Detroit Lions: Kevin Ogletree
1.How much will Calvin Johnson and Ezekiel Ansah play: The wide receiver will make his season debut against Jacksonville after coach Jim Caldwell held him out of the first two preseason games as a prudent decision to rest his star. Johnson has been itching to play and should see a decent amount of snaps Friday with the starters as he figures out his role in Joe Lombardi’s new offense. Don’t expect to see him out there as much as some other starters, though, since he already has chemistry with Matthew Stafford, and this will be to just get him moving a bit for the first time this season. Ansah’s situation is a little bit different. If he’s healthy enough to be cleared for the game, he’ll end up being used a little bit but probably won’t see a full workload as he still gets himself into shape from offseason shoulder surgery. Detroit’s goal here would be to give them enough to get a taste of action and then shelve them for the regular season.
2.Which receivers work in with the first group the most: One of the tightest competitions in camp has been at receiver, where the Lions have depth and some hard decisions to make after Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Seeing how much Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross work into the receiver rotation with Stafford could give an indication as to which receivers are in line for the other roster spots. Ross will make the team as a returner, but the other four players are probably fighting for two-to-three spots. A big game with the first unit could make a difference in a really tight battle.
3.Will the kicking battle end and what undrafted free agents show up early on special teams? Caldwell was cagey when asked when the Lions would decide on a kicker, but the team is now going to alternate Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese on Friday instead of alternating them by halves. This is probably a good sign for Tavecchio, who has been the more consistent kicker during camp. If he has a good showing Friday, he may pull one of the upsets of camp and beat out a draft pick in Freese. Other than that, it will be important to watch which undrafted rookies might remain on first-team specialists units -- particularly George Winn and Jerome Couplin. If they keep showing up, they may also pull upsets for roster spots, however unlikely that may still seem.
Some of those choices will be quite hard and some are taking shape. Let's address some of that in this week's Lions Mailbag.
Remember, to ask questions for the Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at email@example.com. Now, on to your questions.
@mikerothstein: It is my belief that, yes, Kevin Ogletree is making this roster and could have a fairly big role. He's been running with the first team all of camp and has been a standout in practice. The only pass I remember him really dropping in camp was the one against Cleveland. He had a reception on Friday night against Oakland as well. Receiver is going to be a really interesting question for the Lions because Ogletree, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller are all making strong cases to join Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Jeremy Ross on the roster. Likely, one or two of these players won't make the team and right now I'd put that person as Fuller, who would be a practice squad candidate again if he cleared waivers.
@mikerothstein: Yep, that's correct, although the preseason is still going strong. Detroit had its last open to the public practice Wednesday and will now revert to more of a regular-season mode the rest of the preseason, as many other teams around the league are doing. It probably feels shorter for you because Detroit was the last team to start practicing this summer.
Everyone was high on ken whisenhunt. How does he compare to Jim Caldwell now that they both have had time with their teams? #LionsMailbag— Franco (@vectorious) August 14, 2014
@mikerothstein: Tough to say because we don't know how Ken Whisenhunt would have shaped this roster and handled this team. I would say that I don't know if the Lions draft Eric Ebron if Whisenhunt is the coach, just because of the style of offense. Caldwell has done a good job with this team thus far as the players have clearly bought into his approach. This will be addressed more below, but how he is handling the Nick Fairley situation won't go unnoticed by players, who see everyone gets a fair shake.
@mikerothstein: At this point, the team appears fairly serious about the entire Nick Fairley ordeal. C.J. Mosley started Friday night and played well in Fairley's place. Meanwhile, Fairley did not play quite well. He really seemed like he was pushed off the ball a lot, which shouldn't happen with his size and skill level. He's going to be part of the defensive line rotation because even when he is on the downside of his inconsistent play, his talent is undeniable. But if he doesn't pick up his practice or game play soon, he could definitely start the season on the bench behind Mosley and Ndamukong Suh.
@mikerothstein: It really does. The Lions used that as a motivational tactic to try and get him to be at his best and for a few months, it appeared to work. But that has clearly gone away again, once again leaving the Lions with an inconsistent but very talented defensive tackle. I was quite critical of Martin Mayhew when he declined the option on Fairley and I'm starting to come around to say that I was wrong in my assessment of that. Mayhew's sense might have been right on there. Of course, that also leads to the Aaron Donald question and, yeah, the Lions might regret not drafting him, especially if Ndamukong Suh isn't here in 2015. The work ethic of Donald and Suh combined would have been a positive for Detroit's defense.
