Five positions to watch as Lions take on Colts in Sunday’s preseason opener

First chance to see rookies in game situation

After two days of joint practices, the Lions and Colts will face off at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in the preseason opener for both teams at Indianapolis. (In Detroit, the game will air on FOX 2.)

Typically in this first game, starters might see about a quarter of playing time depending on how the game unfolds.

Here are five positions to watch:

1. Greg Robinson seems to have the edge at left tackle to hold down the position until Taylor Decker is able to return. It’s not a done deal though. Cyrus Kouandijo was also signed to get a look for the left tackle spot. Both are veterans and this battle could continue through the four preseason games.

2. At wide receiver there are plenty of bodies. The Lions could have some tough decisions to make here. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and rookie Kenny Golladay are locks. Then there’s a bottleneck for the fourth and fifth spots (if they keep five). TJ Jones, Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin and Jace Billingsley have had solid camps so far. TJ Jones has been a bit of a surprise coming up with tough catches in traffic.  Even coach Jim Caldwell is uncertain how many wide receivers they will keep. “It just depends on how many guys are kept at other positions. What we think, you know, we may have some guys that take us above maybe what our normal limit would be in terms of how many we would keep. It changes. There’s a lot of positions involved in that,’’ Caldwell said this week. The number of tight ends could play a factor, same with running backs.

3. Defensive end is another key area to watch. Ziggy Ansah likely won’t play at all since he’s been out with an undetermined injury. That gives the others a chance to go against the Colts’ first unit. Kerry Hyder and Anthony Zettel are listed as starters on the depth chart. Armonty Bryant, who is suspended for the first four games, and Cornelius Washington are next up. Still keep an eye on Alex Barrett (No. 79), the undrafted rookie who has opened eyes in camp. Plenty of tough competition at this spot.

4. Not sure how much we’ll see of Ameer Abdullah, who missed the final 14 games in 2016. He’s looked fine in camp but Caldwell won’t want to take unnecessary risks. Same for Theo Riddick who is coming off surgery on both wrists. Quietly Zach Zenner has had a good camp, especially during goal-line plays. Mike Asiata and Tion Green should get plenty of reps along with Dwayne Washington who was hot and cold as a rookie last year.

5. Jarrad Davis, the first-round pick, has looked good as middle linebacker in camp. It will be interesting to see how that translates to a preseason game. Chances are good it will carry over. Tahir Whitehead will start on the weakside and Antwione Williams on the strong side. Still plenty of time to make changes. Watch rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin, veterans Paul Worrilow and Nik Bellore, along with Brandon Copeland.

BONUS: Safety Miles Killebrew could come out hitting. Also Teez Tabor plays with a chip on his shoulder so let’s see how it goes in a game situation.


Five things to know about Lions QB Matthew Stafford as camp progresses

Remember back to the Lions’ 2009 training camp? All eyes were on first-round pick Matthew Stafford who had to beat out veteran Daunte Culpepper for the starting quarterback job. (It seems a little ridiculous now but that’s what coach Jim Schwartz wanted. Stafford wasn’t announced as the starter until Sept. 6.)

Fast-forward nine years.

While the Lions have many question marks and tough roster decisions to make, concern about Stafford is just not an issue.

The 29-year-old quarterback looks just fine and has rarely missed any throws in camp.

He’s in great shape, according to coach Jim Caldwell. And, he’s got two new fans — 4-month-old twin daughters Sawyer and Chandler. (Photo from Instagram account of Kelly Stafford.)

Here are five new things to know about Stafford:

1. Running back Theo Riddick sees a difference in Stafford from last season. “Definitely he’s way more vocal and that’s what we love,’’ Riddick said. “We’re definitely going to need that to see the things that he likes so that we can change and iron out a few things so we’re all on the same page.’’

2. Wide receiver Golden Tate pretty much agrees. “I think at the end of the day in this game you’re getting better or you’re getting worse, you’re never staying the same,’’ Tate said. “Knowing who Stafford is and who we have in this locker room we’re all getting better. Naturally as you get more comfortable he probably shares a little more and micro-manages the guys a little bit more and that’s what he’s been doing. He’s a phenomenal leader as it is and he’s been doing even more of that this year.’’

3. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay has told stories about how Stafford has taken him under his wing, even worked on routes with him after practice. Golladay mostly has no complaints about Stafford’s zip on the ball. “To begin with I’m used to it now,’’ Golladay said.  “It’s pretty much any other ball unless he throws a real rocket in there, then it might be a hard fastball.’’

