For the first time in ages, many of us who cover the team or follow the Detroit Lions closely and live within driving distance of Allen Park won’t be planning our training camp vacations. While not set in stone just yet, the likelihood of an open camp is minuscule, so coverage of the 2020 team is going to be quite different from what we’ve seen in the past.
While it will be far different from what it used to be, NFL training camps will continue in some fashion. That means the same storylines we would be looking for will still be happening, we’ll just be forced to follow them without the play-by-play commentary we’ve become accustomed to. So what are we looking forward to hearing about in training camp 2020?
Will T.J. Hockenson be the Real Deal?
Storming onto the scene in 2019, Detroit Lions top-10 pick T.J. Hockenson put up the best opening day of a rookie tight end in NFL history. Then from Weeks 2 through 17, he was mostly an afterthought for the offense. His receiving skills were mediocre, as was his ability to get open. His blocking, a huge part of his pro evaluation, was adequate.
None of that screams top-ten value, and we need to see a lot more before (as usual) the pitchforks come out. Year two is huge for tight ends. It’s often the time when everything clicks and we get to see what these players can really do in an NFL offense. Can Hockenson live up to his billing and the extreme expectations surrounding it?
How quickly will Jeff Okudah’s “Speed Question” get answered?
As both someone who covers athletic testing and someone who rated Jeff Okudah among the best cornerback prospects in recent memory, I was a bit taken aback by the questions about his speed. For one, it never shows up on tape. But I’m a numbers guy, so let’s go there anyway. Okudah is not slow. I’ll skip over listing all of the top-tier corners he’s faster than because it’s a long list and that’s tedious, but I will say that about 40 percent of Pro Bowl corners in the past three decades ran faster than Okudah. The other 60 percent ran as fast or slower.
So it’s not a statistical cause for concern. If you are worried, though, lack of speed will show up FAST in training camp. It was apparent on day one snap one for Teez Tabor and every other slow corner they’ve had on board at some point. Camp battles at CB and WR are all about manning up, so if it truly is an issue, we’ll know it right at the jump.
What role will Amani Oruwariye play?
After falling all the way to the fifth round and only playing sparingly as a rookie, some were ready to eat their evals on Amani Oruwariye. When he did play, however, he played very well and rewarded the team’s time developing him by hauling in a couple of picks in limited play. During the offseason, the team invested in Desmond Trufant and drafted Jeff Okudah, and while that surely improves the secondary, it does leave a bit of a question for Oruwariye. What role will he play in this defensive scheme? Will he move to the nickel? Play outside and bump Trufant inside? Flip to an already crowded safety position? It’s one of the truly fascinating parts of how this secondary will look going forward.
Snap distribution for D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson?
One of the more shocking picks in the 2020 NFL draft was the Detroit Lions taking yet another running back in the early rounds. Regardless of your thoughts on the player, pick, or value, a big camp story is going to be how the snaps are distributed between D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson.
Health problems have plagued Johnson since he was drafted in 2018, so while his roster spot is likely not in jeopardy his starting job surely is. How the team hands out snaps is even more interesting once you consider the serious injury issues the entire roster has had at that position. Do they limit snaps to just the two guys or spread it out between three or four, trying to play the numbers and potentially reduce the chances someone gets injured (yet again)?
Will Quintez Cephus find snaps?
Yes, there are concerns about speed and I’ve already mentioned when talking about Okudah how that sort of thing shows up very early in camp. The bigger issue for 2020 fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus is going to be finding snaps in the first place. With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola deeply entrenched in their roles, there’s simply nowhere to break into the starting lineup.
In the reserves, you have to have a specific role. Marvin Hall has that blazing speed that made him a deep threat nightmare for opposing offenses, even if he only saw a few snaps at a time. Until injuries hit, there really wasn’t much of a role for the Lions reserve receivers. Despite Marvin Jones missing three games, the team’s fourth receiver only received 11 targets in all of 2019. It’s even worse for Cephus when you note that fourth receiver was the aforementioned Marvin Hall, who had a game day role. With a highly-drafted receiving back, a second-year, top-10 pick tight end, and three rock solid game day options at receiver, when is the ball going to go towards a fifth-round rookie?
Who is playing where on the offensive line?
The Lions situation at right and left tackle is pretty set, as is (eventual All Pro) Frank Ragnow at center. The last two positions appear to have someone to start there, we just don’t know who or where. The Lions had that awful guard rotation in 2019 and there’s a fair chance we see it again in 2020, but who is starting? Who is getting the most snaps? Who’s playing which side?
Rookie third-round pick Jonah Jackson is probably going to find a way to start early, but will he play left guard like he did at Ohio State or right guard like his Rutgers days? If fourth-round pick Logan Stenberg finds a way to play, will it be at left guard, where he played all 39 games the past three seasons for Kentucky, or on the right side where his talents would seem to fit better between Ragnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai? Based on the past couple seasons, we should have a good idea pretty early on, but the team will surely experiment.