It rained. It shined. Everyone wore masks and kept their distance. I got a swab stuck up my nose a couple of times. And a movement that rocked the sports world was started in Allen Park.
It has been a short, strange trip, but Detroit Lions training camp is officially over.
That means it’s time for my final camp observations. So let’s kick it off for the last time with a look at 11 takeaways from Lions training camp in 2020.
For subscribers: These 5 Lions are poised to cash in a second wave of contract extensions
1. Stafford impresses
There was absolutely nothing about Matthew Stafford’s performance that would make you think he’s coming off suffering broken bones in his back. The arm strength is there, and so is his mobility. That’s great news for an offense that might surprise this season. Most people outside Detroit forgot Stafford was playing at an MVP clip (19 touchdowns, five interceptions, 2,499 yards) through eight games when he got hurt last year. This is a big year for Stafford. Everyone in the organization loves him, but he’s due a $10 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2021 league year, when he will be 33. If everything goes well, there’s no problem making that payment and probably working on another extension. But if things don’t, paying that bonus becomes a tougher decision. He has a lot riding on this season.
2. Stafford also cheats
Speaking of Stafford, he was one of the biggest cheaters … while doing push-ups. Units sometimes challenge each other during drills and the losing side has to do push-ups. Several players apply a … loose … interpretation to doing a push-up, instead just planking with a tiny bit of arm movement. Stafford barely moved during the push-ups I saw him do. C’mon, man. To be fair, Stafford wasn’t the only violator. They should eliminate push-up cheating by choosing a truly embarrassing and hilarious exercise: wacky jacks.
In the QB room: Blough: Watching Stafford, Daniel ‘sparked the love of the game’
3. Daniel solid as backup QB
Staying with the quarterbacks, I like the way veteran backup Chase Daniel carries himself. He looks like a true pro on the field. He seemed to make quick decisions and didn’t get flustered when things didn’t go his way on a play. I never saw him hang his head, or make any kind of emotional gesture, after an incomplete pass. The best backups have ice in their veins like that. With Stafford’s injury history, the Lions were right to sign Daniel, who can play immediately and at a high level.
4. Cephus reels them in
There’s often a standout new player at camp. This year, it was receiver Quintez Cephus, the Lions’ fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin. He seemed to catch just about everything. He has nice size at 6-1. One of the big knocks on him before the draft was his 40 time at the combine. At 4.73 seconds, it was the slowest among wide receivers. But he sure didn’t look slow in camp, getting separation and making catch after catch. He’ll face a different challenge when NFL cornerbacks are playing for real, but he has the skills to compete.
5. Swift lessons
It’s always hard to evaluate running backs in training camp, and even more so this year without the preseason. But I still think rookie D’Andre Swift has enough raw speed and elusiveness to be useful. After all the bad injury luck among running backs last season, the Lions should be due for more health this season. I hope Swift turns out to be as electric in space during the season as he was during our short glimpse of him in camp.
For subscribers: How Lions stiff-armed COVID-19: ‘A different animal’
6. Reception haul
I’m eager to see what this receiving corps can do. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola should be hard to contain again this year. And that’s not even counting what Cephus might contribute or Jamal Agnew, who made several big plays in camp as he transitioned from defensive back to receiver, or the tight ends or the versatile running back corps. I would expect a very potent aerial assault and maybe an improvement on last year’s 10th-ranked passing attack.
7. Silent kicks
If you don’t hear anything about the kicker in camp, that’s usually a good thing. And it’s a good thing you barely heard about Matt Prater. He was always kicking toward the end zone opposite from where I was sitting, but I don’t think he missed one kick. And let’s not forget about all the free beer we get when he outkicks Denver’s Brandon McManus.
More on special teams: Lions punting battle may go to wire. Here’s where it stands
8. DC cheers
New defensive coordinator Cory Undlin brings a slow-burn intensity from what I could tell. He did a little barking on the field. But his best criticism came when he offered up a derisive cheer after the struggling secondary finally broke up a pass at the goal line in two-on-two drills.
9. Shelton lightens up
You need some light-hearted players who know how to have fun, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton provides that for the defensive line. During one-on-one drills at practice one day, he was consistently getting the best out of interior offensive linemen. After one especially great rep, he walked away and pretended to dust off his shoes.
10. Collins is everywhere
Linebacker Jamie Collins looks like a defensive back up close but is listed at 6-3 and 255 pounds. I didn’t realize he was that big, which only makes his freakish play-making ability all the more impressive. Remember how fast Ziggy Ansah was? Collins reminds me of that uncanny speed and ability at his position. He seemed to be everywhere on the field and he was around the ball often.
11. This team feels different
From the way Stafford took charge in gathering players for informal workouts in the offseason, to the way coach Matt Patricia has given up defensive play-calling in order to have a better big-picture view of games, to the way the players were allowed to start a peaceful protest that reverberated throughout the sports world, this team feels different. Will it lead to more wins? That’s hard to say. But I get the feeling this team has grown together during a difficult offseason. If nothing else, it’s hard to imagine stronger bonds hurting the Lions’ chances this year.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.