4. Caldwell just sees Stafford continuing to grow. “I know everybody’s kind of looking for the Holy Grail in terms of something that’s really different. He’s always been a leader. I just think there may be some things that he wants to make sure he gets right and that they understand exactly what he’s looking for and so, I think he’s certainly got to be a little bit more vocal,’’ Caldwell said. “And that happens too when guys get a little bit better, more seasoned, in the system too. But, he’s always taken ownership and I think if you take a look at some film and just go back you’ll see quite often he’s pretty vocal out there.”

5. And a look from the outside on Stafford as he heads into his ninth season. Andy Benoit of wrote on Wednesday: “Besides continuing to make the big-time tight-window throws that Matthew Stafford has always made (he’s especially deft throwing deep outside against Cover 2), we’ve also seen the 29-year-old QB plays with more maturity in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s system. Those ‘wow’ throws no longer come at the cost of wise decision-making. Cooter often puts the Lions in straightforward, static formations. The stillness gives Stafford a clearer picture of the defense pre-snap. It’s the same thing the Colts used to do with Peyton Manning.’’ It’s probably not a coincidence that Cooter and Caldwell spent significant time working with Manning.

Lions won’t miss Andrew Luck at joint practices with Indianapolis Colts

Two practices in Indianapolis will lead to Sunday preseason game

Andrew Luck won’t participate in the joint practices between the Lions and the Colts in Indianapolis on Thursday and Friday.  Luck’s shoulder injury will keep him out of  Sunday’s preseason opener too.

The Colts will miss him much more than the Lions will.

His absence doesn’t matter one iota to the Lions’ defense.

“It doesn’t change what we’re trying to get done, obviously it changes who we’re going against,’’ Lions safety Glover Quin said on Wednesday.

“I don’t know how it changes what they’re doing and how their offense will run. For us the goal is the same to go out, compete it doesn’t matter who they have out there, just go out and compete, get better, work on our stuff, focus on us and see what happens.’’

This is the second straight year the Lions have had joint practices away from their facility in Allen Park. Last year they spent a few days near Pittsburgh working against the Steelers.

Coach Jim Caldwell spent 10 seasons on the Colts’ coaching staff which could have played a role in the decision to head to Indianapolis this week.

“First of all, I think you practice against people that you have like mindedness in terms of how you practice, what you want to get accomplished and things of that nature, so I’ve been knowing Chuck (Pagano) for a while and I think we’re going to be able to have a couple of really good sessions and then obviously the game in itself,’’ Caldwell said.

“But No. 1, it’s a great evaluation tool. The proximity is good for us obviously, and the great thing is it’s our first ball game so we get the chance doubly look at our team against another team as opposed to one day. Because you can’t always get everything you want to see in the actual game in itself in terms of number of guys in, things of that nature, because some things are unpredictable in terms of timing. But in a practice setting, you can set up a lot of evaluations and really take a real good close look at some guys,’’ Caldwell said a few hours before the team boarding the flight to Indianapolis.

The players are looking forward to facing opponents other than their teammates.

And the joint practices give the coaching staffs more information about the 90 players they each have on the roster.

Sometimes joint NFL practices can get a little chippy with a skirmish here or there.

But Quin does not expect that will happen. The Lions are a disciplined team under Caldwell where it’s extremely rare for a fight to break out.

“We went to Pittsburgh last year, competed and didn’t have any issues. We know how to practice we should get two good days of work and keep moving,’’ Quin said.

Five things to know about TE Tim Wright who is back with the Lions

The veteran missed 2016 with a torn ACL

ALLEN PARK >> When he’s not an NFL tight end, Tim Wright is busy at his barber shop — The Wright Cut — in Piscataway, N.J.

Luckily, he has a team in place to take over the hair-cutting duties because he signed with the Lions on Wednesday and was back on the practice field.

Wright, 27, played nine games with the Lions in 2015 and was placed on injured reserve in May 2016 with a torn ACL. He said his knee is now 100 percent.

It’s unclear what his chances are of making the 53-man roster since he is one of seven tight ends. He certainly has a good shot and, if Wednesday was an indication, he’ll get plenty of first-team reps. (Eric Ebron has not been practicing due to an undisclosed injury.)

Much of Wright’s success will depend on how well he looks in camp and the preseason games.

“He has some familiarity with the system, so we’ll try to bring him along,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said.

Here are five things to know about Wright:

1. He knows the offense and said not much has changed since last year. That could be one reason he was taking reps with the first team in practice. “I’m a true veteran and I’m a pro. I’ve been around a great organization and this is a great organization,’’ Wright said. “So I know what to expect and where to pick up where I left off.’’