For all of them, a good or bad performance can mean making the team or the practice squad. Here's a primer of who I'll be focusing on (from my couch, since I won't be in Oakland, but we can chat on Twitter):
1. RB George Winn: He's made some big plays during practice and in the preseason opener. Mentioned him in the earlier preview as well, but this could be his best chance to make a strong roster push. Theo Riddick should receive some of the carries that Winn might have otherwise seen since he missed most of the first preseason game, but Winn will get a long look. At this point, he's putting together an audition tape for the practice squad and trying to unseat Mikel Leshoure. The big thing to pay attention to with Winn -- special teams. If he pops up on a first-team special teams unit, that could be a major sign for him.
2. S Jerome Couplin: The Osprey was one of the most focused-on undrafted free agents because of his wingspan and nickname. Then he went out and made some big hits during the preseason opener and has been continually popping up in practice. The Lions are clearly taking a strong look at him, as they played him with the second team defense all week. If he makes a play or two Friday night, he may start to receive real roster consideration instead of a likely practice squad spot.
3. QB Kellen Moore: He put together a strong first performance but he'll need to do it more consistently to have a real shot. Frankly, he'll also need current No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky to continue to struggle as well. But with a good opening game, Moore at least put himself in some conversation for a backup quarterback position on the team. If he gets some actual time with the No. 2 offense, that'll signal the Lions may be looking at it, too.
4. WR Kevin Ogletree: He has been really strong during camp, but had a bad drop in the opener against Cleveland. He should make the roster, although having a good performance against the Raiders wouldn't be a bad thing for him to put on film just to solidify what Detroit's coaches are seeing in practice.
5. WR Ryan Broyles: Like Moore and Winn, he had a good first game and appeared to have no setbacks from his Achilles injury last season. If he's healthy, he should make the roster. If he wants to do more than that, though, another good game would certainly help him here -- especially if he wants to try and push Ogletree for the No. 3 position.
6. DT Caraun Reid: The rookie from Princeton played well in his debut, making two plays in the backfield and showing he can handle the NFL. If he builds on this -- and there is little reason to think he won't -- he could end up being a larger part of the defensive tackle rotation than initially thought. Reid's spot on the team is safe.
7.CB Chris Greenwood: If the Lions keep six cornerbacks, the final spot will be a likely competition between Jonte Green, Drayton Florence and Greenwood. Green appeared to have the initial inside path to this spot -- and then he barely played in the preseason opener. Florence remains an intriguing candidate, but hasn't played much yet. Watch the snaps here, as Greenwood might end up pushing himself into the spot. A real outside candidate would be Mohammed Seisay, but he is probably a bit too raw for a roster spot just yet.
8.Kickers: I'll put Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio in the same spot here since they are two guys competing for one job. Freese appears to have the edge right now, although Tavecchio has been more consistent in practice. At this point, Tavecchio needs to continue to hit all his opportunities and probably needs Freese to miss a few to have a shot, but he has proven himself as a NFL kicker during this camp.
9. DT Nick Fairley: How many snaps will he get? How will he play in those snaps? Fairley is the most intriguing player on the Lions right now because of what occurred in practice last week. In what is expected to be limited snaps, will a motivated Fairley show up?
10. DE Larry Webster: Like Reid, Webster made a few plays in his debut. If he continues to do that, he could end up being a rotational factor this fall instead of being a pure developmental project for the Lions. His size, speed and build could turn him into a freakish defensive end once he figures everything out. Between him, Devin Taylor and Ezekiel Ansah, that could three high-caliber ends in a season or two.
The running back and wide receiver simultaneously jumped into a cold tub to raise support and awareness for ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
The premise of the challenge is simple. If you're challenged, you have 24 hours to either dump a bucket of ice water on your head (or in this case, jump into the cold tub) or donate money to research to help cure ALS. Or, theoretically, do both.
Many NFL players and celebrities have participated in the cause, including commissioner Roger Goodell and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, along with many other people who have been posting videos on Facebook and Instagram.
