On Wednesday, the Detroit Lions took a step back in their training camp regiment. After two spirited, padded practices, the Lions went just over an hour in what was basically just an extended walkthrough.
But on Thursday, they kicked the intensity right back up with the longest practice in camp to date. The pads came back on, and the practice nearly went 2.5 hours. In fact, they had to cut the final drill short, because they were running up against the maximum amount of time allotted for each practice by the NFLPA (150 minutes).
Dan Campbell got the juices going early, starting practice with yet another one-on-one tackling drill, then following those up with competitive one-on-ones with RB/TE vs. LB/S in pass protection and WR/CB coverage drills simultaneously.
About halfway through practice, emotions boiled over when Austin Bryant and Dan Skipper were locked up during a full-team rep. Bryant threw one late punch, and that led to a full-team fight. Notably, Logan Stenberg came in and helmets were literally rolling. While you love to see intensity, it was a bit dangerous to see some players go to the ground. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the brawl was cleared by the likes of Penei Sewell and others in less than a minute.
But during the next set of team drills, it was Amani Oruwariye and Amon-Ra St. Brown getting into it with Oruwariye clearly frustrated by something and taking St. Brown to the ground. That scuffle did not spread to the rest of the team.
In pure St. Brown fashion, a few plays later, he cleanly beat AJ Parker for a big gain, and punted the ball across the field in celebration.
Now, let’s get into the more in-depth notes from Thursday’s practice.
It was mostly good news on the injury front as D’Andre Swift and Taylor Decker returned to practice after maintenance days off on Wednesday. They both appeared to be full participants, so no issues there.
Quintez Cephus was not suited up, but he was out there with the team and seemed to be walking around fine with no noticeable bandages or support. Remember, Dan Campbell suggested Cephus avoided serious injury after being helped off the field on Tuesday.
Defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and center Ryan McCollum remain sidelined, and the Lions did not provide an update about either (there was no pre-practice press conference). McCollum has been out for the past couple of days, while Onwuzurike has been out since a pile-up on Monday, but Campbell indicated on Wednesday that his injury did not seem serious.
It’s also worth noting that rookie tight end James Mitchell got his first 11-on-11 looks in this practice, but more on that later.
Throughout camp, the Lions have run a situational drill towards the end of practice to prepare the team for game-like situations. During almost all of these drills, the defense won. On Thursday, the offense struck back.
The scenario: Down six points, 31 seconds left with at least two timeouts, starting on the opponent’s 41-yard line. Here’s what the first team offense did:
- Jared Goff scrambles for 13 yards up the middle (timeout).
- Aidan Hutchinson sacks Goff (beating Halapoulivaati Vaitai) for 7-yard loss (timeout)
- Goff delivers a 35-yard touchdown to DJ Chark on a diving catch
The second-team offense wasn’t nearly as successful, although David Blough delivered a beautiful deep ball under pressure and off his back foot, but the would-be touchdown pass slipped through Trinity Benson’s hands. The drive ended after James Houston drew a holding penalty and Eric Banks followed it up with a sack.
Today was a particularly sharp day from Jared Goff, who really looks in command of the offense. His throws were crisp, on time, and there was very little meandering in the pocket—which is typically his kryptonite. He connected on several deep balls, both during one-on-one and team drills, and his day was punctuated with two big red-zone plays. The first was a zone-read option that he kept and ran up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown (and subsequent goal post dunk that almost sent him tumbling to the ground). The other was the aforementioned deep shot to Chark.
For the backup job, it was David Blough’s day with the second team, and he made some impressive throws all day, including a perfectly-placed, 20-yard out route into the arms of Kalif Raymond, who had just one step on rookie safety Kerby Joseph. Raymond dove for the ball, but it was jarred loose when he hit the ground.
Not as good of a day for Tim Boyle, who had a brief injury scare at the end of practice when he was knocked over by his own offensive lineman. Boyle got up and finished the drill, but he seemed to walk gingerly afterwards.
D’Andre Swift continues to look uncoverable in the passing game. During red-zone team drills, he beat Alex Anzalone cleanly for a good 10-to-15-yard pickup right down to the goal line. He also ran right by Malcolm Rodriguez in a one-on-one coverage drill. But where Swift may have impressed me the most on Thursday was in pass protection. He had an absolutely fearless rep against linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, earning some high praise from Duce Staley in the process.
Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson may be duking it out for a roster spot this year. And while Jefferson is definitely closing the gap there with some noticeable Year 2 improvements, Igwebuike beat him on a one-on-one special teams drill. Jefferson was trying to get by Igwebuike to tackle the returner, but Igwebuike completely stood him up. Jefferson is starting to look a lot more comfortable on special teams, but there’s a reason Igwebuike was third in special teams snaps last year.
As alluded to, Mitchell saw his first action in full-team drills on Thursday. He’ll have to work his way up from the third-team offense, but he did score during a red-zone drill on a play where he sneakily slipped out of line and found himself wide open for the easy score. If he can keep making plays like that in his minimal opportunities, he’ll be right there in the TE2 competition.
