The Detroit Lions continue to stack training camp for acclimatization and now have three under their belt. During the first week of practice (four total), the Lions can add 15 minutes of new practice time each day as they build toward a full two-and-a-half hours of practice on pads — which could happen on the fifth day of training camp.
On Tuesday, the Lions were able to hold a two-hour practice, and while they are still prevented from wearing full pads, they added spider shells — a smaller, lighter and approved version of pads during this acclimatization process — and spent a little more time working on team drills.
Marvin Jones (NFI), Emmanuel Moseley (PUP) and Hendon Hooker (NFI) remain on the Lions injury list, while yesterday’s injured players – CJ Gardner-Johnson and Jameson Williams – also missed training and are expected to miss a few days.
Jones, Gardner-Johnson and Williams were seen working with trainers on Tuesday. Jones continues to look close to being ready to return, as did Williams, who moved with little to no resistance. Gardner-Johnson was not as far ahead as the other two and limped slightly as he left the track. Gardner-Johnson declined to speak to the media but said, “I’m getting better,” as he entered the team’s facility. All three appeared to be in good spirits as they were able to rejoin their teammates and each held on to finish practice.
First team attack
The Lions’ first-team attack continues to pile on positive days as their efficiency continues to rise. For most of the day, Jared Goff was able to move the offense effectively even as the Lions introduced new skill players into the mix with the top unit. While players like Denzel Mims, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy and Antoine Green got some looks with Goff, he continued to rely on the guys he trusts, namely Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds and Sam LaPorta.
St. Brown had a very impressive day, recording four touchdowns and making catches all over the field. Fast forward to the occasion: touchdown. Fake block and drop coverage vs. Cam Sutton: touchdown. Rush to the line and catch the defense setting up quickly: touchdown.
But St. Brown’s best touchdown catch of the day came on the best throw and catch of camp so far. On the play, St. Brown ran his route to the back of the end zone and crossed over the middle. Rookie Brian Branch was in a good position, trailing slightly behind when Tracy Walker crossed in front. Goff fired a bullet to St. Brown, and it somehow made its way through a maze of hands right to St. Brown, who not only stretched all the way to secure it, but spiked the back of the end zone to score.
“I feel like we already have a pretty good connection,” said St. Brown after training. “I know what (Goff) likes. He knows how I like to run my routes. I’m starting to see what he sees, he tells me what he sees, what he expects, so we’re mostly on the same page. So if we can just keep it going, I feel like the sky’s the limit for us.”
LaPorta continues to integrate with the starters and every day he looks more comfortable. If not for St. Brown’s impressive touchdown catch, LaPorta would have earned catch-of-the-day honors if he tipped a Goff pass 25 yards downfield over Alex Anzalone.
LaPorta also scored twice on the day. Goff hit him in the flat after he fake blocked, then leaked into the flat for an easy score. The second came while working with the second team, running directly at Malcolm Rodriguez, then bursting toward the sideline for an easy out for Nate Sudfeld. Despite working with the starters, the Lions are trying to get LaPorta as many reps as possible, and that means working with the first, second and third teams.
The starting right guard spot continues to be a battle, and it was Graham Glasgow’s turn in the rotation.
“We told those guys, the best man is going to play,” coach Dan Campbell said in his press conference Tuesday morning. “So we’re keeping our eyes open. We definitely like Graham because he has flexibility to play center and guard, and that was kind of the starting point there, but we don’t want to just say you’re just a backup. We’re going to let him hit it off with Vaitai here, and a lot of it is also, ‘Okay, does V get his legs back under him? How’s that coming from the injury? How’s he doing? And there, again, it’s early, it’s day three, and he seems to be doing pretty well here, but I would say that it’s open. I’d say it’s open.”
Unfortunately, Vaitai appeared to have suffered a minor injury late during team practice, but it wasn’t clear how much it was bothering him. He did not return to practice, but it was unclear if that was due to an injury or if the team was just trying to get Colby Sorsdal some second-team reps in the final team practice for the second straight day.
