With the Lions "on vacation" until training camp begins at the end of the month, we're essentially in the eye of the offseason hurricane. There has been a whirlwind of activity from the moment the Super Bowl ended with draft preparations, free agency, OTAs, the draft itself and minicamps, but now we're in a dead zone of sorts. Players are off doing their own thing for the month of July and are enjoying their final opportunities for some rest and relaxation. Once training camp gets going, there's little time to worry about even taking a deep breath, let alone time off, so this is it for the players.
For the front office and coaches, this is as close as it gets to time off. They may not have to worry about practices or things like that, but preparing for training camp is not necessarily a quick and simple process. The front office has to make sure all of the draft picks are signed and the roster is ready to go, and the coaches have to make sure all of the pressing needs are filled. Basically, the franchise as a whole -- from players to coaches to the front office -- has to be ready to go when training camp arrives. Things will change quickly, such as the roster and game plans for camp, but being prepared is vital.
Even though there isn't a lot going on right now, as we count down the days until the Lions open training camp (July 31), there are many questions that will be asked about the team. Some are just basic questions that require basic answers, but others are more complex. Either way, there are a lot of questions out there, so this week's Top Five is about the biggest ones the Lions have to worry about during this brief vacation.
No. 5: Will first-round draft picks Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best be signed before camp begins?
Even before he was drafted, Suh stressed that he would not hold out. Although many have had concerns about that given that Eugene Parker is one of his agents (the same Eugene Parker who represented Michael Crabtree, who held out for a long period of time last year), the fact that Suh has been so focused on signing before training camp has alleviated my concerns.
That said, there's no doubt that this will be a big question until both Suh and Best are signed. Already four of the Lions' six draft picks have signed, leaving only Suh and Best as the unsigned selections. First-round picks are always tougher to sign just because more money is involved, but typically the Lions haven't had a problem with first-rounders missing practice time because of a lack of a contract. With a lot of time to go until training camp, I wouldn't expect Suh or Best missing time to be a problem for the Lions, but this will be interesting to watch just to see how long it takes for them to sign.
No. 4: When will Brandon Pettigrew be healthy enough to fully practice?
Pettigrew tore his ACL way back on Thanksgiving, but there's no telling if he will be healthy enough to fully practice when training camp begins. Jim Schwartz sounded optimistic about Pettigrew's progress when recently asked about a timetable for the tight end's return, but Pettigrew himself was unsure of when he will be back.
It's not like the Lions are hurting for depth at tight end considering they traded for Tony Scheffler during the offseason, but getting Pettigrew back and getting him ready to play is important. He really started playing well before his injury, but there's no doubt this set back his progress. The obvious hope now is to curtail how big of a setback this injury ends up being by getting Pettigrew back on the field as soon as he's healthy, but just when that will be is definitely up in the air.
No. 3: Will Kevin Smith be healthy enough to fully participate in training camp?
Sticking with the ACL injury theme, Kevin Smith actually seems ahead of schedule with his recovery despite suffering the injury after Pettigrew. Smith was on the field for individual drills during OTAs and the minicamp at the end of June, and he even got in for some plays during the team-wide drills. If he can keep working hard during the next few weeks of his rehab, there seems to be a strong possibility that Smith will be fully ready to go by the end of the month.
I would imagine the Lions will ease Smith back into things since it will take some time to be effective on the football field even if he is healthy, but simply being ready for team-wide drills would be very encouraging. Many have written Smith off because of this injury and the fact that the Lions drafted Best, but if he can get healthy by training camp, it would be a huge plus for Detroit. Not only would his presence at running back help fuel a competition to drive Best to work harder, but also having him on the road to being effective again would upgrade the running back position as a whole. No, he wasn't an All-Pro or anything before his injury, but the Lions could use a player like Smith to be part of a potential running back by committee setup along with Best.
No. 2: Is a player on the roster ready to step up and take over Ernie Sims' starting spot at linebacker?
As soon as Sims was traded to Philadelphia, everybody looked to Zack Follett to fill in the vacant starting spot. Despite the fact that Follett was mostly a special teams player during his rookie year, hopes are high for Follett. The obvious hope would be for him to continue to progress as a linebacker and be ready to start, but there's no guarantee.
The Lions do have some other players on the roster that will be competing for the same starting spot, but will one of them step up his game and be good enough to start? Right now I'm not so sure. These other questions I can give you pretty confident answers one way or another, but I'm just not certain what will happen at that third linebacker spot. On paper it looks like the Lions could be in need of a veteran to come in and solidify their linebacking corps, but training camp is where young players like Follett can really make a name for themselves.
No. 1: Can the Lions' secondary, as it stands right now, even be average?
For years the Lions have had enormous problems with their secondary. No matter how many different players have come and gone over the years, it just seems like nothing ever works. Sure, Louis Delmas appears to be a promising young safety, but what about the other three starting spots in the secondary? Right now all of them are up in the air.
The Lions made quite a few moves this offseason to improve the secondary, especially at cornerback. The majority of the corners from last year's team are gone, and some new players like Chris Houston (acquired from Atlanta), Jonathan Wade (signed), Amari Spievey (drafted) and Dre' Bly (signed last week) are set to compete for the two starting spots.
I don't think there's any doubt that the corners and secondary as a whole should be better than last year, especially with an improved defensive line in front of them. Even so, being better than last year's defensive backs doesn't exactly say much, so the real question becomes this: How much better will they be? If the improvement from 2009 to 2010 is only marginal at best, then the Lions will still have some serious concerns on defense. Last year's DBs were just plain awful, and that has to change if the Lions are going to even think about winning more than a few games.
To answer this question, I do think the Lions' secondary can be average. Will it be above-average? I have a tough time saying yes just based on consistent failures with this unit in the past. Like I said before, there's no doubt that this new group should be better, but I just have a hard time believing some of these retreads and a rookie will be exceptionally better. Then again, with a defensive line that now has Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams, perhaps the secondary won't have as many chances to fail. The ultimate hope with a potentially much improved D-line is for it to hide some of the secondary's weaknesses, so in that regard it's definitely possible for the DBs to struggle less. I'm sure there will still be many head-scratching moments, but overall I do believe the secondary will work its way up to close to average when all is said and done.
Agree or disagree with this week's Top Five? Have comments or a Top Five list of your own? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.