The Detroit Lions open training camp on July 28 at their practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. Here’s a closer look at the Lions’ camp.
Top storyline: Until Jim Bob Cooter’s offense is completely unveiled, how the Lions plan on replacing star receiver Calvin Johnson will be on the top of every story written about Detroit this season. Expect the Lions to go by a committee approach with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and either TJ Jones or Jeremy Kerley all seeing a good amount of targets. The benefit for Detroit is if pass-catchers can win their one-on-one battles, it could open up a lot of options. But the downside is there is no one on the offense who enters training camp as a definitive game-breaker for the first time since the 2008 season. Will Detroit have one (or two) this season? That remains to be seen. And be wary of the Lions saying how much they like the offense, because remember at this time last year, all you heard from Detroit’s players was how comfortable and familiar they were in Joe Lombardi’s offense. And you saw how that turned out.
If Matthew Stafford completes 65 percent of his passes … The Lions could end up having a really good season. Stafford found the most consistent rhythm of his career under Cooter during the second half of last season, when he was statistically a top-10 quarterback. That kind of consistency from Stafford could make Detroit’s offense very potent even without Johnson.
Player who will have fans buzzing: Miles Killebrew probably won’t be a starter this season, but the rookie safety from Southern Utah will become a camp darling after he lays out a few big hits (his specialty) in camp and in games. If he is able to improve his coverage skills, he could end up pushing for time at some point during the season.
Position battle worth watching: The obvious one would be left tackle, but if Taylor Decker remains there to start camp, it won’t be much of one. The battle to watch will be behind Marvin Jones and Tate at receiver. There are a bunch of options with questions, including third-year pro TJ Jones, free agent signings Andre Roberts, Andre Caldwell and Kerley and undrafted free agents Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis. Two or three of these guys are going to win jobs and one might end up playing a big role in 2016.
That rookie should start: Decker is going to be a starter, so he doesn’t count here. But A'Shawn Robinson should end up being a starter next to Haloti Ngata. Robinson appeared to be very impressive even without pads on, showing speed and the ability to beat guys inside. If he can carry that over to camp and preseason games, he might end up pushing Tyrunn Walker for a starting role -- or at worst be Detroit’s No. 3 defensive tackle.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: This one is obvious, but it is long-snapper Don Muhlbach. The Lions drafted Jimmy Landes in the sixth round and are going to give him every chance to win the job. The Lions won’t carry more than one long-snapper, and Detroit invested a pick in Landes.
Special-teams battles will be fierce: One of the areas GM Bob Quinn wanted to improve from the outset was the depth of the roster -- and the majority of depth he acquired has significant special-teams experience. So when you’re trying to figure out who will be on the 53-man roster this fall, don’t look only at positions on offense or defense but special-teams usage. There could be six to eight guys who make the team more for special-teams ability than positional prowess, particularly on defense. If you include players with positional flexibility, such as Brandon Copeland, it makes for a bunch of intriguing things to watch in camp.
Running back could get interesting: It is the most beat-up position on Detroit’s roster and camp hasn’t even started. Abdullah and Stevan Ridley missed OTAs and minicamp recovering from injuries. Zach Zenner hasn’t taken a hit since suffering cracked ribs and a partially collapsed lung in October. The only known quantity is Riddick, and he's known as a pass-catcher with limited between-the-tackles rushing ability. So this could be an underrated battle to watch during camp between Ridley, Zenner, rookie Dwayne Washington and George Winn for a couple of roster spots.
What fans will be saying after camp: Despite the team’s lack of consistent winning over the past half-century, Lions fans continually surprise me with their optimism. So barring an injury to three or four key players, I’d imagine fans will believe the Lions can compete this season. And they should be able to compete, particularly with a reasonable schedule after the first month of the year. But it’ll be interesting to see what that optimism looks like if things don’t go well over the first four weeks, including games at Indianapolis, Green Bay and Chicago.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Detroit Lions clubhouse page.