Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Unfortunately I was unable to attend any training camp sessions so far. Yet thanks to tips and texts from daily observers, some very solid work by Lions beat writers Dave Birkett, Chris McCosky, and Tim Twentyman, and comments from press conferences and interviews, I have come up with a few observations.
1. Nick Fairley is poised to have a monster season. Per numerous reports, Fairley looks visibly lighter and more muscular. That is a welcome change from his two prior camps, where he has been hobbled and heavy. Fairley emerged as a very impactful player over his first two years, and that was in spite of health and off-field issues that clearly affected his status. Now his head is clean, his body is ready for action, and he wants to show the world how great he can be. Opposing interior linemen, beware.
2. Bill Bentley has all but wrapped up the nickel/slot corner role. Granted it was his position to lose, but Bentley has impressed everyone with his improved awareness, feisty attitude, and more polished technique. It’s nice to see that Bentley did not lose any of his abundant confidence while struggling during his rookie year, and he is fully recovered from his litany of minor injuries.
3. Kickalicious has a real chance to make the team. For a guy who had never put on football pads before, Harvard Rugland appears to be acclimating quickly. The internet trick shot sensation has been very good in camp, booming several kickoffs deep into the end zone. Rugland nailed a 58-yarder under game conditions. David Akers still has a big leg as well, so the battle is going to be decided on consistency of performance during the preseason. I’ve said it before: if the Akers who played in San Francisco last year is the Akers in Lions camp, Kickalicious will take over for Jason Hanson. But if Akers finds the fountain of youth and is Rugland’s equal, I do believe Schwartz opts to go with the proven veteran. If that’s the case, some other fan base will get to buy Kickalicious jerseys; Harvard Rugland will be a NFL kicker somewhere if not in Detroit.
4. Jim Schwartz really likes this team. Sure, coaches always talk about their great potential and oversell their talent; that’s what coaches do during camp. I get the strong vibe from Schwartz in interviews that his affection for this particular cast is real. He wanted a bigger/faster/stronger team, notably on defense, and he got his wish. Both former GM Bill Polian and former Lion legend Bubba Baker made impromptu remarks about the size and speed the Lions have, clearly taken aback from expectation and prior experience. Schwartz himself is clearly proud of what he and Martin Mayhew have assembled. His measured enthusiasm is hard to contain even as Schwartz does his best Belichick impression and tries to remain droll and uninformative in interviews. In reading between lines from his interview on Sirius NFL Radio with Polian and Jim Miller, Schwartz is comfortable and confident in facing a do-or-die season with this collection of talent. As fans, that’s all we can really ask.
5. To build on a tweet from Chris McCosky:
Random observation: Cory Greenwood is going to make this team. He could take Palmer's spot on ST so Palmer can play OLB full time
— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) July 30, 2013
I’m a little surprised at this but pleasantly so. The larger question is, whose projected roster spot is Greenwood usurping? If Greenwood’s primary role will be special teams, he’s likely eliminating either the 6th safety or 6th wideout spot beyond hurting reserve LB Carmen Messina’s chances. That spells trouble for Ricardo Silva and John Wendling, who are competing for that same role at safety, and also Devin Thomas and Kris Durham, the combatants for depth wideout with a decided special teams bent. I don’t think Greenwood’s emergence impacts Tahir Whitehead or Travis Lewis, the latter of whom has not looked out of place running with the 1s at middle backer according to tweets from camp.
6. I got a lot of questions about the signings of veterans Chaz Schilens and Andre Fluellen. Schilens has the better chance to make the final roster because the team needs what he offers at wideout more than what Fluellen offers as a reserve DT. Schilens brings excellent size and soft hands, a very strong complement to Calvin Johnson on the outside. In the limited times he’s been healthy and on the field, Schilens clearly looked like a legit NFL player. He is essentially the player the Lions envision 6th round pick Corey Fuller eventually becoming, a bigger wideout with field-stretching speed. If Schilens is healthy, and all reports are he looks great physically, he likely pushes Fuller onto the practice squad for his rookie year. Fluellen is a known commodity who understands his role as a rotational reserve. Consider him an insurance policy and preseason body who is as much auditioning for other teams as he is hoping to make the Lions.
7. The competition for the starting and reserve spots on the right side of the offensive line is the biggest and most wide open battle going into preseason. It’s too early to handicap the races, but the fact that Jason Fox and Larry Warford, the projected starters, are in viable battles for their roles is a very good sign. I wasn’t initially a fan of signing Jake Scott but the veteran is clearly pushing the rookie Warford, an unexpected kick in the pants that Warford must earn everything that many of us thought was a given. In his Sirius interview Schwartz talked up the concept of the team becoming better than the sum of its parts because that’s what good teams are. His offensive line can be a prime example; there is solid talent in place, and forging strength through competition could turn this unit into a very effective one.