Detroit Lions observations: D’Andre Swift could bring some Alvin Kamara to offense

Detroit Free Press

At the risk of jumping to conclusions two padded practices into training camp, D’Andre Swift’s pass catching ability is going to be a problem for opposing defenses this year.

Swift, the Detroit Lions’ second-round pick, was one of the standouts of practice Tuesday, when the Lions limited the workload of both Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough.

Ty Johnson and the newly signed Jonathan Williams got the bulk of the work at running back, but Swift showed off his receiving skills in a one-on-one drill with linebackers early in practice.

I saw the rookie out of Georgia take three reps in the drill, against three different linebackers, and he left all three grasping at air.

“I think I could have been used more at Georgia in the passing game,” Swift said after practice. “I think we just (wanted) to win the game, so we just kind of had to just hand off the ball and just win the grimy way a little bit. So that’s something I want to definitely, definitely perfect at this level of football, just being used in different amount of ways.”

Swift caught 73 passes in three seasons at Georgia, and his receiving skills were one of the things that made him a coveted back in April’s draft.

On Tuesday, he beat Elijah Lee in his first one-on-one rep, running directly at Lee then cutting quickly to the left flat. He proved too elusive for Jarrad Davis on his second rep, slipping loose in the right flat. And on his third rep, he shook Jason Cabinda only to drop the pass.

Now, one-on-one drills are slanted towards the offense, and it’s not like Swift was squaring off against Bobby Wagner. But his elusiveness in the open field and ability to create space on defenders still were on display.

Swift, who lined up occasionally in the slot during his early years at Georgia, said he honed his pass-catching skills playing in seven-on-seven leagues growing up in Philadelphia.

I doubt he’ll play much there for the Lions; there’s a reason they re-signed Danny Amendola. And he hasn’t run anything close to the full route tree in practice.

But it’s not hard to envision Swift holding down the two-minute role for the Lions or gobbling up yards against overmatched linebackers once games begin.

I had an Alvin Kamara vision watching Swift on Tuesday, and while that might be a little rich — Kamara has 81 receptions in each of his three NFL seasons — it wouldn’t shock me to see Swift approach the 58 receptions the Lions’ top two receiving backs, J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson, combined for last year.

“I feel like whatever role they have for me I’m going to do to the best of my ability, and that comes with me being consistent with what they ask me to do every day,” Swift said. “But I definitely like watching Kamara and backs like that that do different stuff out of the backfield. I think bring a different value to the running back position.”

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More observations from practice:

• Don’t know the extent of it yet, but the Lions suffered their first potentially serious injury of camp when rookie seventh-round pick Jashon Cornell went down in a one-on-one pass rush drill grabbing his lower left leg. Cornell crumpled to the ground in the middle of his rush and let out an audible scream. He could not put weight on his leg and was carted to the locker room.

• Swift wasn’t the only rookie who impressed Tuesday. Wide receiver Quintez Cephus, a fifth-round pick, also had a nice day.

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Cephus outdueled first-round pick Jeff Okudah in a pair of one-on-one reps and caught a touchdown with the second-team offense in red-zone work. He’s got good size, the versatility to play outside or in the slot, and most importantly he just has a knack for getting open.

• He probably won’t have a big role this fall as the No. 4 receiver, but the Lions might finally have some depth at the position.

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• The Lions had the luxury the last two years of having two starting-caliber centers on their roster in Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow, who played last season at right guard. Glasgow signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent, and his departure means the Lions are looking for a new backup at the pivot.

On Monday, Kenny Wiggins and Jonah Jackson took backup reps at center. On Tuesday, it was fourth-round pick Logan Stenberg’s turn. Stenberg, a left guard, had a bit of a rough go at it. He let a bad snap fly then got beat by Frank Herron in one-on-one pass rush, and sent another snap high to Chase Daniel in red-zone work.

Ultimately, the Lions’ best option behind Ragnow might be left guard Joe Dahl.

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•The Lions played two live goal line snaps late in practice Tuesday. Both snaps were on the far end of the field away from the media bleachers, but Davis knifed through the line to stop Ty Johnson on the first snap, and Williams appeared to cross the goal line with a solid second effort on the second.

• I don’t know if Williams can have a role in the backfield this fall. Swift and Kerryon Johnson are locked into the top two spots, and Scarbrough, Ty Johnson and rookie Jason Huntley also are vying for jobs. But Williams sure looks like he still can play. I would expect him to be on someone’s NFL roster this year.

• The best play of practice Tuesday came on the defensive side of the ball, when Justin Coleman made a diving pass deflection on a Matthew Stafford throw to Amendola in seven-on-seven. Coleman’s play didn’t draw oohs and aahs because of the nature of practice — half the team was on the other side of the field. But it was good enough that a couple of the defensive backs nearby congratulated him with not-safe-for-print language.

• One prediction: It seems highly, highly unlikely the Lions will have fans at Ford Field for their first two home games. No announcement has been made yet, but I expect the team will make that official soon, like other teams have across the league. Ultimately, the schedule could work in the Lions’ favor here. They have one home game in September and another October. If COVID-19 numbers change, perhaps fans will be allowed in later in the season.

• Finally, Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and her husband, Steve, were masked and in attendance Tuesday.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content. 

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