The Detroit Lions opened organized team activities to the media Thursday for the first time this spring, and while there weren’t many competitive periods to write about — these are pad-less practices, so there were no one-on-one offense vs. defense drills — I got enough of a glimpse of Dan Campbell’s new team to share some practice observations.
• The Lions had excellent turnout for Week 1 of in-person workouts, with Campbell saying more than 80 players were in attendance. The no-shows — at least the ones unaccounted for Thursday — include several important veterans: Michael Brockers, Jamie Collins and Tyrell Crosby.
Crosby was the most notable absence given that the Lions took his replacement in the first round of the draft, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, and are now open to trading Crosby.
Crosby has been attending virtual Zoom sessions this spring, so this isn’t an all-out boycott — and a reminder, these are voluntary workouts, so the term “hold out” should never apply. But I wouldn’t expect to see Crosby until mandatory minicamp in June.
There does not seem to be any animosity between the Lions and Collins, who drew praise from defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn on Thursday and recently changed his jersey to No. 8. Collins, who has a $200,000 workout bonus in his contract, has been in regular contact with Campbell this offseason.
Brockers, meanwhile, has decided to stay close to his young family for the start of workouts. Like Collins, he has been in contact with Campbell throughout the offseason.
• Crosby would have worked as a swing tackle had he been in attendance, with Sewell starting at right tackle on a first-team offensive line that featured Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
The one thing that stood out about that group Thursday, even without pads, is how big they are. Campbell joked that he never thought Sewell could look small until seeing him next to Decker, and running back D’Andre Swift spoke about what that size could mean for him.
“Definitely it’ll take it to the next level,” Swift said. “Our O-line is real big up front. We got nice size. Great leaders up there with Frank, Decker, Big V. I think they’re going to bring Sewell along. We look real good up front. I’m real excited to run behind them.”
• For those caught up in the will-Swift-or-Jamaal-Williams-start-at-running-back debate, Swift was on the field with what amounted to the first-team offense (with Jared Goff, ate least) on Thursday.
Along with Swift, Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, T.J. Hockenson and Darren Fells were the first offensive unit on the field for really the only competitive period of the day.
The Lions worked two fields of seven-on-seven, with Goff operating one field by himself and backup QBs Tim Boyle and David Blough on the other field.
The Lions seemed to be mixing up defensive players, so I don’t know that there was a first- and second-team group. Jeff Okudah, last year’s first-round pick, worked on Field 2 against Boyle and Blough, with Quinton Dunbar at the other cornerback spot and Tracy Walker at one safety position. Amani Oruwariye, rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu and Corn Elder (at slot corner) worked against Goff, with Will Harris at one safety spot.
• The Lions had a long special teams circuit in the second half of practice, and one thing new coordinator Dave Fipp had his gunners spend time on was downing the ball inside the 5-yard line.
Mike Ford was a standout in the drill, where players lined up about 30 yards downfield and raced a ball being shot out of a JUGS machine to the end zone. Ford has long been a solid special teams player, and could play a significant role there for the Lions again this fall.
Ford couldn’t quite keep a ball out of the end zone when the Lions went live with the drill, while Elder did manage to down a live kick. Elder, Damion Ratley and Jonathan Adams had good reps against the JUGS machine, while Quintez Cephus lost his bearings on the field and ran into the end zone on his first rep at the drill and couldn’t stop a ball from bouncing into the end zone on his second.
• Campbell complemented Goff for throwing “a pretty ball” before practice, and the offense seemed to run smoothly under his command in seven-on-seven drills. Goff and Hockenson weren’t quite on the same page on one throw down the middle that sailed to an open patch of grass, but Swift had a long run-after-catch on a checkdown and Fells made a nice juggling catch with Anthony Pittman on his back near the end of the period.
Cephus had a ball sail through his hands on the final play of the period.
• The Lions have one more open OTA next Thursday, then have mandatory minicamp June 8-10. Campbell said he has tweaked the schedule for the final week of Phase 3 of workouts, June 14-17. Rookies will stay in town and work with coaches, and veterans can as well, but many players will head out for the summer after Week 3.
“To me, it was like, ‘Look, what can we get accomplished in three weeks?'” Campbell said. “If anybody wants to stay for a fourth week knowing we’ll have the young guys, let’s do it. We’re putting in our whole system. It’s going to be a crash course in three weeks for these vets, so we’re throwing the book at them right now and seeing what they can retain.”