5 Detroit Lions to watch in minicamp: Jameson Williams, Jared Goff working on chemistry

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are closing in on the end of their formal offseason program.

The Lions host three days of mandatory minicamp Tuesday-Thursday, and if tradition holds, this will be the last time most of the team’s veterans will be in Allen Park until summer. The Lions have their final four organized team activities next week, but head coach Dan Campbell has historically given his veterans the last few voluntary workouts off.

For some bubble players, this will be the last chance to impress coaches before training camp. And for everyone, there’s still that last little bit of work to accomplish before the real grind begins soon.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Lions’ offseason plan on offense is a tug-of-war. That’s a good thing.

CARLOS MONARREZ: Lions’ Jameson Williams needs to grow up fast and apologize to Jared Goff

We gave you five storylines to watch at the start of OTAs, and we’ll turn the focus onto five players this week I’ll be watching to get a better sense of what their roles could be and how much they could contribute come fall.

WR Jameson Williams

It’s a small sample size for sure, but the Lions’ second first-round pick from last spring is still a work in progress at this stage of his career. Williams played sparingly as a rookie, ran afoul of NFL rules this offseason and hasn’t done much to turn heads in the Lions’ two open practices this spring. He dropped one deep pass from Jared Goff in the first OTA open to reporters last month and still seems to be searching for chemistry with the Lions QB.

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The Lions are banking on Williams playing a big role on offense once he returns from his six-game suspension, and while he’s sure to see a heavy workload in preseason games, the next three days are a chance for him to build some positive momentum heading into the summer. A strong minicamp won’t necessarily set Williams up for a successful fall, but it will give skeptical Lions fans hope for his future.

RB Jahmyr Gibbs

The Lions are not in the business of handing starting jobs to rookies. Jack Campbell has worked behind Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes in the linebacker rotation this spring, and Sam LaPorta has stayed with the second-team offense in pre-practice installation periods. But David Montgomery’s leg injury has bumped Gibbs to the forefront of the running back rotation and the Lions’ first-round pick should get plenty of work no matter Montgomery’s status this week.

Running backs can be tough to judge this time of year. There are no pads and no way to evaluate the physicality of the running game. But Gibbs is a unique player who adds value as a receiver and he’s already shown his ability to be a mismatch in OTAs. He’ll play in a rotation with Montgomery this fall, and the more work he gets now, the bigger the potential payoff for the Lions’ offense.

S Ifeatu Melifonwu

A third-round pick in 2021, Melifonwu is one of the aforementioned bubble players who could help his chances of making the 53-man roster with a strong finish to spring. He has played a bit role the past two seasons because of injuries, but now he’s buried on the depth chart behind C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph.

Melifonwu took some first-team reps in practice last week when Gardner-Johnson was absent and he got into a walk-through skirmish with Amon-Ra St. Brown. He should get plenty more work this week as the Lions remain cautious with Walker in his return from a torn Achilles. Including minicamp, he has 2½ months to convince the coaching staff and front office he still can be a player in this league.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Lions’ offseason plan on offense is a tug-of-war. That’s a good thing.

LB Julian Okwara

The Lions have good depth at linebacker for what seems like the first time in ages. Campbell and Anzalone should start at the off-ball spots once the season begins. Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez are capable backups at the position. James Houston was a force as a designated pass rusher late last season. And if Houston doesn’t start at strong-side linebacker, Charles Harris — who missed much of last season with a groin injury — likely will.

Okwara also is vying for time as an edge linebacker, though his path to a roster spot doesn’t seem as secure. The 2020 third-round pick has flashed pass-rushing ability with seven sacks the past two seasons, but he hasn’t always been able to stay on the field. The Lions can mix and match personnel in their front seven, and they’ve done plenty of that this spring. This week offers another chance to see what they have in store for Okwara and the other edge rushers on their roster.

K Parker Romo and K Riley Patterson

OK, so this is two players, not one, but Romo and Patterson appear to be in a qualifying heat of sorts, to take on incumbent Michael Badgley in a training camp battle for the kicking job.

Romo shined in the Lions’ open OTA last Thursday, winning a kicking contest with Patterson (after almost no warm-up) and drilling a long of 62 yards. Romo has a stronger leg than Patterson and Badgley, but consistency will be key the next two weeks. He spent a few days getting used to the new operation after he signed from the XFL and the Lions have a comfort level with Badgley and Patterson, both of whom were with them part of last year.

Ultimately, the Lions’ kicking competition won’t be decided until August, but special teams coordinator Dave Fipp has been consistent in saying reps now count, too.

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

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