Detroit Lions minicamp preview: What Dan Campbell is focused on, 5 storylines to watch

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell will be keeping an eye on one thing in particular when his first mandatory minicamp as Detroit Lions coach opens Tuesday.

“Are guys making the corrections across the board, or do we still have guys that are making the same mistakes again?” Campbell said last week. “That’s what I’m looking for, because if that’s what the focus is, that means we are getting better and you’ll have a better finished product on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and special teams for that matter.”

The Lions are three days away from the end of their truncated offseason program, and 96 days away from their first regular season under Campbell.

They wrapped up two weeks of organized team activities Thursday, and while rookies and first-year players will stay in town for a final batch of OTAs next week (with some veterans perhaps choosing to stay as well), practices this week from Tuesday-Thursday represent the last time most players will be in the building until training camp opens in July.

Campbell said he is pleased with the offseason so far, though COVID-19 rules cost the Lions the early spring voluntary minicamp typically afforded to teams with new coaches, and altered workouts for the league as a whole.

“Guys were competitive,” Campbell said. “They were getting after it. And that’s how you get good.”

While Campbell’s primary focus will be on correcting and eliminating mistakes, here are five other storylines I will be watching at Lions minicamp:

Goff’s progression

Jared Goff has drawn positive reviews from his coaches so far, with Campbell calling him “impressive” and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn noting his strong arm. “He’s got a lot of confidence right now and I think he’s getting a good grasp of the offense,” Campbell said. “We’re pretty happy right now.”

Goff has thrown 10 to 20 “competitive” passes per practice the past two weeks, in seven-on-seven drills against defensive backs who are not in pads and cannot be too physical at the line of scrimmage, so his coaches’ praise comes with a caveat.

Still, Goff will be a storyline all season as he replaces Matthew Stafford at quarterback and the Lions try and figure out what his future is in Detroit. With a summer sojourn upcoming, this is the last chance for Goff and the offense to install some of the basics they’ll run this fall and get on the same page for when games start to count.

Safe keepings

Tracy Walker is locked into one starting safety spot and could be headed for a big year, but his running mate in the Lions’ secondary seems up for grabs. Will Harris and free agent addition Dean Marlowe are the leading candidates, but the Lions seem open to options after giving undrafted rookie D’Angelo Amos reps with the first-team defense during Thursday’s open OTA.

With one open spots on their 90-man roster, it’s possible the Lions add another veteran to the mix. Kenny Vaccaro and D.J. Swearinger, both of whom played for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn with the New Orleans Saints, and Malik Hooker, who’s returning from a torn Achilles, are among the top free agents available.

Harris could convince the Lions he’s the man for the job with a strong finish to the spring. But if the Lions leave the week with doubts about the other spot, they won’t have to look hard to find more competition.

Todd time

Speaking of open roster spots, the Todd Gurley watch remains on two weeks after the free agent running back visited Detroit. Gurley may not be in Allen Park for the start of minicamp, but it’s not uncommon for veterans to sit out the offseason then sign before the start of training camp (as players like Mike Daniels and Ricky Jean Francois did with the Lions in the past).

D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams will continue to split first-team reps, and their playing time shouldn’t be impacted even if Gurley signs.

Rookie seventh-round pick Jermar Jefferson is third on the Lions’ current depth chart at running back, but immediately moves to the roster bubble if Gurley is around. He won’t win or lose a job in minicamp, but the next two weeks seem important to his development – as tough as it is to judge running backs during practices with no pads.

Back in the saddle

Jamie Collins and Tyrell Crosby were the two most prominent Lions who sat out OTAs, but both are expected at minicamp this week. Crosby appears relegated to swing tackle duties, unless he can force a trade (which his OTA absence was designed in part to do). Collins, meanwhile, should wear a variety of hats on defense.

Aaron Glenn detailed some of the ways he hopes to use Collins, saying the versatile linebacker could line up as an edge rusher in some nickel packages. With Collins on the practice field this week, it will be interesting to see how the Lions use him, and what that means for fellow linebackers Alex Anzalone, Jahlani Tavai and Derrick Barnes.

Catching fire

The Lions’ receiving corps is a work in progress, but OTAs showed the speed of the unit led by Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman.

Williams got open for a big play at the start of seven-on-sevens Thursday and could emerge as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver. Depth at the position remains an issue, however, as rookie fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like the Lions’ No. 3 option.

Victor Bolden impressed during last week’s open practice, Jonathan Adams has drawn praise for his special teams ability and Quintez Cephus is a 2020 draft pick. If one or more of those players leave a favorable final impression before the Lions break for the summer, they could be in the driver’s seat for a 53-man roster spot when they return for training camp.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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