What to watch for in the Lions OTAs this week
The Detroit Lions are kicking off the official OTAs, or organized team activities, this week. The voluntary sessions are the first gathering of the full team including the rookie class, which finished the rookie minicamp recently.
These are not full-contact workouts or high-intensity practice sessions, so there won’t be full tackling or padded conflict between the lines. But there are still things to take note of during the OTAs.
Here are a few things I’ll be watching during the sessions open to the media.
Detroit’s top pick in the 2023 NFL draft sat out the recent rookie minicamp with what was deemed a minor ankle injury. Gibbs is not someone with a lengthy injury history, but it will be interesting to see how much, if at all, the rookie RB participates in the non-contact drills.
Given the Lions’ recent and dubious history with rookie RBs and durability issues, it would be nice if Gibbs was healthy enough to participate. No need to start going down the eye-rolling road of questioning the availability and toughness of yet another highly-drafted RB…
Tight end pecking order
Detroit drafted Sam LaPorta early in the second round, and he thrived at rookie minicamp. But how quickly does he assume the role of starter and taking first-team reps in practices?
We’ll get our first look at the pecking order at tight end. Beyond LaPorta, where does James Mitchell fit? Is the promising second-year TE ahead of Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra, or will he need to prove his way up the depth chart?
It’s a position group with a lot of questions, and this week provides our first look at how those questions might be answered.
Tracy Walker's recovery
Walker recently vowed to be ready for OTAs in one of his (impressive) videos of his rehabilitation from a torn Achilles. It would provide a big boost to the secondary if the team’s top safety is ready to roll some eight months after his surgery.
The EDGE depth chart and usage
Aidan Hutchinson is entrenched as one of the starting EDGEs, we know that. Beyond No. 97, the depth chart gets a little murky.
Vets Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris are both back and healthy. So is John Cominsky, who played very capably in his first year in Detroit. Josh Paschal enters his second year as someone the Lions remain quite bullish about. James Houston finished his rookie year with a flourish. Then there’s Julian Okwara, back for another season.
Harris, Houston and Julian Okwara are more outside linebackers-as-pass rushers, while the others are more hand-in-dirt types. Do the Lions mix-and-match, or do they play with three or even four of them on the field in formations? There are a lot of possibilities for coordinator Aaron Glenn on the defensive front.
Which UDFA commands attention
Which vets opt to not show up
These are voluntary. That means the team cannot hold it against veterans who don’t show up, not officially.
Last season, several players coming off injuries did not make the trip to Allen Park. Among them: tight end T.J. Hockenson, left tackle Taylor Decker and EDGE Romeo Okwara. As noted with Walker above, it’s a chance to see the relative progress in injury rehab.
The veterans who don’t show up and don’t have medical reason for their absence are a different story. While recompense against not showing up is banned, it’s hard to imagine Dan Campbell not making strong note of anyone who chooses to not play football. That goes against the grain of the culture Campbell and the Lions are trying to establish in Detroit.
A year ago, Williams was still sidelined from knee surgery but managed to be actively engaged in the OTAs.
He’s healthy this year, but Williams faces a 6-game suspension for violating the league’s gambling rules. After catching just one pass as a rookie and now having a suspension over his head, it will be interesting to see Williams’ energy level and interactions with his teammates.