Matt Patricia now understands how much it takes to lead a team as the head coach. Patricia now has one season under his belt as the head coach of the Detroit Lions and is hoping for things to change in year two.
In 2018, the Lions finished with a record of 6-10 which was last place in the NFC North. Before coming to Detroit, Patricia served as the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator.
For the most part, the defense improved with Patricia, ranking 10th in total defense in 2018. In comparison, the Lions had the 27th ranked defense in 2017.
Now, this offseason, Detroit added Trey Flowers to their defense alongside Damon Harrison on the defensive line. Although, both Flowers and Harrison are questionable to be ready by the start of training camp on July 24th.
Training camps are right around the corner and this is the time for certain guys to prove themselves to the coaching staff. The rosters are cut down to 53 players and guys have a few weeks to earn their spot on the team.
The Lions have a couple of young players who could use training camp to help themselves. Here are three players who have the most to gain in training camp this year with the Lions.
3. Da’Shawn Hand
At the end of last season, Da’Shawn Hand found himself on injured reserve after injuring his MCL. The Lions defensive end didn’t require surgery on his knee but his rehab has continued throughout the offseason.
Nonetheless, Hand seems ready for training camp and he could use this time to get acclimated to his starting role. Last season, Hand started in eight games with the Lions in his rookie season.
At the end of his rookie campaign, Hand had three sacks, four tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Now, coming into 2019, Hand is expected to make another jump as the Lions’ starting defensive end next to Flowers.
The Lions faired decently in being able to get to the quarterback in 2018. Detroit ranked 11th in sacks in 2018 with 3 of them and they’ll need Hand to get his “hands” on the quarterback more in 2019.
2. T.J. Hockenson
With the Lions struggling with a 6-10 record in 2018, Detroit ended up having the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. So what position did the Lions decide to address in the first round?
The Lions used their eighth overall pick on T.J. Hockenson, a tight end out of Iowa. Hockenson instantly becomes a valuable asset to Matthew Stafford in the offense.
In college at Iowa, Hockenson was a multi-faceted tight end who has the skills to be a receiver and is a formidable run blocker. During his two seasons at Iowa, Hockenson had 73 catches for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns.
In 2018, the Lions struggled in the passing game, ranking 20th in the NFL in passing offense. Hockenson can use this time in training camp to build chemistry with Stafford on and off the field. After all, tight ends can sometimes be a quarterback’s best friend.
1. Jahlani Tavai
After drafting Hockenson in the first round, the Lions shifted their focus to the defensive side of the ball. As a result, Detroit selected Jahlani Tavai with the 43rd overall pick in the second round of the draft.
At Hawaii, Tavai mainly operated as an outside linebacker in college. Although, the Lions have been using the rookie linebacker at inside linebacker during OTAs and minicamp. Tavai was a tackling machine in college and Patricia is hoping to get a ton of production from him.
Throughout his four seasons at Hawaii, Tavai totaled 390 tackles, 41 tackles for loss, and 16.5 sacks. Patricia likely his versatility to rush the passer as an inside linebacker as a positive. The one area Tavai will need to improve upon is his in his coverage abilities.
So far, Tavai has worked with the second-teamers while Jarrad Davis has spent the bulk of the snaps with the first-teamers. If Tavai can impress during training camp, he could quickly find himself as the starter in the middle of the defense.