For anyone out there that needs to hear this; football is BACK!
The Detroit Lions opened up training camp today in Allen Park, ending what we in the biz like to call the "dog days of summer". Today was pretty mild from an action point of view, with only meetings and small press conferences taking place. However, today was important to pick the minds of the coaches and get a feel for where they think their respective units are at. Even with Darrell Bevell now at the helm as Offensive Coordinator, the number one question regarding the Lions offense remains the same: "can they run the ball?" With the emergence of star in the making, running back Kerryon Johnson, all eyes are on Offensive Line Coach Jeff Davidson and his unit as they prepare for the season.
The offensive line has always garnered the reputation as the most under appreciated unit for a football team. Detroit, however, seems to focus on the line more than other fan bases in the NFL. This is expected for a city that had a 70 game stretch without a running back breaking 100 rushing yds in a game. The Lions lost a banged up T.J. Lang to retirement in the off season, but bring back Rick Wagner, Graham Glasgow, and former first round draft picks Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. Even with four spots just about locked up, Davidson says he wants to create a competitive atmosphere in Allen Park.
"We've made progress but nowhere near the finished product. We don't even know who our starting guards are going to be. That's the truth to the matter. We're trying to create competition. That's what's fun for us, is those guys going at it,getting the best out of them each day looking for daily improvement and coming out of camp with the best group of five."
It's important for Davidson as well as the other coaches to be vague about the final product come week one. The only players on this roster that have truly earned the right to a starting spot are Darius Slay and Matthew Stafford (even though most of you want him gone). A couple of names to look out for are Kenny Wiggins and Beau Benzschawel. Wiggins took over the role of starting guard when Lang went down last year due to injury, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's a lock come week one. The more interesting of the two is Benzschawel. He's a two-time All American guard out of Wisconsin, a known offensive linemen factory, that went undrafted this past year. The signing was highly praised as a low risk, high reward type deal. The position might go to the guy that is most versatile on the line, a trait Davidson is looking out for.
"Versatility in my opinion is very key in this position. You have five that are gonna be your starters, you've got a sixth guy that better have more than one position that he's backing up and your seventh better have more than one as well. So versatility is very key for us."
The Lions have already moved around a couple of guys: Glasgow and Ragnow. Both players are praised for their high football IQ and willingness to learn both guard and center. Regardless of who fills in that fifth spot, the sixth man will be just as important, because we can see a couple of guys move in and out throughout the course of the season. Right now, Davidson is looking for the key guys to step up and lead.
"We're looking for the guys that are willing to step up and be leaders in that room. Quite honestly, my expectation is that they all are. We say that it starts up front, I say that it starts up front, I want them to say that it starts up front."
The Lions start practice tomorrow and will have their first pre-season game at home against the Patriots on August 8th. Tickets went on sale this morning.