Through two weeks of training camp, though, Stafford has not shown many issues. Anything positive that happens for the Detroit Lions this season will start with the improvement of Stafford, who needed to show better decision-making and efficiency in practice and in games.
So far, not bad. He has not thrown an interception during any serious team or seven-on-seven periods in the first two weeks of training camp.
“I’m being coached differently,” Stafford said. “Our drops are different. Our reads are different. Our plays are totally different. It was kind of nice to scrap everything and start from the new way they wanted me to do it.
“I tried to embrace myself in that as hard as I possibly can and it’s been fun.”
That Stafford has shown this already -- along with strong rapport with receivers Golden Tate and Kevin Ogletree to go with Calvin Johnson -- is a massive positive for the Lions as they search for offensive efficiency.
Both Stafford and his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, understand that pressure is on Stafford every play in practice. So far, he’s handled it.
“That’s the quarterback position,” Lombardi said. “All of the pressure is always going to be on him [Stafford]. Like all competitive people, and he’s a highly competitive guy, they put more pressure on themselves than anyone else does.
It also needs to continue as Stafford continues to learn the offense.
Three reasons for optimism:
- This team appears to truly believe in Jim Caldwell, at least for now. Yes, it is easy to speak positively of a new regime before a regular-season game has been played, but the players are buying into his focus on efficiency. From his elimination of stretching periods in practice to his promise that he’ll treat every player equally, the Lions have been appreciative of Caldwell's approach compared to the previous regime under Jim Schwartz. Accountability has been a big focus for Caldwell, and so far it has worked.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Carlos OsorioPlayers are buying into new coach Jim Caldwell's focus on efficiency.
- Megatron. It might sound simplistic, but if this team has a healthy Johnson, that is a massive reason for optimism because of what he is able to do to opposing defenses. Johnson has looked impressive through the first two weeks of camp, making jaw-dropping plays essentially every day. This is typical for Johnson, who has been doing that since his freshman year at Georgia Tech in 2004. But Johnson looks healed from his offseason knee and finger surgeries, and the Lions are being smart with his repetitions during practice. As long as Johnson is healthy, Detroit can feel good about its passing game.
- Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have been dominant. Both entered camp in great shape and are playing for future contracts this season. If the Lions receive first-round efforts from both Suh (expected) and Fairley (questionable) in 2014, Detroit could have the dominant defensive front it has sought since it drafted them in back-to-back first rounds.
- If Stafford gets hurt, the Lions are in major trouble. Yes, many teams can say that about their starting quarterback, but in previous years Shaun Hill gave Detroit a level of confidence that it could remain competitive if Stafford were to go down. So far, No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky has looked somewhat rough both in practice and in one preseason game. Kellen Moore showed some flashes of potential in the preseason opener, but he was mostly facing players who won’t make Cleveland’s 53-man roster. More than any other season, Stafford’s health is of supreme importance right now.
- The secondary is still questionable. The Lions are set with their starters here, but the depth is still up in the air at both cornerback and safety. Beyond Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay -- and even with them -- the Lions have no sure things at cornerback and in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, that is not good for Detroit. Safety appears to be a little stronger both in starters (Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo) and also depth (Don Carey, DeJon Gomes, Isa Abdul-Quddus) but lacks a top-end playmaker.[+] EnlargeLeon Halip/Getty ImagesA lot of the Lions' success in 2014 will depend on how well Matthew Stafford picks up the new offense and if he can stay healthy.
- The offense has still looked a little shaky. Stafford has practiced well, especially with Johnson, but the defense has looked stronger than the offense on multiple occasions. There is still a large learning curve, but considering what the Lions have put into their offense in the offseason, that might not bode well for a team trying to score points in bunches. Part of the issue might come from Detroit’s multiplicity offensively, with players lining up in different spots on almost every play. Early on the defense has looked stronger.
- Detroit has stayed mostly healthy through the first two weeks of camp. Part of that might have to do with the way Detroit has practiced this summer -- short, efficient, smart splitting of reps and days off for veterans. So far, Caldwell has taken care of his players.
- Eric Ebron is coming along. He had a rough first week of camp, dropping passes and looking lost at times. Since then, the first-round pick has been much better both with ball security and route running. He has probably the most challenging camp of any player on the team as he’s a rookie and lining up in four different spots within the Lions offense. He is making progress.
