Four things to watch as Lions training camp begins

It’s the end of July, and while most people are watching their summer break wane, die-hard football fans are giddy at the thought of the new season. They’re reading the mock depth charts, analyzing players and team previews, and making necessary plans to better their friends in fantasy football leagues.

Yet, there is something magical about the football season that gets highly overlooked..

Training camp:

It’s the unofficial start to a new season where fans and media alike can see the newest additions all together and in pads. More importantly, training camp ushers in a new season where teams like the Detroit Lions are looking to prove last season was a fluke.

Following a 10-6 season and a rare playoff berth, the Detroit Lions were treading water at their bye week, holding a record of 4-4. That all changed in the second half of the season where a few missed opportunities and the inconsistencies slowly began to mount, leaving the Lions with a dismal 0-8 finish and a typical 4-12 record.

Panic had set back in the minds of the Lions faithful. Some feared that the 2011 season was a mere fallacy; most others thought that the team couldn’t overcome certain mental setbacks.

Regardless of what happened, there was a consensus that there needed to be change in the off-season. Lions GM Martin Mayhew hoped to clear some cap space to land a few veteran pieces.

He was primarily burdened with pre-lockout contracts of Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford, and expiring contracts and demands from Cliff Avril and Gosder Cherilus. There was also some question about whether oft-injured safety Louis Delmas would return and how Mayhew would address the offensive line.

Mayhew was ready to act. He was aggressive and filled major needs on defense by signing safety Glover Quin from Houston and re-signing cornerback Chris Houston. He also brought in Israel Idonije on a cheap contract and added pass rusher Jason Jones from Seattle.

On offense, Mayhew wanted to find a game changer that they lacked since Jahvid Best’s injury in 2011. He inked a deal with Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush and re-worked a deal to keep Nate Burleson in Detroit.

An active off-season that brought tangible change to the Lions will bring a lot of excitement as the Lions begin training camp on Friday. Here are three things to look forward to:

The debut of Lions draft picks Ezekiel Ansah and Darius Slay: 

This year’s training camp will feature the debut of top draft picks Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay. Ansah fills a major need at defensive end after the departures of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. Selected fifth overall in April’s NFL Draft, Ansah was a play-maker on the line at Brigham Young University (BYU). While he has only played football for a few years after coming over from Ghana to play at BYU, he still has a very high upside that is hard to criticize.He is likely to start on the defensive line.

There is also a good chance that Darius Slay will see a great deal of playing time in his rookie season. Last season the Lions were depleted at cornerback thanks to injuries. By drafting Slay they were able to add a corner who plays bigger than this six-foot-one frame.He seems determined to come back from a knee injury and become healthy in order to be an active part of this team’s secondary.

Detroit needs all the help it can get and its two top draft picks will figure in to the Lions picture come September.

How will Reggie Bush mesh with the “high-powered” offense of Detroit?:

It’s not a surprise why a guy like Reggie Bush would want to join a team like the Detroit Lions. They are a young group of talented players who were sorely missing a dual-threat back last season.

Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell can only do so much for your team, but not when you get them out into coverage. That is why bringing in a player as prolific as Bush was necessary for the offensive game plan; it gives Stafford options with a collapsing pocket and a flashy back who can still jam it up the middle.

With the plethora of options Bush now creates, it will be enticing to see how he fits in Scott Linehan’s complicated offense. You can point to the use of Jahvid Best in 2010 and 2011 and try to assume that is what Bush will endure.

Yet there may be more plays that involve the former USC Trojan because of his finesse. Best had blazing speed but lacked a final edge.

Throw in Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew and the Lions have now stocked the cabinet with offensive weapons.

Who replaces Jeff Backus and Stephen Peterman on the offensive line?:

 A quiet story to the Lions’ off-season was the retirement of tackle Jeff Backus and the release of guard Stephen Peterman. Both players were part of an offensive line that looked very good at most points, but incredibly horrid at others (Does the Julius Peppers sack on Stafford ring a bell?).

Backus played on the Lions line for his entire eleven year career. He only made the playoffs once in that time. He was widely criticized for having the game’s best defensive lineman beat him, but after that devastating injury to Stafford in 2010, he seemed to turn the corner.

Peterman was also a guy who many thought would stay a while in Detroit. Like Backus he also dealt with consistency issues and was having a hard time staying onside before the snap.

Replacing veterans on the offensive line is tough. The Lions will have Riley Reiff playing left tackle while having rookie guard Larry Warford start on an otherwise veteran offensive line.

Israel Idonije’s impact on the defensive line: 

With names like Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Jones already on the roster, it seemed unlikely that Detroit would add another body up front. Detroit’s strong suit was their defensive line that was already strong on the middle and lacked some appeal on the ends. 

That’s when Martin Mayhew brought in Israel Idonije. A longtime member of the Bears, the 6-6, 275 pound def. end was a key piece for nine seasons on a defense that was relentless against the run.

He brings a great deal of athleticism and finishing ability to a team that lost two prominent pass rushers. Idonije will jump right in and he came at the price of a veteran’s mininum. He will push the younger talent like Willie Young and Ezekiel Ansah.

But more importantly, Idonije will be fighting to keep his spot on the roster. He was released by the Bears this season and didn’t find work until June 25. He has 272 tackles and 28.5 sacks in those nine seasons. If he can come in and wreak havoc on the line, things will be all good in Detroit.

So, with training camp beginning on Friday, there is a lot to see and take in down at the Allen Park headquarters. While the focus will likely be on Detroit’s big names and a new contract for Matthew Stafford, I am hoping these four points of interest will be another way to evaluate how the two-week process goes for the Lions.

Another season of football is here. Let’s embrace it and get ready for more magic and memories on the gridiron.

 

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