Shane Zylstra continues to stand out for me. During one-on-ones, he caused Tracy Walker to slip for an easy grab, and that translated to full team drills when he scored a touchdown with Mike Hughes in coverage.
Devin Funchess had one of the most impressive catches of the day, “Mossing” safety Brady Breeze during one-on-ones. However, if he wants to make the team, he’s going to have to step up his special teams game because his intensity was easily outmatched during those drills.
Kalif Raymond may have had a better day than anyone else on the field. His dominance of one-on-one drills reminded me of last year when Bobby Price claimed Raymond was the toughest receiver to defend on the team. Obviously, the Lions’ receiving corps has since gotten better, but his twitchiness still stands out, particularly in one-on-one drills.
Josh Reynolds, too, continues to have a strong camp, and he is much more physical than he may look. Amani Oruwariye was in good coverage during one play, but Reynolds’ subtle push-off gave him plenty of space at the top of his route for an easy grab.
Many of the OL/DL drills were done out of eye-shot, but I got to see about a dozen reps during one set. In those drills, Tommy Kraemer and Darrin Paulo won both of their two battles.
During team drills, the defensive line shined once again, and it was all the standouts we’ve seen in camp. Charles Harris continues to be a monster, and Hutchinson shined today—specifically when he slid inside.
“He has some twitchiness to him, I love it,” Vaitai said of Hutchinson after practice. “It makes me think. Can’t just sit. He has a really good bull rush, he has a really good – he just has a lot of good things.”
Elsewhere, Bryant continues to make a really solid case for himself on this roster. Working mostly with the twos, he’s continuing on his two-sacks-per-practice pace, and he added a pass batted down to his stat sheet today.
Anthony Pittman is getting a lot of looks on the edge—even with the first team in certain subpackages. You can tell the position is fairly new to him, but he’s coming along.
“That’ll take a minute,” Campbell said earlier this week, “but yet he’s got the physical attributes to be able to do that, and he’s got some length, and he’s got speed. He’s pretty explosive, so we like the fact for a guy that you’re looking for, that man, let’s see if he can play all the linebacker spots.”
The more and more I watch Malcolm Rodriguez play, the more and more convinced I get that he’ll see some significant time on defense this year, despite mostly repping with the third-team defense still. He absolutely blew up newbie running back Justin Jackson in a one-on-one pass rushing drill, then had back-to-back impressive reps during team drills. First, he shot up the gut for a run stop around the line of scrimmage, and then he was perfectly in coverage for a dump-off to the running back on the next play. That said, Swift blew right by him in a one-on-one drill, so there’s plenty of room to grow for the rookie linebacker.
Derrick Barnes got most of the first-team reps on Thursday, and had an up-and-down performance. His most impressive play may have come on special teams, where he stalemated Chris Board—one of the best special teamers on the team.
“That’s one area where I’m also trying to elevate my game,” Barnes said after practice. “It’s important to be able to do both.”
Because the Lions wide receivers had such a dominant day, it was a rough one for Detroit’s starting outside cornerbacks—who were mostly Amani Oruwariye and Will Harris during this practice. Each of them still notched a few wins, but the offense had the overall edge.
The nickel corner spot continues to be the most fascinating position battle. One relatively interesting note from Thursday: during opening walkthroughs it was Mike Hughes and Chase Lucas on the near side with the first-teams, and AJ Parker on the far field with the second-team defense. Parker still got a lot of full-team drills with the first team, but they’re starting to sprinkle Lucas in there a little too, and for good reason. He notched at least two pass breakups during one-on-one drills on Thursday.
However, he also got hit with a valuable learning experience when the Lions worked on two-vs.-twos (WR combos). At the snap, Lucas was lined up over Raymond with Harris lined up over Benson. Raymond essentially picked Harris, but Lucas followed Raymond. That freed up Benson for a wide-open catch. Afterwards, Lucas and Harris had a spirited conversation.
Hughes, on the other hand, continues to get a considerable amount of time on the outside.
Strong day from DeShon Elliott who had a pass breakup on Zylstra and one of the better special teams reps against tight end Garrett Griffin. He was the closest defender on the bomb to Chark, though.
Brady Breeze may have a tough route to the roster, but he sure does turn heads with his physicality. He absolutely lit up Benson on a crosser that could have drawn a helmet-to-helmet flag, and his special teams reps were among the most physical.
Ifeatu Melifonwu showed some nice patience on an interception during 7-on-7 drills, reading the quarterback and stepping in front of Benson for the pick.
“Nothing came immediately to me, and then I just read the quarterback off his eyes,” Melifonwu explained. “(I) drifted back and then the dig came right behind me and I snagged it.”
Austin Seibert was a perfect 4-for-4 during practice, hitting from (about) 43, 45, 50 and 53. Riley Patterson went 3-for-4, missing his attempt from 50 yards.
The Lions worked on kickoffs today, and gave the reserve returners a long look. Unfortunately, Kalil Pimpleton fumbled during one of his reps and Josh Johnson muffed the subsequent kick. Eventually, the Lions went back to who are clearly their top two options: Igwebuike and Benson.