- The kicking situation has the potential to be a mess and, at best, an untested situation. Neither Nate Freese nor Giorgio Tavecchio has kicked in a regular-season game. Freese is a rookie and Tavecchio has been cut the past two camps. Both have looked decent-to-good in practice thus far, but it’ll be interesting to see how much the Lions trust an inexperienced kicker the first time the game is on the line. Punter Sam Martin has been impeccable at camp, though, and looks to have improved from his strong rookie performance.
Coaches will begin to have answers on who plays well during games. Players might get a better feel for their positioning on the roster. Fans will get to see football again.
And as always, there are questions. So here are some from this week in this edition of Lions Mailbag. To ask questions, either use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, on to this week's queries:
Are the chances looking up for Kellen Moore after Dan Orlovskys bad showing this week? #LionsMailbag— Duncan Yager (@midwestmetsfan) August 7, 2014
@mikerothstein: In a word, no. Yes, Dan Orlovsky had an atrocious practice Wednesday night at Ford Field, but that will happen from time to time. For instance, there were practices during the spring where Calvin Johnson looked less than optimal. In Orlovsky's case, it just happened in public. Orlovsky is still the better option than Kellen Moore and will remain so. He has the experience Jim Caldwell and his staff covet as a backup. There's a reason general manager Martin Mayhew didn't really see Moore as a legit No. 2 quarterback option during the offseason -- it's because his game doesn't really translate that well to the NFL. At this point, I'd still take Orlovsky over Moore to win a game and that's the point of all this.
Anyone look good to take kick returns if Ross gets hurt? The more Golden Tate can focus on being the #2 WR the better. #LionsMailbag— Mark (@StruttingStar) August 7, 2014
@mikerothstein: The short answer is if Jeremy Ross were to go down, the Lions would likely look to Golden Tate in the short term to do the job, at least on punts. Depending on how he ends up being used in the offense and how much Theo Riddick can handle as a backup, Reggie Bush would be an intriguing option at punt returns. When it comes to kick returns, Riddick would be a candidate. So would Ryan Broyles, if he ends up making the roster. Kevin Ogletree could handle the role as well. But the first option after Ross would likely be Tate.
@mikerothstein: Yes, Cindy, Gunther Cunningham is still a constant presence at practice and still dresses the same with his black attire. He's not coaching, obviously, but his opinion is still worthwhile. He's a strong evaluater of talent and has always been a good game planner so he's being used that way as a senior coaching assistant. The man has a wealth of knowledge about the game so having him around can only be beneficial.
@mikerothstein: He's been fine. He has had a couple of really good days, but other than that blends in with the rest of the second- and third-teamers on defense and special teams. I'd be curious to see what happens during games, because cornerback is clearly a position that is unsettled on the back end of the Lions' roster. Right now he feels like a better candidate for the practice squad to see what happens in a year or two. His combination of height, weight and hitting is pretty impressive, though.
@mikerothstein: They've been positive about what Matthew Stafford has been doing so far and Stafford appeared comfortable with how things have been going when he spoke Friday as well. He said he's being coached a lot differently now than he was in the previous regime, and that goes beyond learning a new scheme and terms. It extends to his footwork and what he's being asked to do. I've said this pretty consistently -- there could be some rough patches early for him, but by the end of September it will be obvious whether the approach of the new staff is working.
Fritz in Eugene, Oregon asks: Is coach Caldwell doing anything different with the Lions than he did with the Colts when he was their Head Coach? If so, what are the differences? If not, why are the Lions going to do better than the Colts did under his tutelage?
@mikerothstein: That's tough to answer because I have never covered the Colts, but I'll answer your last question -- if you're the Lions, you'd take Caldwell's first two seasons as a head coach. Indianapolis won divisional titles in 2007 and 2008 and reached the Super Bowl in Caldwell's first season. Considering the Lions have never made the Super Bowl and have not won the NFC North with this current grouping of teams, that wouldn't be a bad way to begin. The biggest difference I've noticed -- and from what players have said -- is the efficiency in practices. Everything is fast and has a purpose and Detroit is hoping it translates to a similar style on the field.
Detroit’s claiming of former first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin didn’t quite work out as the team waived the wide receiver Wednesday after he failed a physical. While the Lions didn’t rule out looking at him again once he gets healthy, it does give them some options to make an immediate move to the roster.
And Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn’t give much indication what the team plans on doing with it, only saying there are a couple of positions where the Lions need more depth.
“That’s always a big thing,” Caldwell said. “How much wear and tear a position is taking on, we have to consider those things. If it gets thin, we certainly have to bolster it to make sure we have enough guys to go in to keep us from having to maybe put a little bit more heavy lifting on one of the guys that we certainly know are going to play for us quite a bit.”
For much of the late offseason and beginning of camp, the Lions appeared focused on adding to their receiver corps, first with Reese Wiggins (now released) and then with Quintin Payton and for a day, Baldwin.
Caldwell wouldn’t say the team is still in the market for a receiver behind Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and, theoretically, Kevin Ogletree, but the moves Detroit has made suggest that.
“We have a good nucleus of guys,” Caldwell said. “But what we do with that spot depends on our needs and we just have to make certain that we stay vigilant.”
Receiver is certainly one spot that will get a look. Among the others might be cornerback and tight end. Cornerback has been an issue when it comes to talent since the end of last season and the Lions have not made many moves there. Tight end might be the thinnest position on the roster right now, and Eric Ebron sat out Wednesday night’s practice for undisclosed reasons, leaving the team with four tight ends for at least one night.
Those might be two spots other than receiver to look at as the Lions make a decision on where they want to go to get back up to 90 players.
Last season's Questions of the Week.
This season: Rookie nerves; Exciting offseason activities.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Most football players understand their careers are going to be short. Time playing professional football is finite for everyone -- and for most, the time in the NFL ends up being a short but notable blip on the entirety of their lives.
In two weeks, some of the players on the Lions could be out of football for good and in 10 years, most of Detroit's current players won't be in the league anymore. That begged this question somewhat early this season: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What will you be doing?
Here, as always, are answers from Lions players:
Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree: "July 31, 2024? I'd be 36 and 360 days. Maybe on the other side of these shoulder pads, maybe I'm interviewing one of these lucky guys, like you, man. You never know, man. I don't have a 10-year plan. I have more of a five-year one. But 10 years sounds like far from now. Hopefully I'm on some golf course hitting some good balls."
Cornerback Mohammed Seisay: "I see myself retiring. Hopefully just coaching, perhaps. Enjoying life. Living on the west coast, that beautiful weather. That's my idea."
Safety James Ihedigbo: "Wow, that's tough. Working in commercial real estate in Houston as a real estate investor. I have a passion for it. I really like it. I live in Houston. It's a city that's growing."
Reporter: How'd you get into that?
Ihedigbo: "Just a mutual friend and I really liked it. Really liked how the business works. All of that."
Cornerback Darius Slay: "I see myself, man, just being the best I can be. Reaching my potential and make sure giving it my all. And be the best father I can possibly be."
Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle: "Hopefully still playing. That's the plan. I would like to be still playing."
Right tackle Corey Hilliard: "Ooh, man. Might be having a hip replacement or knee replacement. [Joking]. Hopefully I have some type of business going on. Hopefully I have a job and let's see in about 10 years, my daughter will be about 15 so hopefully I'm going to a lot of her games or whatever she's into. My son will be 12 so hopefully I'll be with what he's doing."
Safety Glover Quin: "Haaa, definitely not playing football. Oh man, I don't know, man. This time of year, I might be on vacation this time of year just because I can. Ten years from now I might be at the Olympics or something this time of year. Definitely not playing football. I'm enjoying my life."
Safety Don Carey: "Oh bro, somewhere pastoring or teaching some Bible study or doing some missionary work out some place. Raising my kids, be that guy. Have a couple businesses, employing at least 60 people by that time. Hopefully, I'm that guy."
Fullback Jed Collins:: "Well, in the offseason I've been getting my certification in financial planning so getting released early on you realize you always have to set up a Plan B. So something in the financial industry, use my accounting background. Use that certification when I need it. Hopefully 10 years down the road I'm enjoying a few children with my life and looking back on my glory years with a smile."
Baldwin was mostly unproductive with the Chiefs, was traded to San Francisco and was ineffective there as well, catching three passes all of last season before being cut Sunday. The Lions saw him on the waiver wire and made the claim, clearly hoping to rehabilitate a career that had a lot of promise when he left Pittsburgh after the 2010 season to enter the draft.
