Detroit Lions camp observations: How talented DBs meshed after other teams, leagues follow with protests

Detroit Free Press

I’m taking a different approach with observations today. I’ve got plenty of news and notes from Detroit Lions practice later in this column, but this seems like such an important time in this country that I wanted to share a few thoughts on the sports world in general.

First, it should not be lost on anyone that the Lions were at the front of this latest push for social justice and racial equality, and that their decision to cancel practice Tuesday after the shooting of Jacob Blake has reverberated across different sports leagues.

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Wednesday he has “a lot of respect for what” the Lions did, devoting a day during training camp to demonstrating against police brutality, and on Thursday we saw the Titans, Colts, Jets, Cardinals and Washington all cancel practices, and the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears at least postpone their workouts.

No one is looking for credit here, but the Lions’ role still is worth acknowledging.

“I think that if there’s any chance that maybe we got everybody to maybe stop and think for a minute, that’s really great,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said before practice Thursday. “I think we have a simple saying is, just listen, and right now that’s really what we just want everybody to do is just listen. We understand that this isn’t a sprint, it’s not a race, it’s a marathon and it’s something that we’ve just got to make sure we do a good job of continuing the conversation.”

The conversation, no doubt, will remain ongoing for some time. No one can bring an end to systemic racism by canceling a practice or striking during a playoff game, as several NBA teams did Wednesday.

But the platform that sports provides is big enough to make people of power direct their wealth and energy toward influencing the next generation to build a better world for everyone.

There’s plenty of vitriol being directed at the NBA (which canceled playoff games again Thursday, but will resume the postseason soon), the WNBA (which also canceled games Wednesday), the Milwaukee Brewers (who joined the protest by forcing the postponement of their game Wednesday), the Lions and others, but this movement that started after the death of George Floyd won’t peter out once we get in-season.

“I think it’s beautiful (to see what’s happened the last few days),” safety Will Harris said. “It’s beautiful to see that positive impact and that positive change, regardless of who was the source of the change. It’s good to see the country moving in the right direction.”

I’m glad the NBA will resume its season, with all of its teams seemingly intact. Not for the entertainment value the league provides but so that league and those players can continue to work for change and use their platforms for good.

It’s powerful to hear players like LeBron James and coaches like Doc Rivers speak from their heart on these issues, and by continuing the postseason they’ll keep the issues most important to them — issues that are much bigger than spots — at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

More: The Detroit Lions were winners Tuesday in something much bigger than football

I sincerely hope we get back to the business of sports soon, because if we can, I suspect that means we’ve avoided more incidents like the Blake shooting. I fear we won’t, though, so I can only wonder what the next few months will hold.

“The thing that we kind of want to keep echoing out there is that, I think Trey (Flowers) said it the other day,” Harris said. “If the whole world can be like we are in the locker room, guys from all over the country, different races, different backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, all coming together for one goal, I think a locker room of any sport where we all depend on each other is the perfect environment to kind of duplicate that.”

Time for some football. My observations from Thursday’s practice:

• A number of key Lions did not practice Thursday. Patricia mentioned D’Andre Swift, Bo Scarbrough, Hunter Bryant and Da’Shawn Hand before practice, but Trey Flowers joined Swift, Scarbrough and Hand working on the side with trainers before practice. Taylor Decker did not do anything in team drills or one-on-ones.

Flowers, who got off to a slow start last season while returning from shoulder surgery, spent the early part of practice under the training tent working with what appeared to be a medicine ball, balancing on his left leg while lifting his right leg in the air.

• Romeo Okwara took first-team reps at defensive end with Flowers out, and Tyrell Crosby replaced Decker at left tackle. One more injury note: Hal Vaitai suffered what appeared to be a leg injury on the final team snap of practice. The Lions played two live goal-line reps, and Vaitai appeared to get rolled up on, on the second. He lingered on the ground for maybe 30 seconds, and when he got to his feet he was met by a Lions trainer and escorted to the locker room.

The Lions have far more depth on the interior of their line than they do at tackle, with Matt Nelson and Dan Skipper (who left briefly Thursday) joining Crosby as the backup tackles. Kenny Wiggins, who spent much of Thursday at left guard, also can play right tackle.

• The Lions took a long look at punters Arryn Siposs and Jack Fox and long snappers Don Muhlbach and Steven Wirtel on Thursday as they near the finish line of those battles. I don’t see a ton of separation in either of those jobs, though Fox had the two best punts of practice Thursday and Wirtel has been a little more exact in his snaps than Muhlbach this summer.

Patricia said he has a couple scrimmage-like practices planned, one for this weekend, so maybe the specialist jobs start to separate there.

• I wondered in Wednesday’s observations how the Lions would use Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah together since Okudah had played behind Trufant at left cornerback all camp. Well, we got a quick glimpse of it Thursday. Okudah and Trufant shared the field for a handful of snaps, and it was Okudah, the rookie first-round pick, who moved to the right side. As noted Wednesday, Trufant has played sparingly on the right side the last few years.

• Another Okudah note: The Lions did some two-man route combinations right in front of the media bleachers Thursday, and the secondary was having some trouble passing off receivers. This drill certainly slants the offense’s way, but at one point the defense gave up four straight touchdowns and it would have been more if not for a bad throw.

Okudah and Darryl Roberts had one miscommunication, leaving Quintez Cephus open for an easy score, and on the very next play, Okudah and Justin Coleman let Geremy Davis run free. Okudah did bounce back with a nice pass breakup on Cephus later in the drill, when he went over a rub route on the goal line to get his hand on the ball. But he and Roberts had another hiccup later when Jamal Agnew got loose for a touchdown.

• Cephus, who’s had a strong camp overall, had a bad drop in 11-on-11 work later in practice. It seemed like an off day for both Cephus and second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson, who struggled to get off the line in his first rep against Tracy Walker in tight end-safety pass drills, then beat Walker off the snap for an easy catch in their next matchup.

• Former Michigan State tight end Matt Sokol continues to play well. He has some ability as a pass catcher and got the better of Duron Harmon in their matchup during the same drill.

• We’re closing in on two weeks until the season opener against the Bears, and the Lions certainly have Chicago on their minds. Thursday was at least the third time in camp that I saw support staff members wearing beanies with the numbers of several Bears players on them during an installation period.

• Danny Shelton is incredibly strong. At one point in one-on-one pass-rush drills, he drove Beau Benszchawel back several steps with a left hand to the chest. Shelton won’t provide a ton of pass rush, but he’s an ox in the run game.

• Davis, the wide receiver the Lions signed this spring for his special teams prowess, had the play of practice Thursday, making a leaping catch over Dee Virgin to end a seven-on-seven period. I haven’t seen a ton from Davis this camp, but he landed hard on his back after the catch Thursday, and he might push for a roster spot with a few more plays like that.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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