After a month of practices without pads, the Detroit Lions players are off until training camp—over a month away. That will give those players time to spend with their families, time to absorb their playbook, and time to get their bodies right for the grueling six months of football ahead.
But before we get into all of that, let’s look back on the past month of practices. Here are four winners and two losers from Detroit Lions OTAs and minicamp.
Winner: T.J. Hockenson
The Lions’ first-round pick looked the part during the practices open to the media. The tight end was a constant target in red zone drills and I can only remember one or two drops during the entire month of practices. Though he spent much of his time working with the second-team offense, he didn’t look out of place at all during his reps with the starters.
The real test for Hockenson, however, will be when the pads come on. Will Hockenson be as proficient as a blocker?
Winner: Teez Tabor
Sure, the Tabor Hype Train died a little after two rough performances to finish out mandatory minicamp, but the Lions’ former second-round pick was considered a long-shot to even make Detroit’s roster prior to OTAs.
With Darius Slay holding out, Tabor stepped into a starting position and made enough plays to leave OTAs with a positive impression. No player nabbed more interceptions. No player had more pass breakups, and Tabor held onto a role with the first-team defense for the entirety of practices. That says something, considering Detroit was playing guys like Mike Ford ahead of him during the season last year.
I still think Tabor has an uphill battle to make the roster, but his chances certainly went up in my book after OTAs.
Loser: Lions WR depth
With Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay sidelined all month due to injuries, it was a perfect opportunity for some Lions receivers to make an impression and their case for the WR4 spot on the roster. Unfortunately, no one stepped up to the plate. The best performance of the Lions’ receiver depth came from Chris Lacy, but the 2018 undrafted product out of Oklahoma State suffered a lower-body injury in minicamp and did not return for the final week of practices. Another promising receiver, free agent signee Tommylee Lewis, also suffered an injury.
The rest of the crew—Andy Jones, Deontez Alexander, Travis Fulgham, Jonathan Duhart, and Brandon Powell among others—didn’t do nearly enough to justify a spot on the 53-man roster. As a result, the Lions added Jermaine Kearse late, and he projects to be the most-likely candidate to be WR4 right now.
Winner: Danny Amendola
Granted the Lions’ presumed starting nickel corner Justin Coleman sat out of team drills all month, Amendola looked like a men among boys out there. He has already developed a good chemistry with Matthew Stafford, and he looks like he has the short-area quickness that Detroit is seeking in a slot receiver.
Amendola’s passion for the game and impressive work ethic were on display, and his skillset looks perfect to develop into Stafford’s favorite security blanket. I’m not about to predict a 70-catch season from Amendola, but it wouldn’t surprise me if his 2019 output was closer to his last season with the Patriots (61 catches, 659 yards) than his 2018 season with the Dolphins (59 catches, 575 yards).
Winner: Joe Dahl
If I’m being completely honest, I thought Dahl’s Lions career was on life support. With three seasons of spot duty since being drafted in the fifth round, it seemed like the developmental project would never truly compete for a significant role on the offense.
However, Dahl’s versatility gives him an edge up on a lot of Detroit’s offensive line depth right now. During OTAs he literally played all three interior positions, and we know Dahl is also capable of playing tackle in a pinch.
And as OTAs and minicamp came to a close, Dahl actually got some significant reps with the first team, working as the starting left guard with Oday Aboushi at the other guard position. Over the course of the entire month of practices, he still took the majority of his snaps with the second-team offense, but at this point, Dahl moved from the roster bubble to a near roster lock. Obviously, things could change in a hurry once the pads come on.
Loser: Darius Slay, Damon Harrison Sr.
I’m not going to hate on either player here. I completely understand their reasoning for sitting out of OTAs and training camp, and I cannot say for certain that I wouldn’t have done the same had I been put in a similar situation.
However, I’m putting them as losers for a few reasons. First, they literally lost money this offseason. Both forfeited a $250,000 workout bonus this year and they are both subject to fines for missing mandatory minicamp. This was obviously a risk both feel is worth taking, but it is certainly risk.
Secondly, both missed out on a early opportunity to take a leadership role with the team. Detroit has rookies at both players’ positions that could use their mentoring. There is literally no better player in the NFL that Lions’ seventh-round pick PJ Johnson could learn from than Damon Harrison Sr. And Darius Slay would be a fine mentor for the likes of Amani Oruwariye.
If both show up for training camp, then we’ll quickly forget their absences this month, but them sitting out certainly didn’t do the team any favors.