He's an impressive looking athlete who hasn’t been able to match the production he was drafted to provide.
The Lions are always on the search for tall wide receivers, hoping the work ethic and professionalism Calvin Johnson provides can potentially rub off on one of them. In Baldwin, they have a receiver who has a similar build to Johnson at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds.
His college career showed there was talent to match that frame. If the Lions are able to find the right way to motivate Baldwin, then he could end up being a steal who could sneak in and swipe a roster spot away from one of the players competing for those roles now: Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Corey Fuller, Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross.
If not, then it might have still been worth a shot despite the data presented about his prior production in Kansas City and San Francisco. For a back end of the roster player, it can’t hurt to take a peek and see if they can change the path of Baldwin’s career.
As long as there is talent and someone who at least minimally believes, a player will get a chance in the NFL. Whether this is the spot where Baldwin flourishes or if it is another opportunity that eventually falls away will all depend on the next few weeks.
So he knows his conditioning is critical, both in practices during training camp and late in games during the regular season. So he goes on a quick run, 10 minutes on the treadmill and trying to reach around a mile-and-a-half.
“You can get really far if you’re in better condition than the guy across from you on third down, you know,” Ogletree said. “Two minute drive, late in the game, if you’re feeling better, if your legs are fresher, blood vessels are opened up a little bit more, you train for that.”
The training has worked early on. Ogletree has been one of the standouts of the first few days of training camp. He has consistently been with the first group along with Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson, potentially giving him the inside track to not only a spot on the roster, but a decent role in an offense that should have a lot of passes to go around.
Ogletree caught the attention of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi early during spring workouts, but then the St. Albans, New York, native had an impacted wisdom tooth requiring surgery. The tooth was deep enough that Ogletree had all four wisdom teeth removed, forcing him to miss a week as he was starting to make an impact
Placing himself in position for a role was part of his decision to return to Detroit in the first place. He and re-signing running back Joique Bell were the only deals the Lions made on the first day of free agency, the day before the team signed wide receiver Golden Tate.
Coming back to the Lions, which picked him up after Tampa Bay released him in the middle of last season, was a priority.
“I knew that this was a place that a receiver would beg to be at with Matthew (Stafford) and the rest of the guys we have on offense,” Ogletree said. “Just to have a role on this offense would be the best thing I could ask for.”
Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who places an emphasis on sure-handed receivers, seems impressed with him early and confident enough to move the 6-foot-1 Ogletree both inside to the slot and outside. In his career, Ogletree has a decent drop rate, dropping only 4.3 percent of his targets. That career number is the same as the NFL average in 2013.
How he runs his routes has also caught the eye of coaches and Johnson, who specifically mentioned how smooth Ogletree’s routes are.
“Really has a good understanding of the position,” Caldwell said. “Works at it. Quiet. Hardly says a word, but I really like what we’ve seen from him thus far. He’s been catching the ball consistently, so we anticipate that’s going to carry over.”
If it does carry over, that could put Ogletree in a good position in a tight position battle.
“There’s no animosity toward one another. I’m encouraging Corey (Fuller),” said Kris Durham, one of the receivers he is competing with. “I’m trying to help him get right. Same with Kevin to me and Corey to Kevin. We all want to help each other because we want to become the best player we can to help this team win.”
So how does Ogletree plan to beat the rest of the competition for a job? He won’t let on. Just watch him, he says.
“I’ll show you,” Ogletree said. “I’ll show you.”
- One of the players making a big early impression in a position of competition is wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tucked in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller for receiving spots behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ogletree has spent time with the top unit both days as the No. 3 receiver. This comes on top of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out during the spring as someone who impressed him. Ogletree has speed as well as the ability to make catches both over the middle and the sideline. Johnson, meanwhile, called Ogletree “smooth” when discussing him Tuesday.
- An interesting thing occurred during individual periods Tuesday. Instead of working on their own, the Lions split their tight ends up between the offensive line and with the pass-catching receivers and running backs catching passes. So Brandon Pettigrew, for instance, was working with the line blocking while Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were catching passes. This, Pettigrew said, was different than how the Lions operated under former coach Jim Schwartz.“We rotate and go down there during periods,” Pettigrew said. “We have five guys here, why not split it up and have some guys down there and some guys down here.” Pettigrew sees this as not only helping his blocking fundamentals, but an aid to Ebron and Fauria as well.
