Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Official Team Activities, more commonly known as OTAs, begin today for the Lions. This is the first time where the offense and defense get to face off in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, though contact is still prohibited. Also, these sessions are not mandatory per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That doesn’t mean that players aren’t expected to show up and participate. The Lions, as do all teams, expect full attendance from both rookies and veterans. Full participation is generally viewed as a positive because it shows commitment to the team. Most of the time, players miss these OTAs because of either injury or contractual squabbles. The Lions only have two players with known injury issues. Rookie corner Darius Slay had recent surgery for a meniscus issue and will be excused from running in the drills, though he will be present. Running back Jahvid Best will also not participate as he remains unable to get medical clearance for his multiple concussion issues. His presence on the roster is a do-good formality at this point as he is not expected to ever play again. Also, backup QB Shaun Hill will be limited thanks to recent minor foot surgery that has him in a walking boot.
These activities are most important for the rookies, particularly the undrafted and later round rookies. This is their chance to show how quickly they have absorbed the playbook and how well they can fit in with the team. It’s during OTAs where the unheralded can improve their standing and climb the depth chart, much as Jonte Green did a year ago. The flip side is that this is the first real chance for players to get hurt as well, as Chris Greenwood did a year ago.
Detroit has closed most of the sessions from media view, but reports will trickle out anyways. Here are some story lines worth following:
-Who is getting the most first-team reps at strongside linebacker. Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, and Cory Greenwood all have legit aspirations to win the starting job. Palmer has the early advantage and can wrap up the gig with impressive performances here and in training camp. The third-place finisher in this battle is unlikely to make the final roster, which adds a competitive imperative that definitely tickles the fancy of Coach Schwartz.
-The specialist battles. Detroit will have both a new punter and kicker in 2013. Sources within the team insist to me that the competition is wide open and completely 50/50 for the punting battle between 5th round draft pick Sam Martin and free agent Blake Clingan, as well as the kicking competition between veteran David Akers and greenhorn Harvard Rugland. The return gigs are also completely up for grabs, with rookie 6th round pick Corey Fuller auditioning with his blazing track star speed.
-Nate Burleson. How fully has the veteran wideout recovered from his broken leg last year? The team is counting on Burleson to step up and fill the #2 wideout role opposite Calvin Johnson, a position that could realistically see 90 or more targets this season. Burleson has really emerged as a positive leader for the team but that only goes so far if he cannot back it up with contributions on the field.
-Offensive tackle footwork. With Riley Reiff tentatively plugged in at left tackle and a competition between Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox at right tackle, there is uncertainty at the tackle positions for the first time in years. Because no contact is permitted, the tackles have to get by in these drills with their feet. This is an excellent opportunity to evaluate footwork and teach lower body technique. New OL Coach Jeremiah Washburn and new assistant Terry Heffernan also get a chance to ascertain which combination works best and what they have to work with in their two UDFAs, LaAdrian Waddle and Austin Holtz. One of those two has an excellent chance to make the final roster and the climb begins here.
-Chris Greenwood. The big corner got hurt in these very drills a year ago and missed his entire rookie campaign. He is (allegedly) 100% and ready for action now, and this is his chance to shine. In speaking with a couple of different coaches this offseason, I can tell you the team is very bullish on his potential but also not afraid to pull the plug if he doesn’t impress. The Albion product needs to make the most of his first chance to make an impression.
-Kellen Moore vs. Alex Carder. With Shaun Hill limited, the two youngsters battling for the third QB spot will get more reps than usual to wage their war for the precious roster spot. The team loves Moore’s command of the offense and football IQ, but Carder has a much better arm and is no slouch in the intangibles department in his own right. Moore can all but lock up the spot if he impresses here.