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Training camp preview: 10 biggest questions facing the Detroit Lions

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We want answers.

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

It’s clear around the nation that there aren’t a lot of believers in the 2019 Detroit Lions. From 3-13 predictions to incredibly low Vegas odds, the Lions just aren’t expected to do very well by most people outside of Detroit.

But inside Detroit, there’s a certain expectation. Most see this roster as improved from last year, a year in which they won six games. Considering they were coming off back-to-back 9-7 seasons prior to the hiring of Matt Patricia, Lions fans are hoping they at least raise the bar back to that level this year.

However, there are legitimate questions about this team as they open training camp on Thursday morning. Here are the top 10 questions the team must answer.

1. Can Kerryon Johnson play a full 16 games?

If Johnson’s rookie season was any indication, his NFL career has the potential to be extremely bright. 5.4 yards per carry and six rushes of 20+ yards in 2018 is just about as optimistic of a result as one could have predicted.

However, the only red flag on Johnson coming out of college was his injury history. And, unfortunately, Johnson suffered a season-ending injury in mid-November.

Injuries can be random in the NFL, but with a certain body type and playing style, certain players can be more vulnerable. Johnson needs to prove he doesn’t fall into that category.

2. Will the Lions’ secondary actually live up to its billing?

At about this time last year, fans and local analysts were hyping up the Lions’ secondary. With Quandre Diggs coming into his own, Glover Quin still playing at a high level, Darius Slay coming off his first Pro Bowl year, and hope still lingering for Teez Tabor, Detroit appeared to have a competent defensive backfield.

Unfortunately, they never lived up to it... at all. The Lions finished 30th in passer rating and 27th in yards per attempt allowed.

Now the Lions come in with similar high expectations. They have a shiny new nickel corner, yet another third-round safety, and gone is Nevin Lawson in favor of Rashaan Melvin, a once-promising corner who is coming off a down year. There’s even some Teez Tabor hype again.

With an improved defensive front, can the Lions secondary finally take a big step?

3. Who will play left guard?

The release/retirement of T.J. Lang has left a massive hole on the Lions roster. After some shifting along the offensive line, left guard remains the team’s biggest question. Will it be Kenny Wiggins on the starting front again or will free agent addition Oday Aboushi claim the role? Or is there a dark-horse candidate waiting to swoop in? Rookie Beau Benzschawel? Former fifth-round pick Joe Dahl?

There are a lot of candidates, but none of them are particularly promising.

4. Will the decision to move Frank Ragnow to center pay off?

It appears the Lions will be moving Ragnow back to the position he played most of his football at in college: center. All signs point to that being a particularly smart move, but how will this affect everyone else? Will Graham Glasgow play well at right guard? Is it smart to move the Lions’ offensive line “hole” from right guard to left guard?

Ragnow moving to center makes sense, but the domino effect it will have on the rest of the offensive line could create some trouble.

5. Will Jarrad Davis take that next step?

No player has been more polarizing that Jarrad Davis in the past two years, and it’s understandable why. He’s been terribly inconsistent while showing flashes of brilliance. Coaches continue to hype him up. He continues to put in the work and say the right things. He even has a lot of better players alongside him.

Everything is set up for a big year for Davis, but he still has to actually go out there and do it.

6. Is “run the ball, stop the run” the right strategy in today’s NFL?

Matt Patricia clearly believes in the importance of controlling the game on the ground on both sides of the ball, but you have to wonder if that’s a dying belief in today’s NFL. You look at last year’s playoff teams, and they’re filled with teams that dominated through the air—Saints, Chiefs, Rams, Eagles, Chargers.

Are the Lions going backwards in time, or are they at the forefront of change and bucking a copycat league just at the time they need to be? I’m skeptical, but we shall see.

7. Will Matthew Stafford bounce back?

Many still believe that this team will live and die on the shoulder of Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback is under more pressure than ever to deliver after a rough 2018. His contract will finally be somewhat affordable to get out of next year, and it appears he won’t have any excuse for a lack of run game anymore.

At this point in his career, “new offensive coordinator” is no longer a sufficient excuse. He’s a veteran. He needs to deliver in 2019.

8. Will the Lions get much production out of their rookies in 2019?

T.J. Hockenson is coming in with big expectations as a top-10 pick, but rookie tight ends don’t seem to fare all that well in Year 1. Jahlani Tavai is someone who has plenty of skeptics and an unclear role in 2019. Will Harris is a guy that looks very good on paper, but may not have a big role on Detroit’s defense in his rookie year.

So there’s a pretty good chance the Lions don’t get a ton of production out of their rookie class this year. Can they all prove the skeptics wrong?

9. Do the Lions have a pass rush?

Last year, the Lions totalled 43 sacks, good for t-11th in the NFL. However, their pressure stats were far less impressive. They couldn’t get consistent pressure from anywhere on the defensive line, and many of those sacks were because of decent coverage from the secondary.

With the addition of Trey Flowers—one of the most efficient pass rushers of 2018—the Lions could be headed in the right direction. Additionally, with the additions at linebacker, Jarrad Davis could be more focused as a pass rusher this year.

10. Can the Lions compete in a talented NFC North?

By all accounts, the NFC North is going to be one of the better divisions in football. The Chicago Bears are coming off a 12-4 season. The Green Bay Packers still have a top-three quarterback in the league. And the Minnesota Vikings managed to somehow keep their talented roster intact despite minimal cap space.

Per most analysts, the Lions are a distant fourth in the Black and Blue Division, but a closer look at the rosters reveals a much more competitive team than many are expecting. But will it be enough to actually contend for their first NFC North crown? Time will tell.