The Detroit Lions continue to hold organized team activities (OTAs) in Allen Park, and with the second week in full swing, the local media will once again have access to a practice session. Last week, Jeremy Reisman was in attendance, but this week, both he and Erik Schlitt will get a chance to take an exciting look at spring football. Here’s are the top 10 things they’ll be looking for during practice.
Jeremy: I know you’re excited to get out there for the first time, so I’ll let you have the honors for No. 1.
Erik: Well, let’s start with the big-ticket item then: Can Aidan Hutchinson continue his impressive start with the Lions? Just about every observations article from last week’s OTAs, regardless of publication, led with Hutchinson and his impressive performance.
I’ve watched this young man for the last four years at Michigan, studied his film ahead of the draft, and made my case for why the Lions should draft him. Yet, I still feel like I am just getting to know the player he can become. I love trench competition, and I’m drooling at the one-on-one matchups we will get to see in the fall, but for now, I’m looking to eyes on him and establish a baseline for expectations.
Jeremy: I’m looking for a rebound from the offense. Last week’s one-minute drill was pretty poor from the offenses—and even worse from the kickers. Now, T.J. Hockenson was out with an illness. Hopefully, he’s back this week, and Jared Goff and company can get the offense moving a bit. This is the point of the season last year when real concerns about the offense started to creep in, and with expectations so much higher this year, I’d like to see some significant progress.
Erik: I want to get my eyes on DJ Chark. I know that was one of your 10 things to watch last week, but I don’t care, I want to see him for myself. With Jameson Williams on the shelf, for now, there are going to be heavy expectations on Chark, and I want to see how he is bonding with Jared Goff, how he commands those around him, and if his skill set matches the hype.
Jeremy: Keeping it with the offense—I want to know if there are any noticeable philosophical changes. Last week, we got to talk to defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and both he and Dan Campbell were pretty revealing about the changes the team is making on defense. This week, we’ll talk to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, and I’m hoping to get some intel on Detroit’s new offense. Remember, Amon-Ra St. Brown said there is very little carryover from last year’s offense, so there is still a lot to discover about what the Lions will try to do on offense.
Erik: Any changes in attendance? Specifically among the starters. Last week Jeremy noted that the following players were not present in Allen Park:
TE T.J. Hockenson
DT Michael Brockers
EDGE Romeo Okwara
EDGE Eric Banks
DT John Penisini
We know Hockenson was sick and Brockers is getting the veteran treatment, but if both return, that’s a lot of leadership to have around the building and on the field, even if they don't participate. It’d also be nice to see Romeo in person again and maybe get an update on his Achilles recovery.
Jeremy also noted that the following players were in attendance but not participating:
WR Jameson Williams
TE James Mitchell
TE Derrick Deese
LT Taylor Decker
CB Chase Lucas
CB Jerry Jacobs
I imagine the Lions will continue to take it slow with most of, if not all, of these injured players, but it would also be nice to see some of the new faces in action in person.
Jeremy: Jeff Okudah update? On both our Spotify Live session this past weekend and this week’s episode of the PODcast, we raved the progress Okudah has already made from his Achilles injury suffered last September. He’s still not a full participant in practice, and that’s not likely to change this week, but it will be interesting to see his incremental progress. Plus, maybe we get to talk to him for the first time since Week 1 last year?
Erik: Will Ifeatu Melifonwu and Will Harris continue to cross-train positions? I know there are a lot of Lions fans like me who want to know where all the puzzle pieces fit on this roster, but it’s important to remember that a big part of OTAs is testing players out at different spots to push their comfort zone. I’d love to be able to put a CB or S in front of Harris and Mellifonwu’s names and slot them into my depth chart, but at the same time, I can’t help but be intrigued by the possibility of having actual hybrid player on the roster.
Jeremy: Josh Paschal. Hutchinson got all the headlines last week, but Paschal’s OTA debut went largely unnoticed. Granted, his style of play won’t be nearly as flashy as Hutchinson’s—especially with the pads off—but I am going to be keeping a close eye on the Lions’ second-round pick to see how he’s handling competition against second and third-team offenses. Bonus: How about the new guy, John Cominsky? Paschal and Cominsky will likely be battling for playing time at the same position. Of course, there’s no guarantee Cominsky is already on campus, but if he is, it will be interesting to see which player is repping above the other.
Erik: Linebacker roles. Despite the lack of certainty at the position, most reports last week suggested things played out as expected. Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes are currently holding down starting roles, Jarrad Davis and Chris Board are next up and pushing for time. Josh Woods and Shaun Dion Hamilton were veteran third-stringers. While Anthony Pittman and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez were on the fourth string—yet they were getting the most of the positive attention from the coaches and media. And last but not least, James Houston and Natrez Patrick working on the last line, but also pulling double duty and training with Julian Okwara as stand-up pass rushers in the Lions' new SAM/Hybrid LB role.
I’m hoping to see this group with my own eyes to see if any of them can separate from the pack and I will be keeping track of any changes in the pecking order.
Jeremy: UDFA standouts? Last week, running back Greg Bell and wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton were the two main standouts from the Lions’ undrafted rookie class. Will anyone join them this week? Will offensive tackle Obinna Eze make an early run at the Lions’ OT4 job? Or could defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor take advantage of a relatively thin roster at defensive tackle?
BONUS: Jeremy: Kicker battle? Yeah, I’m shocking the world and ending this with a special teams storyline. Earlier in the week, the Lions released Aldrick Rosas, making it a two-man battle for the Lions’ kicker job. Both Riley Patterson and Austin Seibert were sharp last year, but last week the two combined to go 1-for-4 from 40+ yards during Thursday’s practice (Seibert had the lone make). This battle won’t be decided in June, but it would be nice to feel a little better about this competition after last week’s poor performance.