Detroit Lions minicamp got underway on Tuesday, and it was the media’s second chance to see the team in action with no limitations. It was an opportunity for us to get to know the team a little better and learn about the intentions of head coach Matt Patricia in 2018. Here are five things we learned from Tuesday’s practice.
Frank Ragnow will play left guard in 2018
I realize I’m setting myself up for embarrassment here if this doesn’t end up being true, but let’s face the facts here. Through two weeks of OTAs and one minicamp practice, there has been literally zero evidence of Ragnow playing a single snap at center with the first-team offense.
I know we’re still incredibly early in offseason, and I know Patricia specifically said that no decision has been made on Ragnow’s position, but I just don’t believe him. On Tuesday, Ragnow played every single snap at left guard again, and there’s just no reason to believe the Lions would be doing that to him if the long-term plan this offseason was to put him at center.
Matt Patricia is bringing some new, interesting drills to Detroit
Back during OTAs, Lions media noticed a more up-tempo, no-time-wasted pace to practice. On Tuesday, Kyle Meinke of MLive noted an interesting new drill for the offensive and defensive linemen.
“Every practice seems to reveal a new drill or two in the Matt Patricia era. On Tuesday, the most interesting one occurred with the linemen,” Meinke wrote. “Offensive and defensive linemen would face each other gripping what looked a lot like a steering wheel. The drill seemed to be designed to work on hand placement and leverage.”
Sound weird to you? It looks even weirder.
The steering wheel drill. They just posted pictures on the app. pic.twitter.com/z0fK75jCAY— Sweta Patel (@sweta2311) June 5, 2018
The Lions were serious when they said they’re going to try players in multiple different roles
All offseason, the Lions have been drumming up this narrative that they’ll need versatility in all of their players. Rarely will there be a person who just plays one, traditional role with the team.
And so far, they’re living up to their word. Just look at some of these observations from Tuesday’s practice alone.
Alex Barrett still is listed as a defensive end on the Lions roster, but he worked out as a linebacker in individual drills Tuesday. At 6 feet 3 and 260 pounds, Barrett’s best fit in Patricia’s defense is probably as a linebacker.
It might have meant nothing, but defensive end Cornelius Washington worked briefly with the linebackers and defensive backs in a passing drill. And in an offensive drill, tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo lined up in the backfield.
From Chris Burke of The Athletic (subscription required):
However, on multiple occasions during pass-rush drills Tuesday, Kerry Hyder was lined up directly (or almost directly) over the ball, essentially as a nose tackle. He hasn’t played there for Detroit before, but it speaks to the flexibility he provides inside. If Patricia wants him as a standard end or tackle, he knows he can count on him there.
And then check out this enigmatic paragraph from Justin Rogers of The Detroit News:
While we’re prohibited from describing specifics, the Lions appear to be tinkering with the versatility wide receiver Jace Billingsley displayed in college. As a senior at Eastern Oregon he carried the ball 125 times and caught 59 passes. He’s shown intriguing elusiveness in space during the past two preseasons.
Rogers doesn’t straight out say it because of team restrictions, but he certainly seems to be implying that Billingsley carried the ball a couple times in practice.
There’s a real backup quarterback battle happening
During the open OTA practice, it was youngster Jake Rudock taking all of the second-team reps behind Matthew Stafford, and he actually looked pretty comfortable back there. However, on Tuesday it was a different story. Veteran Matt Cassel took over the second-team offense, while Rudock was relegated to third string.
At this point, it looks like we’re headed for everyone’s favorite camp battle that ultimately may not end up meaning much for the team: a backup quarterback battle.
Michael Roberts could be the breakout star of 2018
Roberts’ rookie season was undoubtedly a disappointment. The fourth-round pick was expected to eventually grow into the Lions’ No. 2 tight end and become a huge red zone threat by the end of last year. He ended up catching just four passes all season, and his season ended troublingly after being suspended by the team Week 17 for missing a team meeting.
But Roberts appears to be on the rebound in a big way. For the second straight open practice, the young tight end stood out among his competition.
“For the second time this offseason, tight end Michael Roberts has looked sharp as a receiving option,” Rogers wrote on Tuesday. “It’s obviously very early in the process, but he continues to strike me as a strong candidate for a breakout season.”
Roberts got rave reviews from the Detroit Free Press as well.
“Tight end Michael Roberts caught my eye a couple times Tuesday with receptions he made during seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills,” Birkett wrote. “On one play in team period, Roberts ran a drag across the middle and pulled away from DeShawn Shead when he caught a pass and turned upfield.”
Roberts will have stiff competition at the position with the Lions adding free agents Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, but the former Toledo Rocket is already starting to put some of those rookie doubts to bed.