The Detroit Lions open training camp Thursday at the team's practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Will more players buy into Matt Patricia's coaching style and scheme in Year 2?
For Patricia's sake, he had better hope so. That said, it seems like so far, so good for Patricia heading into his second season. There are multiple reasons for that. First, everyone around the organization now understands what the expectations are after having been in his system for a year. Players understand what practices are going to be like and what the schedule is going to be. Second, there appeared to be a real effort this offseason to sign players who fit the Patriots mold Patricia comes from, including Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola. They are talented players who fit into the schemes but are also players who know what to expect coming in and can set an expectation level immediately. Buy-in shouldn't be an issue this season. If it is, that's an even bigger problem than it was a year ago.
Who benefits most from new coordinator Darrell Bevell's offense?
Kerryon Johnson was on pace for a fantastic rookie year before his season ended with a knee injury against Carolina on Nov. 18. He had 118 carries for 641 yards and three touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown in an offense that wasn't geared toward a strong rushing attack. There's no question Bevell knows how to put together a good run game; it is one of his main philosophies as a coordinator. Paired with Patricia's desire to run the ball, Johnson and Detroit's other running backs could be the biggest beneficiaries as long as the offensive line blocks effectively.
This is going to be something that is worth watching both in the short and long term. In the short term, both players are expected to show up to training camp, giving the Lions their top two defenders back. Once they talk, it’ll be interesting to see their perspectives on whether they’ll get deals and whether they felt it was effective. The long-term question will be how general manager Bob Quinn handles their contracts. If he gives Slay and Harrison new deals or extensions, it will set a precedent for players who have also outperformed their current contracts to make demands of the team. If Quinn doesn't give them new deals, he might have to be concerned with how that will sit with two of the Lions' better players. The best solution might be a meeting in the middle, but how this is handled with the two Drew Rosenhaus clients could dictate future contract issues.
Is a 1,500-yard all-purpose season a reasonable expectation for Johnson?
Absolutely, and for the Lions to have success this season they'll likely need him to hit that mark. He was on pace for around that number as a rookie before his knee injury and should see more touches this season if healthy. The thing to watch here for Johnson will be whether he can play all 16 games. That's a goal of his this season, and if he hits that marker, he should surpass 1,500 total yards -- and perhaps record double-digit touchdowns.
What should be considered a good season for first-round pick T.J. Hockenson?
It's an interesting spot for Hockenson because as a top-10 pick, there will be higher public expectations on him. But he's only the 17th tight end to be taken in the top 10, and only one of those, Mike Ditka in 1961, had a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. It is one of the hardest positions to make the college-to-NFL transition, and stats have shown that. Only 31 tight ends have gained more than 500 yards rookies. That's a number Hockenson should hit, particularly if his playing time increases as the season goes on. A stat line of 40 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns would be a good building-block season for Hockenson.
One thing to note with the Iowa product: For the first time in the Quinn era, the first-round pick didn't receive the full complement of first-team snaps during spring minicamp. That could be due to learning Bevell's new offense or free-agent signing Jesse James needing to learn the offense and gain chemistry with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. But it's something to watch as training camp goes on: How many first-team reps does Hockenson get and how does he perform?