Nothing that has happened so far in training camp has made me reconsider my position that the Detroit Lions this year will go only as far as their offense takes them.
Between Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and a host of other talented, young skill players, they have the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
But Friday, on Day 4 of pads, it was the defense’s day to shine.
The Lions spent a period late in Friday’s practice mimicking a game-like situation: First-and-10 near midfield, ones vs. ones, ball in Stafford’s hands and see where it goes.
Well, for the first time all camp, it didn’t go anywhere, really. Stafford threw deep to T.J. Hockenson on the first play, and while second-year safety Will Harris came dangerously close to drawing a pass interference penalty, the ball hit his hand or helmet and fell incomplete.
On second-and-10, Justin Coleman knocked away a quick slant to Danny Amendola, and on third-and-10, Amani Oruwariye read a comeback to Golladay perfectly and jumped the route for an interception, Stafford’s first real turnover of camp.
The second-team offense and defense jogged on the field, and on the very next play, with Oruwariye still celebrating, Chase Daniel and Ty Johnson fumbled a handoff exchange that the defense recovered.
Head coach Matt Patricia was not happy, and sent the offense on its way to run a lap around the field.
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The first-team offense did pick up what appeared to be a first down on its next three-play series, when Stafford threw a check-down to Jonathan Williams, but the fact the Lions’ much-maligned defense played well in one of the first situational square-offs of camp is something to remember.
It should be noted the defense was without two starters in the secondary, as the Lions gave Desmond Trufant most of the day off and, for some reason had Tracy Walker working primarily with the second team.
The Lions have question marks on defense, and if they’re counting on Harris and Oruwariye to play significant snaps, they could be a long season. But it’s possible there’s more talent on that side of the ball than anyone has been willing to give credit for, too.
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More observations from Friday:
• Rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah has found his groove after a bumpy couple days of practice. With Trufant sitting out team drills, Okudah took first-team reps at the left cornerback position and held his own against the Lions’ top receivers.
He intercepted one pass midway through practice, though Stafford said the pick came on a free-play heave to Jones after the defense jumped offside. Okudah also had a pass breakup when he undercut an in-route to Golladay, and I saw him run step-for-step with Golladay on another deep route when Stafford threw elsewhere.
Okudah did have one scary moment, when he appeared to have the wind knocked out of him after hitting the ground hard. He sat out the bulk of the period, but grabbed his helmet and was back on the field for the first snap of the next series.
I said Monday not to read too much into his early hiccups. Okudah is a blue-chip talent at the cornerback position, and I’d be stunned if he’s not in the starting lineup Week 1.
• Rookie Jason Huntley had a bit of a mixed day Friday. In one-on-one drills, Huntley was clearly the Lions’ most explosive pass-catching running back with D’Andre Swift out with a leg injury, but the fifth-round pick also muffed a pair of punts.
Huntley’s roster spot seems safe, but he’ll need to win the return job to have a role this fall, and ball-security issues won’t endear him to coaches.
• The Lions spent a period of practice punting out of their end zone, but I’m not sure I could pick a winner between Jack Fox and Arryn Siposs. Siposs took the first punt of the period, for what that’s worth — he ended up on the ground after Reggie Ragland rolled into his leg — and seemed to have good hang time on most of his punts. (Note to self: get your stopwatch out next time for a more accurate reading.)
At one point, Siposs dropped a 50-or-so-yard punt near the right sideline, then Fox followed with almost the same kick, though with probably slightly less hang, on the next play.
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Patricia talked about the punting battle Thursday, and how difficult it will be to pick a winner without the benefit of games. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Lions kept a specialist on their practice squad.
“I think they’ve both done an outstanding job,” Patricia said. “I think they both have extremely outstanding leg talent. Jack was here with us last year, and we saw his ability. The ball just explodes off his foot when he drives into it. And certainly with Siposs, a guy that’s a little bit older even though he’s just coming out of college. Very calm. Another really strong leg, very consistent. I think for both of those guys they’re doing a great job.”
• Watching another one-on-one special teams drill the Lions did, where a blocker takes on a rusher, then has to disengage and get down the field, a couple players stood out: Running back Ty Johnson had good reps at the drill, both as blocker and rusher, against Geremy Davis, a receiver who has made his living on special teams. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, as you’d expect, also excelled in the drill, shedding an Elijah Lee block with ease to get downfield, and Chris Lacy was too strong for Tom Kennedy.
• I saw Frank Ragnow lose what I think was his first rep of camp when Danny Shelton beat him with a swim move in one-on-ones. I mentioned the other day how good Ragnow is, and I stand by that. He’s a block of granite and could be one of the NFL’s best centers this year.
I didn’t see his second rep against Shelton as it happened about the same time Okudah had the wind knocked out of him on the other field.
• Other one-on-one pass rush notes: Taylor Decker had two nice reps against Trey Flowers. On the second, Flowers tried to chop Decker’s arms away, but Decker quickly re-established hand position. Joe Dahl had some issues handling Da’Shawn Hand and Shelton on his two reps, while rookie fourth-round pick Logan Stenberg had his best day of practice at center.
• Haven’t talked much about the backup quarterbacks, but David Blough made a beautiful throw down the left sideline to Lacy for a long gain against Dee Virgin early in practice, then probably held the ball too long on a would-be-sack on his second and final rep of the period. Blough will need more throws like the first one if he’s going to make the 53-man roster.
• Final note from one-on-one drills: Quintez Cephus continues to find ways to get open. Virgin was on his hip on one play, only to lose him when Cephus faked left, then ran a corner route to his right to create an easy passing window.
• The Lions have practices again Saturday and Sunday, before a player day off Monday, so it will be interesting to see if Patricia scales back the work for some of his vets this weekend, like he did for Trufant on Friday.
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