As Matt Patricia gets ready for his second spring of offseason workouts running the Detroit Lions, a lot of attention will be paid to certain areas of what the franchise does -- particularly the offense and how the second-year head coach handles his players.
The first has to do with an offseason of change in Detroit -- out with one offensive scheme and in with another -- and the other has to do with whether Patricia decides to change how he prepares for a season based on what he might have learned a year ago.
With OTAs kicking off this week, keep that in mind as you watch for these things in Allen Park.
What does the offense look like: It is going to be different. There's little question about that, as Detroit shifts from Jim Bob Cooter's Tom Moore-inspired offense to Darrell Bevell's expected run-heavy attack with game plan flexibility that he showed in his time in Minnesota and Seattle. The Lions' moves in the offseason gave some indication to what that might look like. Detroit revamped the tight end position -- drafting T.J. Hockenson and Isaac Nauta and signing Jesse James and Logan Thomas.
Don't be surprised if early reports show two things: the defense being much further ahead and some early miscommunications. Those things are supposed to happen in the spring, and the Lions' defense has had a year to absorb its scheme.
How does Hockenson fit in: In Bob Quinn's first three years as general manager, his first-round pick has slid into a key starting role early in the spring. There's an expectation that Hockenson will do the same. Tight end is a difficult position to get adjusted to in the NFL, so don't be shocked if Hockenson ends up splitting first-team reps with James or even incumbent Michael Roberts.
Pay attention to reports of how Hockenson fits into the Detroit offense, both on the line of scrimmage and potentially lined up in the slot or out wide. It could give an indication for his usage in the fall. Spring OTAs have been a solid predictor of how first-round picks were used in the past, from Jarrad Davis taking middle linebacker reps from the start to Frank Ragnow working at guard instead of center.
Matt Patricia: A year ago, Patricia ran demanding practices in the spring and during training camp. It didn't lead to much on-field success with a 6-10 record and a lack of overall consistency. This year, players have a better idea of what to expect and should return to Detroit more prepared than they were a year ago. It'll be interesting to watch the open practices to see what Patricia might have learned as far as player management. While it's unlikely he changes his practice philosophy, there could be little changes to cater to players in his second season. Don't be surprised if it largely seems similar, though. The Lions sought out a specific type of player this offseason -- one who fits Patricia's philosophy, and who embraces how he works his team out of season as well as in season.
Early position battles: Two key position battles will start taking shape this week -- offensive guard and safety. Quandre Diggs will be at one safety, but there's an open competition for the spot next to him. Detroit drafted Tracy Walker last season with the thought that he could eventually step in for Glover Quin, whom the Lions released in February. He should receive the first chance, but veteran Tavon Wilson could push him for time and third-round pick Will Harris could be an early surprise.
The wild card will be Andrew Adams, whom the Lions signed in free agency. With much of the attention going to Walker and Harris, Adams has started 21 games, including at least four per season in each of his three years in the league. Detroit has had success with ex-Giants defenders in the past (Romeo Okwara, Devon Kennard, Damon Harrison).
Ragnow is expected to start at guard, likely remaining on the left side next to tackle Taylor Decker. Right guard, where T.J. Lang played the past two seasons, is vacant. Kenny Wiggins -- whom the Lions interestingly brought to the podium earlier this month -- might be the first person to get a shot at the starting gig. The Lions signed Oday Aboushi in free agency. He has familiarity in Bevell's offense, so he'll likely receive a long look.
The rest of the candidates are a jumble. Does Tyrell Crosby move from tackle to guard or remain as the likely No. 6 offensive lineman (barring injuries) for one more season? If Crosby does move inside, does that indicate how much they believe in undrafted free-agent tackle Ryan Pope and his $145,000 guaranteed base salary? Does Joe Dahl, in what could be his last chance to win a starting gig, push Wiggins and Aboushi for the job?
There are more position battles to watch, particularly at cornerback and linebacker, but it is too early to start handicapping who will win those jobs.
How much are some players used: While there will not be an Ezekiel Ansah watch this year -- he is in Seattle -- there are other Lions whose workloads should be monitored this spring. Kerryon Johnson says he's healthy, but does Detroit manage his reps considering how Patricia chose to rotate his backs last season. Is Marvin Jones Jr. fully ready? Does Harrison, who has missed at least part of the spring, show up? Is anyone else not in attendance? (Again, these are voluntary workouts, so there's no reason to get worked up if someone isn't there.)
Don't forget, though, this is spring ball: Across the league, players will garner considerable attention for their performance during offseason workouts. Some will be validated in the fall, like Kenny Golladay's early hype his rookie season. Others will not. The point is simple: Don't overbuy anything that comes out of the spring because things can look much different in August.