2. While he had feelers from other NFL teams, he’s happy to be back in Detroit. “My heart is here. All the stuff in my drawers is Lions stuff, all the other teams I’ve been on, that stuff is in storage and I’m ready to be a Lion again,’’ said Wright who is wearing No. 82.

3. He was not just cutting hair this summer. His NFL dreams were not dead. “I was working out man, posting stuff on Instagram so people could see it,’’ Wright said. “Fortunately the coaches had checked in, they saw how I look and brought me in. I dominated the workout and they saw me.’’ He said the Lions had been in touch with his agent over the past few months. “I’m sure they had me on their radar, I felt it, so I was preparing myself. When the time struck, the opportunity came, I was ready for it. I was focusing on getting better every day.’’

4. In 2015 with the Lions, Wright had nine catches for 77 yards. Two of those nine receptions were touchdowns. In 2014 with the New England Patriots he had six touchdowns in 16 games  and in 2013 with Tampa Bay he scored five times. “The touchdowns and catches are good for the books,’’ Wright said. “It’s a new year, I’ve got that under my belt. I know how I did it, my teammates know how I did it, hopefully (Matthew) Stafford knows how I did it. I’m trying to go out there and collect a few more.’’

5. The Lions were to leave for Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon. They’ll have joint practices with the Colts on Thursday and Friday leading up to their first preseason game on Sunday at Indianapolis. “I’m excited. The last two times I was traded, the next day I was into a game either starting or playing full speed. That’s what it is tomorrow at Indy. I’m ready to go rip it up,’’ Wright said.

Five things to know from Lions’ training camp on Golladay, Abdullah, Riddick, Tabor, Slay and Sam Martin

Rookie Kenny Golladay continues to impress

ALLEN PARK >> Sunday was another typical day at Detroit Lions training camp with a few twists.

Here are five notes of interest:

1. Running back Ameer Abdullah did not work for the first time since training camp started a week ago. Abdullah is coming off ankle surgery which forced him to miss the final 14 games in 2016.

“I guess it’s a vet day, only my third year I get a vet day,’’ Abdullah said.

In other words, the coaches gave him a day off, being careful to not overwork him.

He was good with it.

“I can get after it every single day. I feel good. I was telling coach I’ve turned the corner, I don’t really think about it any more. I’m out there competing at a high level, back to my old self and I’m happy with the progression I’ve made,’’ Abdullah said.

2. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay continues to flash. On Sunday he made some nice catches in red zone drills.

A media scrum with Golladay was briefly interrupted by veteran Golden Tate. (See photo above.) He had a few words to say: “Timeout — this boy can ball, you all have been seeing it, this guy can ball,’’ Tate said.

Tell us something we don’t know.

Golladay also got praise from Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson who visited camp on Friday.

“He said keep on working. He said you have a bright future — you’re big, physical and you can run. I just take advice from a guy like that. Fuel to the fire —  it just stokes me to come out and work,’’ Golladay, the third-round draft, pick said.

3. Cornerback Teez Tabor has had an up-and-down camp which is not unusual for a rookie.

When he was drafted, he said he was going to attach himself to Darius Slay to learn the position. He’s been true to his word.

“He’s learning from me, I’m still learning myself more, just trying to get him better,’’ Slay said.

He said Tabor is improving when it comes to asking the right questions.

“To be honest he’s probably one of the smartest ones in the (cornerback) room. He really understands the game. I think that helped him a lot in college because he understood the game real good. I think he’s going pretty good,’’ Slay said.

4. Punter Sam Martin is on the active/non-football injury list with an ankle issue. Unlike most of the other injured players, he has not been on the field at practice.

He is around, though.

Kicker Matt Prater said it’s weird not to have him on the field.

“I’m with him all day anyway. He’s just not at practice but he’s here everyday working getting healthier, better stronger,’’ Prater said. “We’re excited for an opportunity for Kasey (Redfern) to showcase what he can do in camp. We all know what Sam is capable of, he’s obviously one of the best to ever do it but Kasey has done a nice job filling in.’’

5.  Theo Riddick continues to wear the red cautionary jersey but it didn’t stop him on Sunday from juking and making plays like we’ve seen before.

“We just want to give him enough to make certain he was ready. We started out where he wasn’t do any catching just running, then he started catching a little more during certain phases. He’s doing more catching and a little more activity. … He’s been released (by doctors) to play but we’ll take our time,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. Riddick is coming off surgery on both wrists.

Abdullah calls Riddick one of the most underrated player in the NFL.

