The Detroit Lions completed their final practice before tonight’s preseason opener yesterday morning. Two long weeks of training camp is in the books, and the Lions get their first chance to knock pads against an opponent as the Cleveland Browns come to town.
It’s finally football season again in Detroit and the Lions are ready to prove that last year’s collapse down the stretch was only a fluke.
This year’s team has the talent and potential to make fans forget all about last year’s 7-9 record. There are some new faces —James Ihedigbo, Eric Ebron, Golden Tate— that join the returning team members, and a new coaching staff that hopes to turn Detroit into an annual playoff contender.
Calvin Johnson made headlines earlier this offseason when he said he believed Detroit was in a place where it could win a Super Bowl. When your best player has these kinds of expectations, then he must feel like the team has the talent to go the distance.
But before we go talking about any Super Bowls —and before I remind everyone that Detroit has one postseason victory since 1957— the Lions have work to do on the practice field.
The offense and defense are using different systems under the new coordinators, and the team needs to be focused on getting down these schemes in training camp and the preseason. It can be a tough transition for some players, but Detroit’s cast has proven they are willing to put in the work to achieve the payoff.
Let’s take a look at some of the storylines from the first two weeks of training camp:
1. Rough start for rookie TE Eric Ebron
The player that’s been most heavily criticized in camp thus far has got to be tight end Eric Ebron. Detroit’s first-round pick had been dropping passes in the early going, a less than encouraging sign.
Ebron proceeded to get dinged up in practice this week, and may not suit up for tonight’s game. He did return to practice yesterday, but you can never be too cautious at this point in the season.
Given the fact that he’s already under the magnifying glass for his high selection in the draft, the last thing Ebron needed was a disappointing camp. There hasn’t been a tight end picked this high since Vernon Davis, and that comes with a burden of expectations to live up to on the field.
As for the comparison to the 49ers tight end, they are pretty much irrelevant because Davis was a much more coveted prospect at the time of his draft. Just check out Davis’ combine numbers compared to Ebron’s.
Davis was on another level back in 2006. However, Ebron is slightly taller than Davis, and has apparently made great strides in recent days, so there is plenty of time for him to quiet the doubters.
I don’t think a few drops in training camp, or a seat on the bench tonight, is going to determine anything long-term for Ebron.
2. Unofficial depth chart released
The Lions also put up their first depth chart on the team website earlier this week. Nothing to get too excited about, just standard protocol before a preseason contest, but it is worth taking a look at.
Some notable things that stand out:
- Ashlee Palmer gets starting nod at outside linebacker over second-round pick Kyle Van Noy
- Mikel Leshoure is listed as the third string running back over Theo Riddick
- Ebron is listed as the third tight end behind Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria
You can check out the team’s full depth chart here.
3. Matt Stafford has yet throw an interception in any drill in camp
Confirmed by both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and the quarterback himself, apparently it’s true. Matt Stafford hasn’t thrown one interception this training camp:
Stafford confirmed what Lombardi sad yesterday that He has not thrown an INT in any 7-on-7 or team drill during camp
— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 8, 2014
This is an encouraging sign for the polarizing Stafford, who has been turnover prone in his early years:
Games Played TDs INTs QB Rating
2009: 10 13 20 61.0
2010: 3 6 1 91.3
2011: 16 41 16 97.2
2012: 16 20 17 79.8
2013: 16 29 19 84.2
The same offensive skill players are returning, with the additions of Tate and Ebron, plus a new offensive scheme built around the New Orleans Saints’ playbook means Stafford is set up to have a big year.
He needs to reduce the interceptions and get his team some wins, especially if he wants to prove he’s worth the contract extension he signed last July. Stafford is due $41.5 million in guaranteed money for his services the next four seasons, the eighth highest total in the league.
If he can’t provide consistent production with all of these weapons, then this could become a long-term issue Detroit would have to address. Just ask the St. Louis Rams how they feel about Sam Bradford’s $50 million in guaranteed money.
While it’s only a fun little camp anecdote, this “no interception in camp” thing is a positive sign that Stafford has taken the next step. Tonight will be our first chance to see him in live action against a opponent so let’s see how confident he looks.
You can catch tonight’s preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on the NFL Network at 7:30 p.m. ET.