The Indianapolis Colts kickoff the 2017 preseason on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. If you’re having deja vu, it’s because the season opener last year included the Lions visiting Lucas Oil Stadium. If we’ve learned anything this off-season it is that a lot can change in 11 months so we turned to Chris Lemieux of Pride of Detroit, SB Nation’s Detroit Lions blog, to see what has changed and who we should watch during the backup bowl.
If you’re interested in the questions Chris asked Stampede Blue and our answers, please visit “Five Questions on the Indianapolis Colts with Stampede Blue.”
1. The Lions and the Colts squared off for the season-opener in 2016, with your Lions coming out on top. There was a lot of sloppy football for both teams, specifically on defense, leading to a shootout. On that day, the Colts defense managed to squeak out the award for poorest performance -- though not by much. Are there any key changes with the Lions defense that Colts fans might find surprising after our last meeting?
Well if you liked not having a linebacker corps to face off against, the Lions have good news for you! While it's true they drafted Jarrad Davis in the first round and Jalen Reeves-Maybin in the fourth, this unit is still woefully depleted and understaffed. They kicked out DeAndre Levy in the middle of the offseason and have since become embroiled in a weird feud over what doctors may or may not have told him. Tahir Whitehead has been shifted over to weakside and I don't know if anyone knows what that means, and the strongside is completely up for grabs.
The defensive line has been begging for help and I suppose you could say that help is Cornelius Washington. That's a very liberal interpretation of the word though. Haloti Ngata and Ezekiel Ansah still sit on the line, and A'Shawn Robinson has now matured into an even beefier and even bigger monster of a run stuffer, but it's still a very desperate situation here when it comes to pass rushing. The real fun is in the secondary, and I suppose the preseason is as good a time as any to check out how far along fresh bright-eyed rookies Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew are.
2. Any big changes or additions to the Lions offense we should watch?
The Lions have known for a while that they were going to be deprived of the ungodly, hyper-advanced Terminator model that was Anquan Boldin (good luck up in Buffalo, Anquan) and they've been drafting accordingly. While they're certainly not going to move back Golden Tate to the slot, they picked up some additional tight ends that can do more than serve as Eric Ebron's backup. Darren Fells has been solid through camp and it's quite possible we could see some of those mythical two tight end sets, only spoken of in hushed whispers in the deepest deserts of Araby.
Hey, do you like receivers? Boy do the Lions got a lot to dig through. Golden Tate is a stud now, no denying it, and Marvin Jones still fits in well and could improve. But after that there's plenty of lads fighting for those spots and most of them are very fun. Jace Billingsley is a staff favorite and we have a strange but loving relationship with his hometown of Winnemucca, Nevada. TJ Jones is still with the team and could be fighting for his career. Keshawn Martin is with us! That means something! There's about half a dozen more names I could get into but I'm holding onto one of them because I see what you got me for my next question.
Ameer Abdullah is healthy, which means, at present, the Lions run game still exists.
3. Which rookie has stood out the most for Detroit during training camp that you think might have the biggest impact on the Lions success in 2017?
Kenny Golladay! Lions picked up this lad in the third round and he's been the darling of training camp. Total chemistry with Stafford, forget about Calvin Johnson (the latter part there is ridiculous but I've had real Lions fans tell me this). Really though, unless Golladay vanishes when the lights turn on, he's got a good shot to make the roster in some capacity. His future looks pretty bright, though the Lions will have to figure out where to put him behind Jones and Tate.
Another standout has been an undrafted free agent from UNLV, Jeremiah Valoaga. I haven't really gotten a chance to sit down and watch him yet, but Sunday is a good of a time as any.
4. Which under the radar player is likely to be the biggest surprise for the Lions?
Anthony Zettel was a seventh rounder last year and he immediately became my favorite Lion, not just because I had covered his Penn State career and that he kickboxes and tackles trees. But Zettel looked terrible last season. Awful. Wretched. Basura. Well, it's now 2017 and the reports coming out from camp is that the kickass version of Zettel might have arrived, and maybe that form of Zettel can contribute once the season starts. I'm hoping it's true, because the longer this man stays on the roster and talks about his MMA training and wrestling bears, the happier I'll be.
5. Matthew Stafford has had a strong NFL career and may be one of the more underappreciated signal-callers in the National Football League. Do you think this is due to the inability to make more noise in the playoffs or is he still a flawed quarterback with more work to do before he can break through to the top 5?
I think in three trips to the postseason, Stafford's made a lot of noise in the playoffs. He's howled, grunted, screamed, gesticulated wildly and even shouted. Matt's not a quiet man.
Anyway, the reason Stafford hasn't really cracked these mythical lists probably has several factors to them. We're still deconstructing the "Well, he's only good because he had Calvin Johnson" myths, and 2016 went a long way into knocking those down. At other times, he's just not had a lot of help around him, be it from the offensive line in the past, a run game that hasn't existed in Detroit since Barry Sanders or a leaky defense that forces more production out of him than most other quarterbacks in this league. Ya'll in Indianapolis should know well about quarterbacks not getting a lot of help.
The bad news is that with Taylor Decker going down, the left side of his line could once again be a turnstile. Right now the projected starter is Greg Robinson, who the Lions picked up from the Rams as a reclamation project, something to tinker with in the garage on Saturdays.
Still, Stafford's time now with this offensive scheme (this is where you get to laugh at Jim Bob Cooter's name, yankees) has shown he's more than just some wild gunslinger, and if he can keep his accuracy up and interceptions negligible, he's probably worth whatever ungodly salary the Lions are HOPEFULLY going to throw his way.