Caldwell won’t argue.

“He’s one of the most difficult guys to cover in the National Football League. Now the minute you say that they’ll double-team him, triple-team him, take him away from you but we have other guys to get the ball to. He is a real threat out of the backfield in a number of different ways,’’ Caldwell said.

Five things to know about Lions’ Theo Riddick who is on his way back

Running back only played 10 games in 2016 due to injury

ALLEN PARK — Theo Riddick had an uncharacteristic drop in Friday’s training camp and he was not happy about it.

Riddick missed the final three games last season with injuries that led to surgery on both of his wrists.

After he missed all of the spring practices, he’s back in action wearing a red cautionary jersey. He’s not fair game — he is not supposed to be hit.

Here are five things to know about Riddick:

— Coach Jim Caldwell is pleased with his progress. “He’s coming along well, just in terms of his cardiovascular shape. He’s in good shape. He’s moving around out there,’’ Caldwell said on Friday. “The only thing we’re not allowing him to do is have contact, even though he went to the ground one time out there. But other than that, I think he’s making good progress.”

— When asked about the statement that he’s one of the most underrated players in the NFL, Riddick has one three-word response: “Let’s play ball.”

— He’s thrilled to be back on the practice field after watching all spring while still wearing a brace on his right wrist. “It’s what you love to do, go out there and get the calls going in fast motions or slow. And just being out there working on the little things, paying attention to detail,’’ Riddick said.

— Ameer Abdullah and Riddick have not been on the field together since the second game of the 2016 season. Abdullah missed the final 14 games with a foot injury. “As long a we stay healthy we should be in good shape. We’re two talented backs and want to get the ball in our hands, we just want to do something with it,’’ Riddick said. The Lions’ running game was ranked 30th in the NFL in 2016 averaging just 81.9 yards per game.

— Riddick and Abdullah help each other off the field. “That’s my guy, everybody’s close in the room. Definitely me and Ameer, we definitely communicate. When he’s in  I can be an extra set of eyes,’’ Riddick said. “We’re always constantly learning and critiquing ourselves. With that we’re always trying to push each other even if we can get better in the smallest area.’’

Getting physical at Lions camp: Vet Marv Jones gets slammed by Jarrad Davis

Davis went after Jones in a seven-on-seven drill

ALLEN PARK — All’s fair game when the Lions are in pads in training camp.

Well, maybe not all but close to it.

One of the highlights of Friday morning’s camp was a big hit by rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis on veteran wide receiver Marvin Jones during seven-on-seven drills.

Matthew Stafford found Jones in a crowd, Jones caught the ball and then Davis slammed the wide receiver, the ball popped up and Jones caught it again. Davis blew him up again.

All is good though.

It’s exactly what the coaches want to see from the linebacking group.

Jones did not have an issue with being on the receiving end.

Afterward when Davis was in an interview scrum, Jones came up from behind him and playfully grabbed him around the waist as if he would tackle him to the turf.

The gesture from the veteran was a good thing.

“I really appreciate those guys,’’ Davis said. “When I got back there I let him know it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.’’

Sounds like a warning shot.

“(After) a little hit in the back on seven-on-seven that was chip from me, a nice little present. It’s all good, we’re in full pads, it’s football. You’re going to get something like that. I’m glad he’s on our squad,’’ Jones said.

Davis, who was drafted in the first round to start at middle linebacker, had another solid day. The hit on Jones was just the exclamation point.

“It’s part of the game physicality, football is a physical game if they don’t like it they don’t like it, if they like it they like it. It’s going to go either way,’’ Davis said. “I’m practicing my craft, working on me. I’m going to make sure I take care of my teammates at the end of the day, but you have moments like that to make the team better.’’

Coach Jim Caldwell had no problem with the play. It wasn’t vicious, it’s what the coaches need to see now and then during camp days when they are in full pads.

“Every practice is different, this practice was a padded practice so we went after it pretty good and there’s some practices we don’t. It was within the rules,’’ Caldwell said. “The physical nature of the game is what it is, you’ve got to be able to tackle and run. You’re going to have a collision here and there.’’

Caldwell is cautious about dropping too many kind words early in camp especially for rookies.

Still no one can deny Davis has proven his first-round value so far.

“Yeah, I think (physicality) is kind of a normal trait of most linebackers and anybody on defense period. Those are guys that are going to be very, very active in that regard,’’ Caldwell said. “He’s performing well. Like I said, nothing’s perfect. He’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he certainly works at it and he’s doing a nice job just in terms of the overall progression.”

And aggression, we might add.