- It’s early, but the kicking situation is going to be something to watch. Detroit hasn’t done many pressure field-goal situations over the first two days, but the Lions did have both Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio attempt a 49-yard field goal under pressure in the final moments of practice. It did not end well and went counter to their supposed strengths. Freese had the distance but missed wide left. Tavecchio was right on line -- but about a yard or so short. It’s only one day, but this is going to be a major thing to pay attention to throughout the next few weeks.
- It would appear the Lions are going to give both Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle an equal shot at right tackle. Hilliard worked with the first team during the first practice Monday and Waddle received the first-team snaps Tuesday. We’ll have more on the offensive line Wednesday, but this appears to be the one true spot up for grabs on what is otherwise a fairly strong front five.
- The Lions have managed to have fairly short practices the first two days, wrapping up in well under two hours. Some of it might come from the team still practicing without pads, but Lions safety Glover Quin explained the reason for the shorter practices is kind of simple: The team has plays they want to run through and things they need to accomplish. If they limit mistakes and run through the plays at a good pace, they finish quicker. It’s a long way from the marathon practices of the past, although practices should get longer once the team goes into pads.
- Ownership made its first public appearance at camp Tuesday as Martha Ford, the wife of the late William Clay Ford Sr., attended practice. Ford gained controlling interest in the team after her husband’s death in the offseason. Also visiting practice Tuesday were some of Michigan State’s football coaches, although head coach Mark Dantonio was not spotted, as he was in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
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:
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.
With that comes the return of the Lions Mailbag. To submit questions for the Mailbag, either use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email email@example.com.
Now, on to your questions.
@mikerothstein: That's an interesting question because the front end of the roster, barring injury, has a good feeling of being set. So most of the competition will come for those last 10-15 spots on the roster and could be heavily focused on special teams. That said, these would be the five off-the-radar types of players I'd focus on in the first few weeks:
OG Garrett Reynolds: He has experience and while he likely wouldn't supplant Rob Sims or Larry Warford as a starter, he could end up pushing Rodney Austin for a role as a reserve interior lineman. Considering what the team invested in Travis Swanson, it could be Austin vs. Reynolds for a spot.
WR Kevin Ogletree: He was on the roster last season, but has not been talked about much so far before camp. He'll be in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Corey Fuller and others but he has the speed and skills to make the team ahead of both of them. It might not be fair to call him a sleeper, though.
QB James Franklin: This will depend on whether the Lions keep three quarterbacks. If they do, Franklin has a good shot of making the roster.
CB Mohammed Seisay: This is a deep sleeper and he is probably more of a practice squad candidate but if he can impress on special teams and show some improvement as a corner throughout camp he might be intriguing enough to keep as a fifth or sixth corner. Same with Jerome Couplin III and the safeties.
@mikerothstein: This is somewhat complicated. I'd eliminate Larry Warford pretty quick from this conversation unless Dominic Raiola gets hurt or has a dramatic dip in his performance. Warford is consistent and should actually improve. If you're talking purely statistically, it'll probably be Joseph Fauria through no fault of his own. It is just difficult to see a scenario where he receives that many targets with the addition of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate. I'd be somewhat concerned about Ezekiel Ansah, though, since he didn't practice at all this spring and is on active PUP to start training camp. He should have more opportunities but I'd be worried about his durability right now.
@mikerothstein: A chance? Sure. There's a chance. The problem is this: Unlike baseball and basketball, an NFL team isn't going to have the room to pick up Suh's massive cap number in-season unless they give up a lot. And even then, they'd need a guarantee Suh will re-sign with them after the season. If you're an NFL team, why risk that? I wouldn't.
@mikerothstein Who do you think will make the practice squad?— Jamie Johnson (@TripleOGJamie) July 25, 2014
@mikerothstein: A couple of the guys I think end up on the practice squad are listed above and not much has changed in my thinking from June, the last time I predicted a roster and practice squad. That said -- changes will likely happen pretty furiously over the next 7-10 days. But as of now, I am focusing on Franklin, fullback Chad Abram, wide receiver Corey Fuller, offensive lineman Alex Bullard, defensive tackle Xavier Proctor, linebacker Brandon Hepburn, Seisay and Couplin III. It would not shock me if three or four of these players end up on the 53-man roster and if three or four end up being released.
