by Brad Holda
I believe 5 lessons have been learned after the Lions’ Mini-Camp:
1. Ameer Abdullah- It appears that this rookie will be a force to be reckoned with, projected to assume a starting role at some juncture this season. With Joique Bell sidelined due to an offseason surgery, Abdullah was taking his reps with the first team, showing off great hands in the backfield and an affinity towards busting wide open with a big gain. However, it’s really hard to report anything substantive about a tailback when there is no contact and no pads in the minicamp. That said, Abdullah has looked like Detroit’s most formidable option as a rusher with Joique Bell still out. It has been noted that Abdullah is extremely smooth and swift in his breaks and his 1st and 2nd step is a plus plus. Of course, the hallmarks of a quality rusher are, above all, vision and ability to run through contact, but neither of these can be assessed and evaluated until training camps begin. I believe Abdullah is a quality late round draft pick because sometime during the season, I project he will assume some facsimile of a starting role. He will be used for screens and catching balls out of the backfield, on top of fielding punts.
2. The defensive front is still a work in progress- With the losses of Ndamakong Suh and Nick Fairley in the offseason, there are still quite a bit of working pieces going into assembling a competent and competitive starting defensive line. Many ensemble players have been shuffled around to try and form a cohesive starting unit. The only concrete starters seem to be second year defensive tackle Carun Reid, who barely saw the field in the entirety of the 2014 season, along with recently acquired Haloti Ngata. These two were seen lining up next to each other the majority of the minicamp, receiving the starting reps.
3. The Lions’ secondary is as deep as it has ever been- backup cornerbacks such as Josh Wilson and the very scrappy and capable Quandre Diggs, not forgetting the third safety in Isa Abdul-Quddus – offer the creative and intelligent defensive coordinator Teryl Austin advanced options and objectives with his dime packages. To note, the offense was the main emphasis the first three days but on day 3, Rashean Mathis broke up the first pass from Stafford on 11v11‘s and Darius Slay intercepted a pass intended for Golden Tate in the same drill. I’m perpetuating that the Lions will have a top 10 pass defense, considering the skill and depth they have in their defensive backfield. It’s unknown if the Lions’ defense will be a draftable option in standard leagues. I presume with all the shuffling of players they are having to do, the run defense will stagnate from last year and remain middle of the pack, held together mainly by their strong linebacking core.
4. Matthew Stafford looks more comfortable in the offense- During 11v11‘s, Stafford started off struggling a little bit, going 2/6 with a 33% percent completion rate. However, he ended up going 9/15 with 1 interception netting a 60 percent completion rate, on par with his season averages the last few years. Since the Lions’ secondary is so strong, I consider this a great success. The overall consensus in Detroit was that Stafford had a very successful offseason and has built up quite a bit of momentum, achieving some semblance of comfort with the offense heading into training camp. Stafford did show signs of becoming a more accurate passer, connecting with Megatron in the endzone with a perfectly located ball where only Johnson could come down with it; he did this very acrobatically, tip-toeing into the back of the end zone. He also roped in a heater to Golden Tate between the excellent defense of Darius Slay and Josh Bynes. Stafford is poised to have a better year than last, becoming more comfortable with a complex offensive system and having 3 viable fantasy players to throw to in Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and newly acquired veteran Lance Moore. As far as drafting Stafford, I would suggest picking him up in late rounds as a backup quarterback and just keep an eye on his production as he could easily turn into an explosive starter, as long as he remains accurate and the Lions get the run game going, opening up the passing game.
5. The Lions’ offense and questions regarding the offensive line- With La’adrian Waddle and Cornelius Lucas out again, newly converted tight end Mike Williams worked out as the first string right tackle for the 2nd time in the three day camp. Rookie Corey Robinson was the guy receiving the reps of said right tackle on day 2 of the camp. First round pick Laken Tomlinson has been working out as a backup right guard in the meantime.
On the 2nd day, veteran receiver Lance Moore had a long day receiving starting reps as the Lions’ third receiver. The front office and coaching staff highly value his veteran leadership and overall knowledge of the offensive schemes Lombardi is trying to implement. If I had to venture a guess at this juncture, I would say that Lance Moore opens up the season as the third receiver. I consider Lance Moore to be a good late round pickup designated to your bench when it comes time to bulking up your WR corps, especially since he has an advanced knowledge of the playbook and the overall offense. He is a sleeper pick in my opinion because a) Calvin Johnson normally draws a double team, which would invariably leave Moore open in man coverage and b) Calvin Johnson has a high propensity for injury, so at anytime during the season, it is possible that Lance Moore will land the 2nd WR position. None of the aforementioned is out of the realm of possibility, considering Johnson’s age and past injury profile.