The Detroit Lions 2018 training camp has ended, and although head coach Matt Patricia says that doesn’t change much in terms of the day-to-day schedule for the team during the preseason, it does mark the end of our daily observations from the team. So let’s reflect on the past three weeks and see what, if anything we’ve learned about the team.
Here are 10 things I think I’ve learned over the course of over a dozen practices and two preseason games.
1. We may have been a little hasty in crowning the offensive line
This has to be the biggest takeaway from camp this year. Though we have yet to see much of the presumed starting offensive line working together thanks to injuries to T.J. Lang and Graham Glasgow, it’s become abundantly clear that the Lions’ depth isn’t even what we expected it to be.
Adding Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson was supposed to add both youth and experience to an offensive line unit that lacked anything resembling depth in 2017. With injuries already taking a toll on the offensive line again, Detroit’s depth has been tested and it has looked awful through all of August.
2. Marvin Jones Jr. could be even better than last season
Last year, Marvin Jones pulled in 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns, which were easily career highs in the 28-year-old’s career. Based on his play this training camp, he could push those numbers even further this season.
Jones has easily been the Lions’ best receiver in camp, and in a way, he’s slowed the Kenny Golladay hype train a bit. While Golladay is expected to make a jump from Year 1 to Year 2, I think Jones could make a serious run at being considered a top 10 receiver after watching him in camp this year. After all, he had the ninth-most receiving yards last year.
3. The Lions’ backfield is more talented than it has been in a long time
If there is one position that has lived up to the offseason hype, it’s running back. Rookie Kerryon Johnson has shined throughout all of camp and into the first preseason game. Theo Riddick continues to display his value as a receiver and pass blocker. Ameer Abdullah flashed his speed and explosiveness in the first preseason game. And we saw LeGarrette Blount blow through some poor run blocking late against the New York Giants.
It’s a versatile group, and each player brings a unique set of tools to the table. If the offensive line can get their act together this year, this set of players could be really exciting to watch in 2018.
4A. A’Shawn Robinson’s trajectory may not be headed up
A’Shawn Robinson went from clear starter to rotational player to potential roster bubble player. Robinson was playing well into the fourth quarter of Friday’s game against the Giants, and while you don’t want to read too much into that, Robinson’s performance has justified some late-game appearances.
He was immediately usurped by Ricky Jean Francois, and while I doubt Robinson’s place on the roster is in danger, that has to be considered a huge disappointment for a second-round pick in his third year.
4B: Ricky Jean Francois was a hugely underrated signing
Not only has Francois jumped into the starting lineup already, but he has been seen on a near-daily basis coaching up his teammates on form and technique. With young guys like Robinson and Da’Shawn Hand littered across the defensive front, Francois’ addition could pay dividends in the future.
5. Frank Ragnow was probably the right pick
On the other end of the Bob Quinn draft pick spectrum, his selection of Frank Ragnow with the 20th overall pick continues to look better and better as each day goes on. He hasn’t been perfect—what rookie is?—but he has been not only one of the most consistent offensive linemen, but one of the most consistent players in that entire locker room.
6. The Lions need a new backup quarterback in 2019
You’ve heard it and seen it by now, the Lions’ backup quarterback situation is a mess. Jake Rudock seems to have reverted to his scared, check-down form we saw his rookie year. Matt Cassel is just not the answer this late in his career.
The Lions may get away with riding one of those players for the 2018 season, but Detroit needs a long-term quarterback that can step in if the worst happens to Matthew Stafford. They don’t need to do something drastic this year, but drafting a passer in the fourth round next year shouldn’t be out of the question.
7. Devon Kennard is going to be a key piece to the defense
We’ve only seen Kennard for about half of camp thus far, since he started the month on the Non-Football Injury list. However, it’s clear the Lions have big plans for him.
Throughout camp, I saw both Matt Patricia and and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni pull Kennard aside and work with him individually. And we’ve seen Kennard put in several different situations in his limited work. Though mostly he’s been used as an edge pass rusher, he’s getting a fair amount of reps as a coverage linebacker and Detroit isn’t afraid to throw him in there on obvious running downs.
8. There is reason to be concerned about Jarrad Davis
It’s not time to call it a career on the Lions’ 2017 first-round pick, but there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical about his development.
Davis has shined as a run defender both in camp and the preseason, but we already knew that much about him. The real concern has always been his coverage ability. It’s why the Lions took him off the field in third down situations last year, and it’s why the Lions should be worried headed into 2018.
Davis’ blown coverage against the Giants obviously got a lot of play among the Lions fanbase, but this has been a consistent struggle throughout training camp. I spent a lot of time over the past three weeks watching Davis and the linebacking crew try to cover running backs and tight ends, and Davis stands out as one of the most consistently bad players in coverage.
Remember, Davis is a guy the Lions aren’t planning on taking off the field very much at all this year. This is a passing league first, and because Davis doesn’t bring much in terms of pass rush either, he better show some improvement in his coverage game quick.
9. Don’t expect a ton from Lions tight ends this year
For the past four years, the Detroit Lions tried like hell to make Eric Ebron an integral part of their offense. Each year, Ebron saw more targets than the year prior.
But now with Ebron gone to Indianapolis, the Lions may not be relying on the tight end position so heavily in the passing game. Through three weeks of practices and games, none of the expected top three tight ends have emerged as consistent receiving threats.
If the hopes were that Michael Roberts or Luke Willson would become a bonafide starter capable of pulling in 50 catches a season, expectations were probably too high to begin with. But it would surprise me to see any of these guys pull in over 35 receptions this year, and that include Hakeem Valles.
10. The Lions kickoff returner camp battle is far from over
Jamal Agnew? Ameer Abdullah? Kerryon Johnson? Teo Redding? Brandon Powell?
The Lions have had Ameer Abdullah listed as their first-string kick returner on their unofficial depth chart for three weeks running, and the fourth-year running back has been getting those opportunities in preseason, but he has not looked very good in the role thus far.
Detroit has given just about everyone a chance at this role this offseason and there isn’t a standout among them. While Teo Redding and Brandon Powell have probably looked the most consistent at the position, it’s not clear whether they bring enough to the table to warrant a roster spot. And we really can’t get a handle on this camp battle considering it’s still unclear how the new kickoff rules will change the position.