Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Today, we take a look at the Detroit Lions. Click on the tabs above to see other NFC North camp previews. For the rest of the NFL, click here.
Training camp report date: Rookies July 23, veterans July 28.
Offseason in a nutshell: A new GM, the same coach and a clear focus on the future of this offensive line. Detroit now has a first-round pick at left tackle (Taylor Decker), right tackle (Riley Reiff) and left guard (Laken Tomlinson). They have third-round picks at center (Travis Swanson) and right guard (Larry Warford) and a third-round pick in Graham Glasgow waiting to compete along the interior, as well. The team inked Geoff Schwartz for depth and is hoping to change the perception of a razor-thin front five.
Player to watch: Running back Ameer Abdullah. For this question, we consulted ace Around The NFL correspondent and long-time Lions observer Kevin Patra. His answer? Last year's preseason darling, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery for a labrum issue. Abdullah has been very quiet about his ailment, but the team expects him to return for training camp. Recovery from this issue is hit or miss for players at the position, with Doug Martin being an example for the hopeful. But here's why we're a bit skeptical: Abdullah, by the process of elimination, has ascended to No. 1 on the team's depth chart and will be tasked with a significant amount of pass protection, which isn't ideal to begin with given his frame (5-foot-8, 203 pounds). Still, Abdullah has been bucking conventional wisdom when it comes to smaller speed backs for years (his inside running in college was powerful), so Detroit is hoping he can do as much coming off surgery.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Which defensive tackles will make the team?
The Lions may have a bit of a two-quarterback conundrum ... but at defensive tackle. Normally, depth is good, but how many -- out of the group containing Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, A'Shawn Robinson, Caraun Reid, Stefan Charles, Gabe Wright and Khyri Thornton -- are good enough to be dominant every-down players, and how many are just good enough to make a roster decision difficult? Adding to the confusion, the Lions will have to factor in support for slotted starter Ngata, who heads into the season at age 32. Pride of Detroit has an excellent -- and more optimistic -- breakdown of the defensive tackle position for those of you looking to dig deeper.
2. How will the new offense take shape?
When you lose a game-changing, 6-foot-5 receiver who compiled more than 1,000 yards in each of his last six seasons, your offense is going to change. Plain and simple. Matt Staffordthinks it might be better, but everyone knows there is no use waiting around for Calvin Johnson to change his mind about retirement. Detroit now lacks a supreme jump-ball target who can gobble up two or three defenders on deep routes, deciding to replace him with a cadre of smaller speed options. Golden Tate will catch close to 100 balls this year, but during camp, the microscope will be on free-agent acquisition Marvin Jones and how fluid he looks in a system that could reward his skill set. When Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator last season, he seemed to accentuate Stafford's ability to hit on timing routes to his quicker wide receivers, winning matchups on the inside. Loop tight end Eric Ebron into the equation, and we seem to have a theme developing: Maybe no one receiver is dominant enough to take over a game, but Detroit has a group of players who are all capable of winning matchups down to down.
The Lions have one of the best cornerbacks in the NFC (Darius Slay) and a question mark on the opposite side. Lawson clawed his way into the starting lineup last year and finished the season with 47 tackles and seven pass breakups. His games against the Packers, Raiders and Eagles were some of his best and lead us to believe that we might be hearing from him quite a bit this summer.
Way-too-early season prediction: A team always comes out of nowhere and surprises, and the Lions certainly have that capability if their offense can retain some of the arena league charm it had in the past. At the moment, we think 8-8 makes sense with the potential to make some of their divisional battles against the Packers and Vikings very interesting.