ebron becomes the sixth tight end on the roster, joining Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, Mike Williams, Matt Veldman and Jordan Thompson.
videoALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

My take: Not the best selection. With defensive tackle Aaron Donald on the board, as well as Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the Lions chose to ignore their defensive issues in the first round and continued to try and bolster their offense, going with Ebron. He’s a nice player but not the biggest need by any stretch for Detroit. He can’t really block well, and while he’s a good route runner, I don’t exactly love his hands. He drops catchable passes at times. He gives the Lions a Jimmy Graham-like player, but this comes after the Lions gave a three-year deal to Brandon Pettigrew.

For a team with desperate defensive needs, this pick makes such little sense. The Lions could have solidified their defensive line and offered protection for losing Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley with Donald. They could have taken the best cover corner in the draft in Dennard or the top safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. They even could have investigated trading down. But they chose not to.

What does this mean for Joseph Fauria: This could be problematic for last season’s red zone threat and rookie standout. Ebron and Fauria kind of play the same type of tight end position -- guys who can run down the field a little bit but can’t block all that well. He could be fighting for a position in training camp now -- unless the Lions actually view him as more of a wide receiver.

What’s next: Detroit still needs a pass-catcher but should really focus on defense on Friday. Cornerbacks, safeties and pass-rushers should be the main focus in Rounds 2 and 3.
With a new coaching staff and an increasing focus on tight end, how teams handle the payment structure at the position will be an interesting metric to follow over the next few seasons.

As of now, the Lions have been consistent at the spot, typically holding a cap number between $3 million and $5 million for somewhere between three and five players on the roster. However, with Joe Lombardi as the team’s new offensive coordinator and a set of coaches who have long used the tight end effectively, that could change in the future.

If Jim Caldwell and Lombardi are successful, you could see more cap percentage – and that’ll be the future number to look at, not the actual number – spent on tight ends. Why cap percentage? With the NFL potentially increasing the salary cap by massive levels over the next few seasons, judging the importance of a position to teams won’t be in the cap number they spend, but how much of the overall cap they are willing to allocate to a spot.

Some positions – like receiver and defensive tackle for the Lions – are skewed because of Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, but it is overall a decent gauge for how a team feels about a position group and their relative importance to a roster (rookie contracts aside).

As has been the case in prior cap studies, all numbers are culled from ESPN Stats & Information and for other than 2014, the numbers taken are from the end of the year roster. For example, Tony Scheffler is not listed in 2013 because he was cut in October.

Prior cap studies: Running back; Wide Receiver

2014

Total numbers: $4,050,453 (cap value); 6.23 percent (offensive cap percentage); 2.93 percent (total cap percentage); $7,030,000 (cash value).

By players:
  • Brandon Pettigrew: $2.2 million (cap value); 3.39 percent (offensive cap); 1.59 percent (total cap).
  • Joseph Fauria: $499,166 (cap value); .77 percent (offensive cap); .36 percent (total cap).
  • Matt Veldman: $495,000 (cap value); .76 percent (offensive cap); .36 percent (total cap).
  • Michael Williams: $436,287 (cap value); .67 percent (offensive cap); .32 percent (total cap).
  • Jordan Thompson: $420,000 (cap value); .65 percent (offensive cap); .30 percent (total cap).

2013

Total numbers: $4,394,643 (cap value); 7.42 percent (offensive cap); 4.20 (total cap); $3,178,088 (cash value).

By players:
  • Pettigrew: $3,475,425 (cap value); 5.87 percent (offensive cap); 3.32 percent (total cap).
  • Fauria: $409,166 (cap value); .69 percent (offensive cap); .39 percent (total cap).
  • Williams: $304,287 (cap value); .51 percent (offensive cap); .29 percent (total cap).
  • Dorin Dickerson: $181,941 (cap value); .31 percent (offensive cap); .17 percent (total cap).
  • Veldman: $23,824 (cap value); .04 percent (offensive cap); .02 percent (total cap).

2012

Total numbers: $5,505,200 (cap value); 8.84 percent (offensive cap); 4.57 percent (total cap); $4,016,450 (cash value).

By players:
  • Tony Scheffler: $2,554,805 (cap value); 4.10 percent (offensive cap); 2.12 percent (total cap).
  • Pettigrew: $2,340,435 (cap value); 3.76 percent (offensive cap); 1.94 percent (total cap).
  • Will Heller: $609,960 (cap value); .98 percent (offensive cap); .51 percent (total cap).

