Based on the first few days of training camp, offenses will have a tough time guessing what the Detroit Lions' defense is doing.
Game by game, play by play, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will throw out different looks - whether it's with formation or personnel - the Lions hope will result in better production.
"The offense can't know what to expect every time," defensive end Daryl Tapp said. "I know a lot of times they get into that same situation where they know that the four front guys always come and maybe a linebacker's always the blitzer. That's not the case this year.
"We've got so many guys and so many schemes and types of coverages and things of that nature to help us out that we'll put (offenses) in a real tough situation."
Last season, the defense was very predictable under Jim Schwartz, who typically rushed just the front four. But this year, the pressure will come from all sides and from a variety of players.
At defensive end, Jason Jones, Devin Taylor, George Johnson and Tapp have all earned first-team reps so far, and Ziggy Ansah, who's on the physically unable to perform list, will probably have a bigger role than all of them.
The Lions will also substitute linebackers quite regularly. Stephen Tulloch will start in the middle with DeAndre Levy and Kyle Van Noy on the outside, but Ashlee Palmer and Tahir Whitehead will likely have roles, too.
"We have some depth up there and we have some talent," coach Jim Caldwell said of the front seven. "We're trying to get everybody involved as much as we possibly can, but the big thing is reps are precious. You can see the way in which we work that we try and multiply the number of reps that we have by splitting them up on to different fields for a couple of periods. That's very important to us."
The constant substitution on the first-team defense is a good way for the coaches to compare all of the players competing, but the Lions are confident they have enough solid defensive players to keep everyone fresh and keep offenses guessing.
"Coaches are trying to find a role for each player on the defense," Taylor said. "So getting reps in here or there and rotating people finds out who can do what better, especially in certain situations."
--The Lions practiced at Wayne State University's Tom Adams Field Wednesday night in Detroit, which allowed for a special homecoming for running back Joique Bell.
"I'm definitely excited; I'm definitely home," Bell said. "For me to play college ball here, to be from Michigan, to play for Wayne State and now I'm playing for the Detroit Lions ... (it) is a great feeling."
Bell addressed the fans before the 90-minute practice session, promising a hard-working Lions team in 2014.
"Walking back on this field brings back a lot of memories - my first touchdown right there, our first game right here," Bell said. "Wayne State gave me the opportunity to come in and to show you guys what I can bring to the table."
The announced attendance for the practice at Wayne State was 8,935.
--After years of inconsistency, the Lions expect their offensive line to be one of their top units in 2014. The Lions return all five starters from last year -LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard split time at right tackle last year - when they were second in the NFL with just 23 sacks allowed.
The unit has three budding young players in Waddle, left tackle Riley Reiff and right guard Larry Warford. The other two spots are held down by veterans with center Dominic Raiola coming off a career year and left guard Rob Sims, who had a down 2013 battling through injuries but was the best lineman in 2012.
"(Last year) there were some question marks," Sims said. "Larry was just coming in and had two practices in at this point. We're confident we were going to put a good product on the field, but this year we know what we're dealing with and as long as everybody on this field and everybody in the meeting room stays on target, we'll be fine."
One way for the line to stay focused is by not reading into all of the positive attention it receiver in the press.
"We're handling it the right way and not reading our press clippings - even though they are kind of fun to look at once in a while," Sims said. "It's fun to get some notoriety for your hard work and it's really paying off."
--In addition to the starters on the offensive line, the Lions have high expectations for third-round pick Travis Swanson. Although he started 50 games at center at Arkansas, the Lions have been working Swanson at guard, too, and hope he can be their top option as a reserve at any interior spot.
"He's able to absorb information rather quickly, so he's been doing a pretty good job in there," coach Jim Caldwell said. "And we're certainly excited about having the opportunity to see him here in the next couple weeks just in terms of the transition he'll go through from no pads to pads against some guys that have played a long time in this league."
--The Lions still don't have a timetable for second-year defensive end Ziggy Ansah's return from his surgically repaired shoulder, but Ansah has been testing his shoulder in drill work with a trainer during camp. Whenever Ansah does return, the Lions think he'll be ready because of his attentiveness in the meeting room and on the field.
