Detroit Lions practice in rain, prepared for all scenarios: Training camp observations

Detroit Free Press

Matthew Stafford fumbled the first snap of 11-on-11 work at training camp practice Wednesday and immediately picked the ball up and chucked it to the side.

The Detroit Lions, after a scheduled day off Monday and an impromptu day off Tuesday, practiced in a steady rain Wednesday, and the elements made for a sloppier than usual affair.

Stafford fumbled and had a few uncharacteristically underthrown passes, including one that Jeff Okudah nearly intercepted in the end zone. His receivers had a handful of drops, and occasionally lost their footing on the slick field. And running back Jonathan Williams, who’s had a nice camp, lost a fumble during individual work, too.

Lions coach Matt Patricia prefers to practice outside whenever possible, and as uncomfortable as that made things for those playing (and watching) Wednesday, it also reinforced the notion that this is an all-hands-on-deck, be-prepared-for-anything type year.

For subscribers: Patricia listened and by doing that, he just became a better coach

Beyond the elements, the Lions have spent training camp preparing for an array of stadium experiences.

They won’t play in front of fans in either of their first two games, home against the Chicago Bears and at the Green Bay Packers, but yet most times when Stafford steps in the huddle he’s greeted by blaring music that simulates the crowd noise he may or may not have to deal with this year.

On Wednesday, the playlist included Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” among other heavy metal hits.

Next week, the team is expected to go to Ford Field for a day to workout inside an empty stadium.

“I think you probably know that I revel in all weather,” Patricia said over the weekend. “Whenever we can take the opportunity to practice in all different types just to be ready to go, so whether it’s extremely hot, extremely cold, snow, rain, sleet, sunshine, clouds, I don’t really care. We’re just going to go outside and play.”

And in case anyone was wondering, Patricia doesn’t cut his players any slack for mistakes they make in the elements, just like he wouldn’t in a game.

Both Stafford and center Frank Ragnow ran a lap around the field after that fumbled quarterback-center exchange, the punishment that’s become customary whenever players make mistakes.

I’m a little lighter than usual on observations today because the rain made for a wet notebook, but here’s a few thoughts on Wednesday’s practice.

• Patricia said injured running backs D’Andre Swift and Bo Scarbrough were going to be limited in practice Wednesday, and I’d add the qualifier “extremely” that description. Both Swift and Scarbrough left the field and headed to the indoor facility before individual drills were done. No sense in risking anything on a wet field with them.

• With Joe Dahl sitting out team drills, Oday Aboushi took first-team reps at the left guard spot. Dahl finished last season on injured reserve cause of a back injury, and his long-term health is one of the reasons the Lions doubled up on drafting guards Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg in the third and fourth rounds of April’s draft.

Jackson has drilled pretty steadily as the Lions’ first-team right guard, and it’d be an upset if he wasn’t in the lineup there Week 1 against the Bears. Stenberg has taken a lot of second-team reps at center, as the Lions don’t have an accomplished backup at that position. On Wednesday, he played some center with the second team and some left guard, with Beau Benzschawel also taking center reps.

• I wrote back in April that Stenberg was considered “the meanest prick” in the draft, in a good way, and I saw a little of that in one-on-one pass rush Wednesday. Not that he was involved in any extracurriculars, but Stenberg didn’t appear to be in a great spot technique wise on a rep against Kevin Strong, but he was scrappy enough to win the rep, in my estimation, clawing his way into a spot to thwart Strong’s pass rush.

• I mentioned this in my first set of observations of camp, but Frank Ragnow is a stud. The guy will be one of the best centers in the NFL this season. He stonewalled Danny Shelton and John Penisini in a pair of reps Wednesday and I can count on one hand how many times he’s been beat all camp.

• Rookie Jeff Okudah split first-team work at the left cornerback position Wednesday, with Desmond Trufant sitting out snaps and drills where it seemed long running might be in store.

I’m still curious to see how the Lions use Okudah and Trufant this season, as both have played almost exclusively on the left side in camp, with Amani Oruwariye manning the right cornerback spot. Okudah and Trufant seem to be the Lions’ top two cornerbacks, with Justin Coleman inside. But as ESPN pointed out back in March, Trufant has not played a significant amount of snaps on the right side of the defense since 2016. Surely, Okudah and Trufant will play together this fall, and I know the Lions play so much man-to-man that their corners move around the field. But it’s worth noting that those two have not taken a snap together that I can recall so far.

• Tracy Walker got a few more first-team reps Wednesday than he’d been getting to this point in camp, and I thought he had a really nice day. In one-on-one work against the tight ends, Walker locked up T.J. Hockenson on their first snap of the drill, then bumped Jesse James off his route on his next snap. Walker had an interception later in the drill that one of my colleagues thought was borderline pass interference, but I still don’t get why he’s not working more with the first-team.

The Lions don’t face a ton of great tight ends this year, which is a shame because that’s where Walker really excels as a player. Hopefully Walker and Rob Gronkowski are both healthy in Week 16, because that will be one showdown to watch.

• A couple more notes from one-on-one work to end it: Matt Sokol ran a beautiful route to beat Bobby Price for an easy catch. I don’t know if Sokol will make the practice squad given the investment the Lions have in Isaac Nauta and Hunter Bryant, but the former Michigan State tight end has impressed the last few days and deserves a shot somewhere.

Quintez Cephus beat Okudah with a nice inside route on the goal line; given what Okudah said about Cephus before the draft, that Cephus was his toughest cover in the Big Ten, that’s a matchup I enjoy watching.

And in one-on-one pass blocking drills, Elijah Lee trucked fullback (and converted linebacker Jason Cabinda) on one rep, but Cabinda bounced back with a strong showing against Julian Okwara, riding the rookie pass outside, on his next rep. I still think Cabinda wins the fullback job.

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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