Detroit Lions players report to camp on Saturday, setting the table for some actual Lions football next week. Over the past five days, we have dug through the roster to find the five most significant training camp battles during the preseason. Here’s a recap:
- Training camp battle No. 5 - Kick/Punt returner
- Training camp battle No. 4 - Strong safety
- Training camp battle No. 3 - Nickelback
- Training camp battle No. 2 - Left defensive end
Our final—and most important—camp battle is a competition that we didn’t even expect to see a few months ago. However, when Taylor Decker suddenly went down with a shoulder injury during organized team activities, Detroit scrambled to find a replacement. Therefore the most important camp battle of 2017 is...
Detroit Lions camp battle No. 1 - Left tackle
The case for Greg Robinson
After Decker went down, the Lions fumbled around with their in-house replacement options for a couple weeks. Then, as minicamp came to a close, the Lions made a decision: they needed some competition. So Bob Quinn made a pretty aggressive move, trading a sixth-round pick to the Rams for Greg Robinson. Though the trade didn’t cost the Lions much in terms of draft capital, it will cost the team significant cap space. Whether Robinson makes the team or not, the Lions are on the hook for $3.32 million.
Even though Robinson, a former second overall pick, was a disaster in St. Louis/Los Angeles, he is a better scheme fit in Detroit. Former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz has been especially optimistic about Robinson’s new home with the Lions.
“The Lions should be able to maximize his abilities and not feel the pain of losing Decker as much,” Schwartz wrote back in June. “The Lions offensive line philosophy is simple and precise. There aren’t lots of drills, and the drills they do have are concise with a purpose. In my best season, 2013 in Kansas City, I played under the same system. I can’t rave about it enough. There is no overcoaching; no useless techniques taught. This will all benefit Robinson in the both the run and pass game.”
The Lions are financially invested in Robinson and he has the opportunity to start with a clean slate in Detroit. That makes him the leading candidate for the job.
The case for Cyrus Kouandjio
Kouandjio has had a similarly disappointing NFL career thus far. He wasn’t drafted in the first round like Robinson, but he did go 44th overall. Kouandjio’s career never really took off with the team that drafted him: the Buffalo Bills. He failed to win a starting job at either right or left tackle in his rookie year, and spent the following two season mostly as a backup.
But there has been some mild hope for Kouandjio, thanks to a surprisingly decent 2016 season. He filled in at left tackle for five starts last season, and ended up grading as the best backup tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus:
Cyrus Kouandjio visited the Lions today. He impressed as a reserve in 2016. pic.twitter.com/kQ68HIclAq— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 7, 2017
But before Kouandjio can make his play for the starting left tackle job, he needs to get on the field. Tuesday, the Lions placed him on the NFI list. Kouandjio had surgery back in January after a fall at home left him with a serious hip injury. The Lions obviously knew about this when they signed him in June, so they must think he’ll heal up soon enough.
The case for Corey Robinson
Like Kouandjio, a case cannot be made for Corey Robinson until he gets back on the field. Robinson is currently on the PUP list for a foot injury he suffered in the season finale against the Green Bay Packers.
But if he can make it back from injury, there is reason for hope with Robinson. He’s still very young (25), and the Lions had enough confidence in him to fill in for Riley Reiff at right tackle last year.
Robinson’s play hasn’t exactly been stellar, but he’s had a few years in this offense, the coaches have shown a small amount of trust in him, and he still has room to grow. Now he just needs to be healthy enough to earn some reps.
The case for Joe Dahl
When Decker first went down with the injury, Dahl was the first player the Lions turned to. Dahl took first-team reps at left tackle throughout minicamp (Cornelius Lucas took some reps, too), to mixed reviews.
Dahl played left tackle for Washington State for his final two seasons there. However, Washington State’s offense was not nearly as complex as an NFL offense, and therefore, it has been a steep learning curve for Dahl.
While Detroit must like Dahl’s versatility, it doesn’t really sound like he’s in the mix anymore, now that Detroit brought in more competition. Head coach Jim Caldwell didn’t sound like he planned on keep Dahl at guard when he was asked at the end of minicamp. “Obviously, some things will change in that regard,” he said.
Cornelius Lucas - Lucas has one thing in his favor: health. But all you need to know about Lucas’ chances to win the job is that he was losing reps to a second-year guard, and after a few weeks, Detroit decided to add two pure left tackles to the roster. Lucas is beyond a longshot to win this job.
Who has the advantage going into training camp?
Without a doubt, it’s Greg Robinson. But while Ty Schalter of Lions Wire thinks the competition may already be over, I’m not as convinced.
Like I said earlier, there would be no point in adding Kouandjio if the Lions didn’t think his hip would be healed soon. He may start training camp on the NFI list, but I don’t expect him to be there long. And once he’s back on the practice field, it’s game on.
Who will start the season as the Lions’ left tackle?
This poll is closed