First team defense
As with LaPorta, the Lions are also trying to get second-round rookie Brian Branch as many reps as possible. He primarily saw time with the second team on Tuesday — Will Harris took most of the first-team reps in place of Gardner-Johnson — but Branch got on the field with the starters in red zone drills while also getting extended time with the third team. Branch had another pass breakup on Tuesday, giving him at least one PBU in every training camp so far.
Another new wrinkle we saw during individual drills was with the linebacker group. Earlier this week, we pointed out that some SAM edge rushers (Charles Harris, James Houston and Julian Okwara) were getting linebacker reps to expand their roles. On Tuesday, we saw the hybrid defensive backs (Branch and Harris) also take linebacker reps.
This use of a defensive back at the linebacker level (which some teams identify as the “Star” position) is a new role, but one we expected to see after the selection of Branch — who played a similar role at Alabama. Branch is highly effective down the field, and getting him reps with the linebackers is a natural way to get him on the field in obvious passing situations.
Goff has had a solid camp so far, and for most of Tuesday’s practice, he was perfect on the day. That came to an end on the final two throws of the day when one of his passes went low, deflected Kalif Raymond and was nearly intercepted. The second errant pass came when Goff forced the ball down the field (it was a one-minute drill) and Kerby Joseph intercepted the ball to end the practice. Joseph also had a sweet tackle-for-loss when he flashed over the edge, slipped a tackle and was in position to make the stop.
Aidan Hutchinson also had a pair of stops in the backfield on Tuesday and seemed to constantly disrupt the pocket. He recorded a tackle-for-loss, a would-be sack, and wasn’t fooled on an end around trying to bait the defense with a play-action in the opposite direction.
Derrick Barnes also had a very solid day, especially in coverage. Twice in red zone drills, Barnes broke on a ball passed to a running back and recorded a pass break on each. Unfortunately, after an hour and 55 minutes of great play, he made a mistake during the one-minute drill where he slowed his pursuit, thinking LaPorta was going out of bounds, and then paid the price when the rookie turned it upfield. He was withdrawn in favor of Jack Campbell, who completed the exercise.
Like Branch, Campbell spent most of the day with the secondary but was with the first team during red zone drills.
Second team attack vs. defense
Nate Sudfeld continues to impress with the second team, making the Lions’ interest in Teddy Bridgewater somewhat surprising. Bridgewater certainly has a better resume and has a history with Dan Campbell, but Sudfeld has more than held his own in Lions camp so far.
On Tuesday, Sudfeld may have found his favorite target in Maurice Alexander as the pair connected on multiple occasions, including two touchdowns. A possible third touchdown was discussed among the media, but most believed he failed to complete the catch.
Backing up Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara had a couple of solid games on Tuesday, including recording a possible sack. Ifeatu Melifonwu had another notable pass breakup. But the story of the second-team secondary remains UDFA rookie Star Thomas.
Thomas is not only solidly in the mix for the team’s starting bullpen role, but he has consistently been with the second team at corner. Quick, lively and physical, he uses his skills to get noticed.
“I definitely feel more comfortable in the system,” Thomas told the Pride of Detroit after practice. “Every day I just feel more comfortable, it comes with reps and going out there and playing full speed. I feel like once you start playing full speed things start to slow down and get easier and easier, you just have to keep competing every day. It’s a laugh. The attack is really good, so that makes me improve as well.”
Thomas’ (5-foot-10, 194 pounds) willingness to compete showed on a run play where he was asked to take on a block from Germain Ifedi (6-foot-6, 338 pounds). Ifedi blocked Thomas past the whistle and sent the play out of bounds, and Thomas took exception. The two grabbed each other’s face masks and tussled for a bit before the fight went to the ground and the pair were separated.
That intensity and unwillingness to back down is sure to make Dan Campbell smile.
Third-team attack vs. defense
Mohamed Ibrahim looked very smooth on Tuesday as he twice broke off 10+ yard runs before being contacted. He also showed a very nice jump cut in the backfield to escape a tackle-for-loss.
After being dropped from the other team’s outside corner rotation, Chase Lucas looked like a fire was lit under him in the second half of practice. He would have come home on a blitz from the nickel, easily beating a Justin Jackson block and moving on purpose. He also spent some time with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn one-on-one after practice.