@mikerothstein: The open/closed system is not new or revolutionary. Essentially, it means the closed end will line up on the side of the field with the tight end and the open end will not. A lot of teams use this style of designated ends, which is traditional. As far as what to expect -- based off who is lining up where (Ezekiel Ansah is an open end, for instance, and Jason Jones is a closed end), the open end should be the more dynamic pass-rusher and the closed end the better run defender.
Bad enough to have surgery, leading to his rehabilitation with Brian Tovin of the Sports Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta during his off time away from the Lions. Jones said he isn't 100 percent yet because he has yet to block or hit defenders.
"I'm feeling real good," Jones said outside the Lions facility before reporting for camp. "There's obviously things I haven't done yet, certain tests I haven't run on my shoulder so that's things we'll go over with the training staff and they'll kind of make the decision what I should do moving forward."
Jones isn't concerned, though, about the injury keeping him out for a long period of time. He said he'll leave it to the doctors as to a timeframe for him to begin practicing, whether it is right away or down the road.
The 6-foot, 188-pound receiver wants to return to the field because he wants to try and use training camp to prove he can play multiple roles in the offense, both in the slot and on the outside. Jones had 181 catches for 2,429 yards and 19 touchdowns at Notre Dame.
"I understand coming in it's the easiest to learn one," Jones said. "You don't want to get too much on your plate at first, but at the same time now it's training camp and I would like to kind of test my limits and see how much I can take in."
Before he can compete with Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham on the outside and Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross in the slot, he needs to be able to get on the field first.
When that happens, he's looking forward to being able to focus on football six days a week without the classes and other things associated with college.
"It's exciting. It's the next step. You dream about the days when you would get this opportunity," Jones said. "If it was seven days a week. If it was seven days a week, it's all we have now, there's no classes, there's no other distractions. Football is life if it wasn't before. It's definitely exciting and it's an opportunity."
Position: Wide receiver
Starters: Calvin Johnson/Golden Tate
Depth (in training camp): Jeremy Ross; Ryan Broyles; Kris Durham; T.J. Jones; Kevin Ogletree; Corey Fuller; Naaman Roosevelt; Andrew Peacock; Cody Wilson; Patrick Edwards.
Likely roster spots: 5-7.
What to expect in camp: Johnson is an automatic. He is typically one of the more well-conditioned athletes on the Lions and one of the most impressive athletes in the NFL. Tate figures to get a lot of reps early -- more than someone who has his position locked down. Similar to Joique Bell with the running backs, most of that will come because Tate missed a good portion of the spring with an injury.
After those two, expect a free-for-all for the remaining receiving spots. Ross should be on the team regardless as a returner but has been adamant he wants to turn into a reliable receiver as well. He should have a good shot to win the slot spot. Joining him there will be Broyles, who should be healthy again, and rookie Jones. They all have at least a decent shot at making the roster, especially since Ross can play outside as well if necessary.
The outside is where it could become interesting. Durham, Ogletree and Fuller will likely be playing for one spot -- maybe two depending on roster composition. Durham has more size. Ogletree has the most experience. Fuller has the speed but is still pretty raw. Another option for Detroit is to put Fuller on the practice squad again.
Other than that, the other receivers are long shots to make the roster.
What Detroit needs to see: Health. Over the past year, Johnson, Tate and Broyles have all had issues with injuries, although not all have had the same severity. Broyles is coming off his third straight season-ending injury. Johnson had two surgeries in the offseason, to fix his knee and a finger. Tate has the shoulder issue.
Don’t be surprised if Johnson’s workload in the preseason is similar to last season -- not much. He won’t need it to get into playing shape.
Other than health, Detroit should hope to see some sort of reliable option develop behind Johnson on the outside among Ross, Durham, Ogletree and Fuller. Considering the issues the Lions had when Johnson missed games last season, this is paramount. Adding Tate and tight end Eric Ebron should help. None of the players mentioned above can come close to replicating Johnson, but one of them needs to emerge as at least a decent option in case he or Tate miss any time.
What would be best for Detroit is if Ross can become similar to Jacoby Jones in role. If that happens, it could open up a roster spot the Lions could use elsewhere. This was an issue last season, when Micheal Spurlock took up a roster spot as essentially just a returner and gunner while being listed as a receiver as well.