Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Another week of training camp is in the books, and the first preseason game against the Jets is so close we can taste it. Here are my thoughts on a few camp developments.
1. Dylan Gandy is seizing his opportunity. The veteran has served as a reserve for years in Detroit, but his camp performance indicates he has worked hard to achieve starter status. While none of the three combatants for the right guard spot have stood out against the defensive line, Gandy has been the most successful at creating movement in the run game. One daily camp observer told me Jake Scott is trying hard but just can’t explode off the snap like he needs to, and rookie 3rd round pick Larry Warford has not been very impressive. At minimum, Gandy has secured his spot on the final 53 man roster whether he starts at right guard or goes back to being the primary interior reserve.
2. The development of the second year players is not where it needs to be. The 2012 draft class featured three corners, three linebackers, an offensive tackle, and a wideout. Of those, only the first pick, Riley Reiff, is poised to start in his second year. The wideout Ryan Broyles, figures to see extensive action as the top slot receiver but only if his surgically repaired knees (plural) can hold up. The first corner taken, third rounder Bill Bentley, has been the most improved player in camp and looks to be a fixture as the slot corner. All three have legit NFL talent but still a lot of legitimate questions about just how good they can be.
The rest of the class is flailing right now. The other two corners, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood, have both missed more camp than they’ve participated in. Greenwood needs to get on the practice field soon or else the team’s patience is going to (rightfully) run out. Green had a solid finish to his rookie season but cannot capitalize on it while riding the stationary bike. With so many corners in camp, Green is falling well behind. The linebackers, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis, will enter the season as seldom-used backups. Lewis, the 7th round pick, has outplayed Whitehead, the 5th round pick that cost the Lions a 4th in the 2013 draft. But neither will be seen much other than on special teams or as injury fill-ins. The other backer, Ronnell Lewis, is a longshot to make the team at this point. Good teams build quality depth through the draft, and right now the back end of that 2012 draft class just isn’t providing the quality depth the Lions need. Because the roster was an absolute disaster not that long ago, GM Martin Mayhew needed to get more out of those later picks.
3. Detroit fans are petrified of believing in the team. Since moving back to the Grand Rapids area last month, I’m amazed at how much the fans here downplay the team’s talent and are prepared for another season of double digit losses. There should be a lot more optimism than there is, but these fans have been burned so many times before that there is no believing without seeing. To quote Chuck Daly, “A pessimist is an optimist with experience”. Lions fans embrace that quip. But I’ll say this: if the Lions can come out of the gate and win a couple of close games early, the fan base is poised to explode with enthusiastic support. The team appears to be aware of this, as there is a tremendous amount of focus on getting off to a good start.
4. Kellen Moore has a much tougher battle on his hands to win the 3rd QB job this year. Thaddeus Lewis is a much more talented, more proven NFL commodity than RJ Archer was a year ago. He’s actually started a game and wasn’t half bad for Cleveland in a close loss in Pittsburgh. But Moore himself has visibly improved. He has exceptional command of the offense and his ball location is often pinpoint. His arm strength still isn’t even average, but lots of weight room work has clearly made it stronger. It’s not just upper body either; his core strength and plant strength from his knees and feet look improved. I’ve never been a Moore fan and will still cringe if he ever has to take the field in the regular season, but I nonetheless applaud him for busting his butt to get better. At worst he’s solidified himself as a sounding board for the coaches and upgrades his credentials as a future coach, which I think he’ll do quite well at some day.
5. Much to my chagrin, it appears Kickalicious is not going to beat out David Akers. As I mentioned last week, the upstart rookie would clearly have to be superior to Akers for Schwartz to turn over such a key role. Through the first two weeks of camp, Harvard Rugland has been good but not awesome enough to clearly overtake Akers. One of the bigger advantages that Rugland held was that Akers is no longer very good on kickoffs, but rookie punter Sam Martin can capably handle those chores. I’m not anti-Akers, but if he misses more than one kick inside 45 yards I’m going to second guess the decision with the ferocity of Jadeveon Clowney attacking a tackling dummy.