The Detroit Lions concluded their 2012 rookie minicamp last weekend, allowing the team to see their newly acquired talent on the Allen Park practice fields for the first time.
These camps are a tantalizing tease of talent to outside observers attempting to capture a glimpse of the skill offerings from the team’s new comers.
As us sideline spectators attempt to familiarize ourselves with the new faces, the Lions are simply attempting to get a feel for players they already have ideas about as well as introduce the rookies to the fundamentals of being a Detroit Lion.
Basically, the camp is more of a learning experience for the players than the team.
“The whole idea here is to get them oriented, get them up to speed so that they can compete when we get to our offseason program,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “They’ll be in our offseason program this week. They’ll be in our OTA’s the following week and that’s really the whole idea behind this, more so than evaluating guys and having guys jump out and things like that.”
The Lions won’t have to trim their roster down to 80 until August 28 and won’t have to make decisions on the 53-man roster until the beginning of September.
The principle priority of camp is establishing the foundation that will enable the team’s young prospects to fully demonstrate their abilities throughout training camp.
“You want to see guys that can execute and you want to see what physical skills a guy has and different things like that, but a guy is not making the 53-man roster based on what he did in this mini-camp,” said Schwartz. It’s a process, and like I said, the biggest thing is getting them ready for what’s coming up in the following weeks more so than the individual stuff that they do out there.
“There’s a lot of mistakes out there. If we can eliminate some of those mistakes when we get to next week, then it was a mission accomplished for these guys out there.”
Even though a rookie mini-camp does not warrant tremendous bearing towards the team’s final roster, the rookies themselves are cause for excitement as they will have a real impact on the team’s success.
“We talked a little bit about how you rely on rookies not only making the team, but contributing,” said Schwartz. That’s just part of the model now in the NFL. Theoretically, the more returning players you have, the less chances there’s going to be for guys to step in. I don’t know that whether you win the Super Bowl or have the first pick of the draft, I don’t know that anybody ever feels like they’re set. Everybody feels like there’s going to be spots that you’re going to have to replace every single year.”
With the understanding that rookie contributions will be necessary for the team to return to the playoffs, we will examine the rookies with the strongest chance of making the team’s 53-man roster leading up to training camp.
The first player we will look at will be first-round selection Riley Reiff.
Reiff had 33 consecutive starts at left tackle for Iowa prior to being drafted by the Lions. He was named first team All-Big Ten in 2010 and 2011.
A former tight end and high-school wrestler, Reiff is a solid athlete. He excels as a pass protector and seems to be a strong fit for the Lions offense.
The Lions used pick No. 23 in the first round to acquire Reiff. Many have questioned Reiff’s overall potential due to the fact that he lasted towards the later stages of the first round.
The primary reason he slipped in the draft was due to his arm length. Measuring at 33¼ inches, Reiff’s arms are slightly shorter than what is desired at the position.
As the team’s top draft choice, Reiff is guaranteed a roster spot in 2012.
Although a roster spot is certain, a starting role is not. Reiff is versatile enough to play any position on the offensive line, save for center, but figures to have his strongest opportunity at right tackle.
Incumbent left tackle Jeff Backus – if healthy – will retain his post on the left side of the line for another year or two. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is the lineman that will be looking over his shoulder.
Cherilus was benched for a game last season (Week Two against the Kansas City Chiefs) and the team may see Reiff as an upgrade.
It is important to note that Cherilus was benched due to a lack of discipline and not poor play. It is also important to note that Cherilus will enter camp as the team’s starter at right tackle.
Reiff will have to demonstrate consistency and reliability in camp if he wants to be considered as an immediate starter.
Consistency and reliability were two characteristics that Reiff demonstrated throughout his collegiate career, making him an enticing option for the Lions in the first round.
Long Term Impact
Whether or not Reiff starts at right tackle in 2012 won’t change the fact that the Lions view him as an eventual replacement to Backus.
If Reiff does not develop into a starting left tackle for the Lions, this pick will be viewed as somewhat of a disappointment.
There is potential here for Reiff to be a decade-long starter.