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5 things to watch from Detroit Lions OTAs

The highly-anticipated offseason practices begin this week.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Minicamp Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first two phases of offseason workouts, we’ve learned next to nothing about this new Detroit Lions team under Matt Patricia. The media was essentially closed out from rookie minicamp, while all other workouts that were available to the public were so unrevealing that we’ve learned nothing new about the team.

However, that’s very likely to change this week. The Lions begin Phase 3 of offseason workouts this week, with organized team activities (OTAs) starting Monday and running through the next month or so. For the first time in the offseason, teams are permitted to run full team 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills during—although no pads and live contact are allowed.

Regardless, this will be the first time we get to see the entire team together doing team football drills. So we should get a significant amount of new information this week. With that in mind, here are five things to watch for during OTAs.

Who’s playing where?

Perhaps one of the most basic questions about this team is also one of the most crucial. There are several players on the team whose 2018 position is still, essentially, unknown.

It all starts with first-round pick Frank Ragnow. As mostly a center in college, many expect him to start right there in the middle. However, the Lions appeared to be grooming Graham Glasgow for that role over the past two years. At rookie minicamp, it appeared the Lions tried Ragnow out at both positions. Will that change now that he’ll be practicing aside Glasgow?

But he’s hardly the only one whose position is still undetermined. Rookie Tyrell Crosby faces a similar conundrum as Ragnow. Will he be a tackle or guard at the next level? Third-round pick Tracy Walker has an unclear role with the team in 2018, as well. And will this finally be the year that Miles Killebrew transitions into a linebacker? We may get an answer to those questions this week.

Matt Patricia’s defensive

While we’re unlikely to get many, if any, answers about what the Lions defense will look like in 2018, it will be the media’s first chance to see what is expected to be a huge change in defensive scheme.

Don’t expect to find out conclusively if the Lions are going to be a base 4-3 or 3-4 defense this week—especially since they’re not really expected to have a “base defense.” However, Matt Patricia’s specialty is his defense, and chances are good the media will pick up on some drastic differences from last year. Are the Lions going to practice multiple fronts during OTAs? Are there going to be new drills during practice that Lions players haven’t done before? We’ll see if Patricia tips his hand at all this week.

Lions rushing attack

We aren’t going to know if the Lions’ running attack is actually improved until well into the regular season, but this will be our first opportunity to see what it may look like in 2018. With a new offensive line coach in Jeff Davidson, a completely remodeled backfield and yet another addition to the offensive line, this unit is entering the season with some high expectations, despite the fact that Detroit finished last in rushing yards in 2017.

Keep an eye out to see not only if the Lions rushing attack looks any different in practice, but on who will be leading the charge. Will Ameer Abdullah start OTAs with the first-string offense or will they throw rookie Kerryon Johnson into the fire? How will LeGarrette Blount fit in to the equation? Will Theo Riddick get any meaningful reps during practice?

Free agent pickups

One of the players I am most interested to hear from is linebacker Devon Kennard, the team’s biggest free agency pickup this offseason. His role, at this point, is unclear. Will he play as a standard linebacker or will he put his hands in the dirt as an edge rusher? The answer could very well be either one (or both), but we won’t know until he finally takes the field.

Additionally, it’ll be interesting to see where guys like defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, Christian Jones and DeShawn Shead will fit in. Since these guys were brought in specifically to fit Matt Patricia’s defense, will they immediately jump to the front of depth chart, or will they get reps with the second and third team players, behind Lions veterans?

Backup quarterback battle

We’ll get into more positional battles later, but let’s kick it off with everyone’s favorite position to argue about: backup quarterback.

It was assumed that Jake Rudock would continue to hold the backup torch after the Lions moved on from Dan Orlovsky last year. However, Detroit signed veteran Matt Cassel this offseason, and he could very well end the Rudock era in Detroit. Patricia is obviously familiar (and potentially comfortable) with Cassel from his days in New England, and as a former starter he certainly brings a lot more experience to the position than Rudock.

Still, Cassel only has two starts in the past two years, and he hasn’t been very good since his early days in Kansas City way back in 2010. Rudock, on the other hand, still has potential to grow and, at least, has a couple years of practice under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to who wins the position battle this offseason, but this week we should see who enters OTAs as the favorite.