Detroit Lions training camp is almost upon us. In fact, it starts Thursday when the Lions will welcome all their fans to come out to Allen Park on the 25th to watch the team get ready to play fake football in August.
This is one of my favorite times of year. It’s a time when players stuck at the bottom of NFL rosters either flourish and gain themselves a new role or fall apart and lose their spot to a young up and comer. This leads to by far my favorite part of camp. The battles.
Every year we get to watch two or even three guys battle it out for a spot on the roster or a starting role on the team. This year will be no different. Here are some of the biggest camp battles to keep your eye on during training camp.
Safety: Tracy Walker vs. Tavon Wilson vs. Andrew Adams
We know that Quandre Diggs is all set at one of the safety spots, but the Lions obviously have a big set of shoes to fill this summer since they have to replace Lions legend Glover Quin after the team and Glover mutually parted ways.
The early favorite is second-year man Tracy Walker. Tracy did some good stuff in very limited playing time in 2018. He played in just 267 defensive snaps last year (27 percent). The jury is really out on whether Walker is the player some think he could be.
Tavon Wilson, on the other hand, is something of a stalwart at the position. Outside of Diggs and Quinn last season, it was Wilson that handled the majority of snaps at the safety position for the Lions. It’s safe to assume that he’ll have an early edge on the competition for that reason alone, but he’ll have to answer for the dwindling numbers over the years and losing his spot to Quandre Diggs recently.
The real guy to look out for here is Andrew Adams. Andrew is coming off a pretty decent season with the Buccaneers last year in which he snatched four interceptions and held opposing quarterbacks in the NFC South to the lowest quarterback rating when targeted.
Bucs S Andrew Adams allowed the lowest passer rating when targeted among all NFC South defenders last season. pic.twitter.com/YCaXuuCQhE— PFF (@PFF) April 3, 2019
He’s a guy that could easily come in and snatch up this starting spot and never look back. One thing is for sure, this will be a fun battle and the worst case scenario is that the Lions have three guys in the positions that can all potentially start. That’s good for depth.
Theo Riddick vs. Ty Johnson
I went back and forth on whether or not to include Zach Zenner here, but the fact that the Lions made it a point to bring Zenner back, even if it is only for one year, makes me feel like his place is pretty much safe. We’ll see if I wind up wrong about this.
Meanwhile, I highly doubt the Lions plan to carry five running backs into the 2019 season. Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson aren’t going anywhere. So that leaves us with The Riddick and Ty Johnson.
Here’s the thing, this can easily be remedied by keeping Riddick on the roster and putting Johnson on the practice squad. That’s more than likely what will wind up happening.
But on the flip side of that coin, if Ty Johnson shows out in camp and preseason, he has a legitimate chance to crack the roster as a younger, cheaper option. You have to believe that the rookie is going to bring it in camp to try to prove himself.
But where Johnson is going to struggle is where he’d have to replace Theo’s ability in the passing game. It wasn’t long ago that Theo was the best receiving running back in the game. He’s since cooled off quite a bit, but Theo is still just 28 years old. I sincerely doubt that his time is up.
But if Riddick’s struggles carry over from last year, one has to wonder what he may get in the trade market.
Kenny Wiggins vs. Beau Benzschawel vs. Joe Dahl vs. Oday Aboushi
It’s been written a million times. The Lions really missed this offseason when it comes to replacing Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang. Now there are a million questions with no answers regarding the spot. Which brings us to these three guys. Though it looks like the plan is to move Graham Glasgow over to Lang’s side, there is still a massive hole now at left guard.
Right now it looks like Kenny Wiggins is the shoe in for the starting spot. That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for Lions fans after Wiggins struggled mightily in his first year in Detroit. Pro Football Focus graded him out at 54.8 for last season’s work.
The issue is Joe Dahl still hasn’t come along like many hoped he would when he was drafted in the fifth round in 2016. But our own Jeremy Reisman reported from OTAs that Dahl showed up bigger and stronger than ever before and could be ready to get his shot in the 2019 season.
Then there’s an interesting option in undrafted free agent Beau Benzschawel. While Benzschawel is something of a steal for the Lions, he’s probably a long shot to earn the starting role this early in his career. Still, this is a guy to watch at camp. I believe he will at least contend for a spot on the 53-man roster, and he just might get it.
Then there’s Lions free agent addition Oday Aboushi. He’s started at guard for all four teams that he’s played with since coming into the league in 2014, and he has a history with new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. One has to wonder why he hasn’t stuck around a team longer than his two-year stint in Houston. But Pro Football Focus seems to think he’s a superstar who had a breakout season in 2018. He is definitely the guy to watch in this battle.
Oday Aboushi fielded one of the league's top 20 pass-blocking grades down the stretch, breaking out for the Cardinals line pic.twitter.com/EJzN36Efgu— PFF (@PFF) March 5, 2019
Jermaine Kearse vs Tommylee Lewis vs Travis Fulgham
The Lions currently have a nice starting three receivers right now in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. But when it comes to that No. 4 guy, there are some questions. The Lions have 10 receivers that are all fighting for that spot right now, but only these three stand out.
Jermaine Kearse holds the lead on everyone right now. He’s showed up big in playoff games for the Seahawks and has, of course, played under Bevell. Naturally, it would seem like a forgone conclusion that this job is his.
Then there’s Tommylee Lewis, a guy that it seems almost everyone has forgotten about. I suppose it’s somewhat easy to do when you look at what Lewis has done in his time in the league, but this is a guy that’s hungry to prove himself. The hill he’ll have to climb up is that he’s only 5-foot-7, 168 pounds. That could limit his role to just a slot receiver, and we know how Matt Patricia likes his players versatile. Additionally, Lewis appears to be starting camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Unfortunately for him, he may not have the opportunity to prove himself early in camp.
Here’s the guy I have some excitement about: sixth-round pick Travis Fulgham. He’s another big-bodied receiver that could be a real red zone threat for the Lions in 2019. Unlike Lewis, Fulgham should definitely have a real shot to make the 53-man roster. This is the kind of player that might sneak up on you and have a breakout camp. I, for one, am hoping to see it.