2011

Total numbers: $5,594,166 (cap value); 8.84 percent (offensive cap); 4.78 percent (total cap); $5,641,250 (cash value).

By players:
  • Scheffler: $2,25 million (cap value); 3.56 percent (offensive cap); 1.92 percent (total cap).
  • Pettigrew: $2,002,500 (cap value); 3.16 percent (offensive cap); 1.71 percent (total cap).
  • Heller: $1,341,666 (cap value); 2.12 percent (offensive cap); 1.15 percent (total cap).

2010

Total numbers: $7,068,916 (cap value); 9.70 percent (offensive cap); 6.19 percent (total cap); $12,723,500 (cash value).

By players:
  • Pettigrew: $3,656,250 (cap value); 5.02 percent (offensive cap); 3.20 percent (total cap).
  • Scheffler: $1.676 million (cap value); 2.30 percent (offensive cap); 1.47 percent (total cap).
  • Heller: $1,341,666 (cap value); 1.84 percent (offensive cap); 1.18 percent (total cap).
  • Jake Nordin: $395,000 (cap value); .54 percent (offensive cap); .35 percent (total cap).
The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on players beyond the big names who can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

[+] EnlargeAustin Seferian-Jenkins
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWashington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an option for the Lions in the second round.
Today continues with tight ends.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers

Players Lost: Dorin Dickerson (free agent)

Players Signed: Brandon Pettigrew (re-signed); Jordan Thompson (free agent, also a long snapper).

Players on the roster: Pettigrew; Joseph Fauria; Michael Williams; Matt Veldman; Thompson.

Draft priority: Medium-to-high

Potential Rounds: 1-4

Players who have visited or met with the Lions: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; Eric Ebron, North Carolina; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.

Analysis: This is an interesting position for Detroit, mostly because the team re-signed Brandon Pettigrew in March. If the Lions had gone away from doing that, it would be pretty simple to forecast a tight end being drafted at No. 10 (likely Ebron) or with the second-round pick, which could be a multitude of different options.

By bringing back Pettigrew, it lessened the need for the position somewhat since there is now the dual-threat tight end (Pettigrew) and the red-zone threat tight end (Fauria) on the roster. Michael Williams, who was on injured reserve last season, is more of a blocker.

What the Lions do with this position next week will depend on what offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi believes he will need in the short term and down the road. Remember, he is used to working -- not as a coordinator, but as an offensive philosophy -- with Jimmy Graham, the game’s top tight end at the moment.

And as the importance of a featured running back has disappeared across the NFL the past few years, the premium on a tight end as a matchup conundrum for defensive coordinators has raised significantly.

This leaves an interesting question for Detroit. If Ebron is there at No. 10 -- and it isn’t a guarantee he will be, but it is definitely a possibility -- will the Lions take him hoping he can develop into Graham in a couple of years? If he does, what does that mean for the future of Fauria on the roster, as he would be the tight end most impacted by that pick unless he has increased his blocking ability significantly in the offseason.

If the Lions pass on Ebron, and they likely should unless they can’t trade down and aren’t enamored with Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, then the second or third round should offer some strong possibilities for them.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, perhaps more than Ebron, could end up being the star tight end of this class. He can block a bit, run routes, and has the basketball pedigree similar to stars Graham, Antonio Gates and Denver's Julius Thomas. He also has more football experience entering the league than those three, and could be the logical complement and eventual replacement for Pettigrew in two-to-three seasons.

If the Lions believe in Fauria’s development, Fiedorowicz could be a third-round option, but he was less of a receiver and more of a blocker in college. He has insisted, though, he could do both.

An intriguing option in the second or third round would be Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas. He could be a bit of a NFL project in that he has only played tight end for a couple of years, but he has great size, good hands and is already a capable blocker. As I wrote in February, he is potentially the last of a group of true dual-ability tight ends and could be drafted -- like Seferian-Jenkins -- as an eventual Pettigrew replacement.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: Seferian-Jenkins in the second round or Niklas either in a trade-up in the late second or hope he’s there in Round 3. Those would be my two top targets at the position instead of Ebron for multiple reasons.

The Lions, as written over and over again here, need defense more than anything. There are massive questions about the depth and talent in the secondary, and though it might not appear this way for 2014, defensive tackle is going to be a position of need beginning in 2015. The Lions would be better off trading back to take a cornerback or even a receiver later in the first round.

