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Should Lions rookies see expanded roles moving forward?

Each week on the Detroit Lions Breakdown Podcast, fans send in mailbag questions for me and my co-host Joe Kania. We cover this week’s questions on the current broadcast – Episode 83: Week 10, Bears preview – but for those Lions’ fans where listening isn’t an option, a select group of those questions will be answered in this format, as well.

There is a significant portion of the fanbase that is rightfully frustrated with the season but it’s still an open race in the NFC and coaches are still clinging to longshot playoff odds.

It’s too early in the season for Lions coaches to start looking ahead to 2019 but depending on how things play out through Thanksgiving, the team may enter December with a different approach to the end of the season.

With Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson and Da’Shawn Hand all starting at their respective positions, attention has shifted to the futures of the other rookies from the 2018 draft class, third-round pick Tracy Walker and fifth-round pick Tyrell Crosby.

Let’s take a closer look at how their roles could potentially expand in the back half of the season.

Walker played some situational corner in college and had success from the slot but struggled on the outside. Asking him to play on the perimeter in the NFL would be a big ask because of his tight hips but based on how the Lions deploy their safeties he could benefit from getting snaps as a third safety operating out of the slot.

Outside of an overturned interception out of the slot in Week 2 at San Francisco, the Lions have appeared fixated on only using Walker as a deep safety when they are protecting a lead which has limited his opportunities in the last two weeks as the Lions have trailed.

The presumed logic here is the team is getting Walker reps at free safety in preparation for taking over for Glover Quin at the position in the future, potentially as soon as next year.

While that decision makes sense to not overwhelm the rookie, having defensive backs with positional range is part of the appeal of this defensive scheme. That’s why it’s a bit surprising that the Lions coaches haven’t returned him to the slot coverage role.

Ideally, the team would start to expand Walker’s duties over the second half of the season, especially if he is expected to take on a significant role in 2019, and an expansion to slot coverage makes a lot of sense.

Crosby is an underrated athlete and that athleticism was highlighted in the Oregon system where they ask all five of their offensive lineman to move in space, pull laterally, and wall off lanes on most running plays — all things that coaches covet in NFL guards.

His feet constantly move, allowing him to get to blockers and drive through contact, while also possesses the necessary strength to handle the bigger bodies on the inside in the NFL.

In the quick highlight video below, you can see both these attributes, movement through contact and the power to bury defenders:

Crosby has the skill set to be a starter in the NFL at either tackle or guard. His range to transition to guard makes him a potential replacement for T.J. Lang, but like with Walker, coaches appear to be keeping him at his college position — left tackle — as to not overwhelm him as he acclimates to the professional level.

It’s possible that coaches are giving him reps in the portions of practice not available to the media, but if they are, everyone is staying quiet about it — I’ve asked him about a potential switch and he has politely told me he can’t talk about it.

Bottom line here is, with both Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner under team control through the 2020 season, having another potential NFL starter at tackle is a luxury for the team. With Lang and Graham Glasgow under contract through 2019, and Lang’s injury concerns, it would make complete sense for the team to explore options on the interior and Crosby is a logical potential successor.

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