The Detroit Lions will finally open doors to the media on Thursday for the team’s third OTA session this week. It will be the first time—outside a set of limited highlights provided by the team—that we will have the opportunity to see rookies and veterans of the 2023 squad practice together. Over the next four weeks, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see where the team stands compared to previous years, and how individuals have grown from years prior—and even how they match up to their peers.
So here are 15 players I’ll be watching closely during Lions OTAs.
Like every other beat writer or fan, I have never seen Jameson Williams practice in full 11-on-11 drills at the NFL level. I am very curious to see how the young receiver responds to a year’s worth of criticism and the six-game suspension. Williams remains a huge key to this offense’s future, so I’m excited to see what he can bring now that he’s healthy and fully participating.
The outlook doesn’t look great for seeing Gibbs participate in this first week of OTAs, given that it looks like he hasn’t participated since tweaking his ankle during rookie minicamp. However, the Lions have said they are just being precautious, so whenever Gibbs does make it out there, it will be an exciting scene to see how his speed and acceleration stand out. I’m hoping we also get a peek into how they may use him in the passing game.
LaPorta dominated rookie minicamp, but how will he look going up against the veterans? That’s an entirely different challenge, but we know that Jared Goff can develop some pretty quick chemistry with his tight ends. We could very well be in for another few weeks of LaPorta hype.
Speaking of tight ends, Mitchell is often the forgotten one in this group, but there are still some high expectations for the 2022 fifth-round pick. The Year 2 jump is real for a lot of players, and that is especially true for both the tight end position and players still recovering from a torn ACL last season. Just take it from Lions tight end coach Steve Heiden:
“I’m excited to get him his second year off the ACL,” Heiden said. “I think that’s an important year to grow and develop. I think there’s a lot of room to grow for him.”
It’s unclear how much Vaitai will partake in OTAs and where he is in his recovery from back surgery. But we do know that he’s at the facility and was even on the field Wednesday. The assumption is that when he’s healthy, he’s the starting right guard. On Thursday, we may finally get confirmation as to whether that’s true or not.
Rookie minicamp made it pretty clear that the Lions plan to move Sorsdal to guard after playing tackle in college. But where will he start? Third team? Fourth team? And how will he match up against the competition. There’s likely a long learning curve ahead, and it’s far too early to expect him to flash—especially without pads—but it should be interesting to see how much work he puts in, and how closely offensive line coach Hank Fraley will be guiding him.
Paschal is another Year 2 player that is seemingly being overlooked. After an injury-filled rookie season, the 2022 second-round pick could be in for a big jump this season. And given how loaded this team is at edge right now (Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Houston, Charles Harris, Romeo Okwara, John Cominsky, Julian Okwara), is it possible we see Paschal play more along the interior than we initially expected?
When Houston finally got his chance to play last year, he proved to be an absolute weapon as a pass rusher. Year 2, the goal is to clearly develop as a more balanced, potential three-down player. Where will Houston be in his run defense development, and will he still be an absolute nightmare for the Lions offensive line—or will there be a sophomore slump?
Toward the end of last season, something seemed to have clicked for McNeill. After tallying just 10 pressures in his first nine games, he had 19 in the final seven games. The former third-round pick seems like he’s on the verge of being a true breakout player this season, and with a little more health and support around him on the defensive line, I’m hoping to see some early signs of domination in practice.
Personally, my expectation is for Onwuzurike to sit out of OTAs. While he’s been rehabbing at the facility, there are no indications yet that he’s ready to take the field. The coaching staff hasn’t really been all that optimistic when talking about him, either. Still, it would be nice to get an update from staff—or the man himself—as to where things stand and expectations going forward.
I’m most interested in where the Lions will start Campbell. Typically, they’ve made their draft picks earn a spot with the first team, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s with the second or third team. But it’s only a matter of time—and it shouldn’t take long—before he’s repping with the ones.
The question then becomes will he be the MIKE linebacker with the green dot, or will that stay with Alex Anzalone? That is Campbell’s job in the future, but it’s unclear if that’s in Week 1 of 2023, later in the season, or even further down the road.
Barnes is kind of in no-man’s land right now with the linebacking corps. After being drafted in 2021, he was subsequently jumped by sixth-round rookie Malcolm Rodriguez in 2022, and Campbell will now push him further down the depth chart. How will Barnes respond? Can he jump Rodriguez on the depth chart? Will he have to adopt a special teams role to hang around?
It’s always worth pointing out that Barnes is still relatively new to the position after playing mostly edge in college, but now entering Year 3 of his NFL career, that excuse is starting to run dry. Or maybe the Lions throw him back into the edge conversation?
At this point, Sutton appears to be CB1 on the team. With him expected to go against the opponents’ top receiving options this season, his play is going to be absolutely key this season. He’ll have his hands full in training camp with Williams, Marvin Jones Jr. and Josh Reynolds. Let’s see if he’s ready to assume the role and responsibility of being a team’s top cornerback.
First of all, I’m just excited to see Gardner-Johnson’s swag out there. He’s already said he’s been chirping and trying to get under his teammates’ skin, because that’s who he is as a player. Can you imagine what that’s going to look like in practice against someone equally as competitive as Amon-Ra St. Brown? FIREWORKS.
Not to mention that Gardner-Johnson may be the best player on the Lions’ entire defense. He’s going to be fun to watch.
It’s not clear if Walker is 100% yet from his Achilles surgery last year, but all signs point to him being—at the very least—extremely close to being ready. We’ll get some answers at OTAs, but more importantly, how will he look out there. It feels like we still haven’t seen the full potential of Walker, even as he enters Year 6 of his career. Will an improved supporting cast in the secondary help?