Plus, Seferian-Jenkins and Niklas could both end up being better than Ebron in the pros.

Here’s my biggest issue with Ebron, and it is written in his draft profile on ESPN.com.

“Ball skills are not as good as perception. Makes some circus catches,” the profile writes. “Has long arms, shows adequate leaping ability and good body control to adjust. Hauls in high-percentage of away-from-frame opportunities.

“But too many focus drops on 'catchable' balls. Highest drop percentage (11 percent) in 2013 of all the top TE prospects.”

That last part is why the Lions could shy away from Ebron. Jim Caldwell and Lombardi have stressed catching the ball after Detroit had the highest drop rate in the NFL last season. And that profile reads a lot like the tight end the Lions already have on the roster -- Pettigrew -- as a player who makes the tough catch but sometimes drops easy, catchable balls.

For those reasons, Seferian-Jenkins or Niklas would be the wiser choices.

Possible targets: Ebron; Seferian-Jenkins; Niklas; Fiedorowicz; Jace Amaro, Texas Tech.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It has been a long, long week for the Detroit Lions since the last Mailbag.

The Lions' owner, William Clay Ford Sr., died Sunday at age 88. Then there was free agency, where the Lions kept Joique Bell, Brandon Pettigrew and Kevin Ogletree, along with bringing in wide receiver Golden Tate and a pair of rotational defensive ends.

So the team has been a bit busy with some more moves, and then the draft should be just as lively.

Let's get right to your questions. Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask. Either tweet #LionsMailbag with any questions you have or email michael.rothstein@espn.com.

 



Kris asks over email: Jason Jones was signed by Jim Schwartz as a DE, but do you see Jim Caldwell moving him to back to DT with Mosley as the Relief for Suh and Fairley?

Kris, that's an interesting proposition, and if the Lions had been able to re-sign Willie Young, that might have happened. But without Young and Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor -- the best two defensive ends on the roster at present -- moving Jones inside would make little sense with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley able to be a three-man rotation now. The Lions also brought in Corvey Irvin from Detroit and have two practice squad guys from last season -- Xavier Proctor and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen -- that could end up as the fourth option.

The Detroit Lions are bringing back Brandon Pettigrew and this ensures one thing in Detroit: While the team will have an offense that might look schematically like the New Orleans Saints' offense, this guarantees it won’t be Saints-like.

At least not in the same construct of what New Orleans likes to do.

Pettigrew is not a Jimmy Graham-like tight end. He won’t stretch the field. He won’t create an obvious mismatch against anyone who lines up against him. Though Detroit had said he was a priority free agent throughout the offseason, he is a different type of tight end than Graham.

He is more of a dual-threat tight end, as much of a blocker as a pass-catcher. He was integral in Detroit’s running game as a player who can line up on the line of scrimmage as well as in the slot and even outside. His versatility and flexibility has been one of the more attractive things about him.

He will not, though, break a defense.

In his five seasons in Detroit, his longest-ever reception has been 35 yards. In 2010. He has had only four games in which he had a reception of 30 yards or more, and only one of them came after the 2010 season. Last season he had fewer yards (416) than any season but his rookie year, and also fewer drops (four) than any season in his career. His two touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie year.

He also had declining receptions the past two seasons after an 87-catch, 826-yard season in 2011.

While Pettigrew is still productive and still young enough at age 29, part of the reason Detroit might have brought him back is the lack of experience at the position otherwise. If the team had not kept Pettigrew, the only tight ends on the roster would have been Joseph Fauria, Michael Williams and Matt Veldman. Fauria and Williams were rookies last season, and of the three, only Fauria had any extended playing time or even caught a pass.

Williams spent last season on injured reserve and Veldman was signed for the last game of the season from the practice squad.

With a thin tight end market, there were not going to be any options better than Pettigrew available for Detroit to sign as a veteran. Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley and Dustin Keller all could have been intriguing options, but they have significant injury histories that made them more of a risk than Pettigrew, who the team drafted in 2009. And Pettigrew has developed a rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Pettigrew’s signing also probably means the team might avoid taking a tight end early in May’s draft, although depending on how the Lions really feel about Fauria and Williams, it might not completely preclude them from doing so.

But this was the safe signing for Detroit. He was the player the team knew and the one the front office was the most familiar with. With little other options out there, it was also the one that ended up making the most sense.

Even if he can’t do some of the things the team might want him to be able to in the offense.

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