"Ziggy is a sponge man. He's soaking it all in," fellow defensive end Darryl Tapp said. "I've been highly impressed with him since I've been here. He's not a guy that thinks he's made it. He's more than willing to listen to older guys input and experiences and use them to help him out throughout his career.
"We're just anxious to get him back out here because we see his highlight tape all the time in the meeting rooms and how he uses his footwork and hand placement."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The battle for the Lions' No. 3 receiver will continue throughout camp, but so far Kevin Ogletree has the edge. Ogletree, who spent most of last season in Detroit after stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, has spent more time with the first-team offense than any of his competitors, and he's looked really confident catching passes.
Kris Durham, Jeremy Ross and Ryan Broyles are the other receivers who will battle for the job. Besides Ogletree, Ross has looked the best thus far with a couple one-handed catches. Durham was the Lions' No. 2 receiver last year, but he needs to show more explosiveness. Broyles is still working to be 100 percent after tearing his Achilles tendon last year, his third season-ending leg injury in as many years.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--T Michael Williams missed practice Thursday with an undisclosed short-term injury. For Williams, any time missed is a setback as he tries to transition from tight end to offensive tackle.
"It's a setback just (because) getting reps on the field is the most important thing," Williams said. "I'm still here (and) I'm learning. I feel like more of a student of the game when I'm out, when I'm hurt, so I feel like I have to focus up."
Williams has added 15 pounds since organized team activities and weights 298. He hopes to get up to 305 or 310 pounds.
Williams is battling for the final tackle spot behind Riley Reiff, LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard.
--DE Larry Webster was a project the Lions drafted in the fourth round this year out of Division II Bloomsburg, and he flashed some of his potential Thursday. Webster, who ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the combine, LaAdrian beat Waddle in a one-on-one drill and forced Waddle to hold him on another.
--C Travis Swanson, this year's third-round pick, earned first-team reps at left guard and center when Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola, respectively, took breathers. The Lions hope Swanson can be the top reserve at any interior position.
--LB Kyle Van Noy played with the first-team defense on the strong side, the role he'll likely win out of training camp.
--DE Kris Redding was signed by the Lions Thursday (July 31).
--RG Larry Warford: Lions coaches and players held their collective breath Wednesday night when Warford limped off the field with a right ankle injury, but after a couple minutes on the trainer's table, he returned to practice with the ankle taped.
On a field goal, Warford said he was standing still when defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley rushed over the top of him, causing his ankle to twist as he fell. Both Suh and Fairley went to the trainer's table to provide support for Warford.
"It just hurt like hell when it happened," he said. "After a while, it still hurt, but it wasn't enough to keep me out. When it happened I thought it was a little bit more serious than it was, but it really wasn't."
--WR Golden Tate: The free-agent signing flashed some of his big-play ability Wednesday as he caught a pass over the middle and immediately turned upfield. As a couple defenders closed in, Tate cut all the way across the field to gain a few more yards, and his run after catch ability gives the Lions something they haven't had in a No. 2 receiver in years.
--QB Matthew Stafford: Stafford has looked extremely confident thus far in camp, but he had some ups and downs Wednesday. He thread the ball beautifully between two defenders twice, once to Golden Tate and once to Reggie Bush, but he was also way off on a couple short passes, one to Tate and another to tight end Eric Ebron.
--K Nate Freese: The seventh-round pick had a 30-yard field goal blocked and missed a 48-yarder wide right, going 4-for-6 on Wednesday. Freese has the advantage in the kicking competition, but he has to show more consistency.
--K Giorgio Tavecchio: Tavecchio went 6-for-6 on Wednesday and hit his 48-yard try. An undrafted free agent in 2012, Tavecchio spent his first training camp with the San Francisco 49ers and his second with the Green Bay Packers, and he's shown good power thus far.
--WR Corey Fuller: The 2013 sixth-round pick had a beautiful play Wednesday as he high-pointed a deep ball along the sideline and made the catch over cornerback Cassius Vaughn. Fuller still has to improve as a route runner, but his track speed could help him earn a role as an occasional deep threat.
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