The Detroit Lions finally kick off the padded practice portion of training camp on Monday morning, and for the first time all offseason, media will get an opportunity to see what this team is all about. Questions that have been lingering since April will finally get some answers, as we are able to peer inside Allen Park to see what Lions coaches and players have been working on for months.
2020 will be a pivotal year for this franchise. With the futures of Matt Patricia, Bob Quinn, and maybe even Matthew Stafford hanging in the balance, the next four weeks of preparation will be crucial for everyone involved. Because, even though it’s hard to believe right now, Week 1 is now less than four weeks away.
So here are the 11 biggest questions facing the Detroit Lions as they enter their first padded practice of the 2020 offseason.
1. How quickly will Jeff Okudah be ready?
When you draft a player third overall, he’s going to get all of the attention in training camp. Added onto those expectations is the fact that Okudah will be partially responsible for replacing All-Pro corner Darius Slay. The addition of Desmond Trufant will help take some of the weight off Okudah’s shoulders, but the Lions will still expect a big rookie-year impact from the former Buckeye.
2. Who will be playing the guard positions?
Without question, this is the biggest question regarding Detroit’s starting roster. After drafting two guards in the middle rounds and letting Graham Glasgow hit free agency, both starting guard positions are up for grabs. Will third-round pick Jonah Jackson play the right or left side? Can Joe Dahl or Kenny Wiggins hold onto their roles from last season? Is rookie Logan Stenberg more of a long-term project?
The only hint we have right now is that it appears Dahl played at least one snap at left guard during the ramp-up period. Otherwise, it’s all left to be revealed.
3. D’Andre Swift or Kerryon Johnson?
Spending a high second-round pick on a running back is risky NFL business, especially if it comes just two years after trading up in the second round to grab one. That probably says a lot about how much this coaching staff really likes D’Andre Swift, and it’s possible he takes the starting job away from Kerryon Johnson before camp is over.
Though it’s likely they’ll split carries throughout the year, it will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of touches from Day 1. My money is on Swift.
4. Ty Johnson, Jason Huntley or both?
As we go deeper in to Detroit’s depth chart, the Lions made a similarly curious move with their reserve running backs. A year after drafting a speedy, return specialist running back in Ty Johnson, they did it again with Jason Huntley. Huntley comes with a little more experience catching the ball out of the backfield—a trait that is extremely important in this offense—but he’ll obviously have to make up for some lost time learning this offense.
That all being said, there is certainly room on the roster to keep both Johnson and Huntley. But are the Lions willing to sacrifice a roster spot for two somewhat similar players?
5. Can Jamal Agnew make the full transition to WR?
It’s pretty much been confirmed by everything other than the Lions official team website that Jamal Agnew has moved from cornerback to a full-time wide receiver. Agnew has proven to be a valuable commodity as the team’s return specialist, so why the move to wide receiver?
You can pretty much view it one of two ways. Either the Lions really value his skillset and want to get the ball in his hands in as many ways as possible, or they don’t think a return specialist is worth a roster spot on its own, and Agnew has to prove his worth elsewhere to warrant a place on the team.
With the additions of players like Huntley and Victor Bolden Jr., they have capable returners to take Agnew’s place on special teams, but they’re unlikely to match his production, as he has scored four special teams touchdowns in three years.
6. Where will Jamie Collins Sr. play?
Collins could be the missing piece this linebacking corps has so desperately needed over the past two years. Capable of playing anywhere from Jack to Will, Collins gives the other linebackers the freedom to do whatever they do the best.
But where will Collins’ home be in base personnel? Will he be considered the team’s starting Jack linebacker or will he do the majority of his work on the inside? The statistics show that he’s much better served as an interior linebacker—as evidenced by his rough play in Cleveland—but the Lions could use the help at all linebacker positions.
7. Can Tracy Walker make that Year 3 jump?
The addition of Duron Harmon in the defensive backfield has a lot of people hyped about the kind of year that Tracy Walker could have. Freed up to now roam around in the box, Walker can now play to his strengths of size and speed.
For a guy who has already shown plenty of potential and is thoroughly loved by the coaching staff, 2020 could be the year we see Walker make a ton of defensive plays. As of now, he only has two interceptions and 10 passes defended in two seasons.
8. Is there any way Danny Shelton/Nick Williams can be an upgrade over Damon Harrison Sr./A’Shawn Robinson?
On the surface, this question looks ridiculous. For their careers, there’s absolutely no question that Harrison and Robinson are much better players than Shelton and Williams.
However, Harrison and Robinson are coming off disappointing seasons, setting the bar fairly low for the new starting interior defenders. Shelton has had an average career and should be a better fit than Harrison in a familiar defense for him.
Williams, on the other hand, is a bit of a risk for Detroit. He only has one productive season in the NFL to his name, although it was last year with the Bears. He’ll likely split a lot of time with Da’Shawn Hand, who will have to fight off some injury demons to regain the trust of coaches and fans.
9. Who will bring the pass rush this year?
The Lions’ pass rush was downright awful in 2019, and it’s unclear if the Lions truly made any moves to improve it this season. The addition of Julian Okwara in the third round of the draft is the biggest source of hope this year, but as someone who is likely destined for a rotational role, he’ll need some help.
Starting the year with a fully-healthy Trey Flowers will be an improvement from last year, but it’s hard to see where else the help will come from. Perhaps Detroit will simply get a little more aggressive with their linebackers after having the lowest blitz rate in the league in 2019.
10. Will T.J. Hockenson have his breakout season?
It’s a little hard on Hockenson to call his rookie season disappointing, but after his earth-shattering NFL debut, it was hard to keep expectations down. Alas, his rookie season ended like most rookie tight ends, with only a modest impact on the team.
But expectations have immediately ramped up again for the Lions’ eighth overall pick in 2019. After spending that amount of draft capital on a player, the Lions are banking on getting a lot of production out of him in Year 2. Hockenson has the extra challenge of working his way back from a severe ankle, but it looks like he’s at least healthy enough to participate in camp. Now can he kick it into that extra gear?
11. Who will be the Lions’ punter and holder this year?
Had to sneak #PUNTERBATTLE2020 in here at the end. While not the most exciting of training camp battles, Arryn Siposs vs. Jack Fox could prove to be an important one. Not only is the team’s starting punting job up for grabs, but the winner will likely be the holder for kicker Matt Prater. You don’t want to mess with someone as good as Prater, so that job remains almost as important as the punting job itself.