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.
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.
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.