Detroit Lions minicamp observations: Defense outshines Jared Goff, offense

Detroit Free Press

Day 1 went to the defense.

The Detroit Lions held their first of three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday, and head coach Dan Campbell’s quest for competition led to a banner day from the defense.

The Lions devoted a good chunk of Tuesday’s practice to red zone work and they finished the session with 17 snaps of seven-on-seven from about the 5-yard line.

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Jared Goff completed 1 of 7 passes in the period. T.J. Hockenson had two drops. And Will Harris intercepted a lollipop of pass that he might have returned 100-plus yards for a touchdown had the drill been live.

Goff’s rough showing in seven-on-seven wasn’t entirely his fault, and he wasn’t the only quarterback who found touchdowns tough to come by in the period.

Goff opened the period with a lob that seemed to be intended for tight end Darren Fells in the back of the end zone. Harris, starting at the safety spot opposite Tracy Walker, made a nice break on the ball for an easy interception and returned it down the sideline amid exuberant celebrations by his defensive teammates.

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Goff threw incomplete on each of his next two passes, with Mike Ford breaking up a fade route to Breshad Perriman in the back corner of the end zone — Perriman lost the ball as he hit the ground — and Hockenson unable to hold onto a ball near the sideline as Goff rolled to his left (on a play that might have been a sack had a defensive line been on the field).

Tim Boyle took second-team quarterback reps and completed 1 of his 4 passes with a touchdown to Jason Cabinda, before Goff returned to the field for three more plays.

After a touchdown pass to undrafted rookie Sage Surratt, where two linebackers appeared to have a miscommunication in coverage, Hockenson had another drop (on a play that might have drawn a flag as he drew heavy contract trying to sell an outside route before cutting inside) and Goff missed Tyrell Williams in the back corner of the end zone.

David Blough followed with four straight completions, though the defense appeared to keep three of the receivers out of the end zone. And Goff finished with a well-placed ball to Williams in the back of the end zone that was incomplete as Williams appeared to step out of bounds before making the catch.

Goff’s stat line was an ugly one for a seven-on-seven period, but it’s worth reiterating that he did not have much help from his skill players, which is something I fear could be a problem this fall given the lack of investment the Lions made in the receiver position this offseason.

Defensively, there weren’t many standout plays, though the linebacking corps played well in keeping Blough’s receivers out of the end zone. But the emotion the unit showed on the sideline, led by animated secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant, made for a fun watch.

More observations from Tuesday’s practice:

• The Lions actually had two red zone seven-on-seven periods, and Goff fared much better in the first. He completed 5 of 7 passes, with touchdowns to D’Andre Swift, Darren Fells a third receiver who I didn’t catch the number on.

The Lions rotated reps within the period, with Goff leading the offense, then Boyle — who looks like the No. 2 quarterback — then Goff again, then Blough. Each quarterback got one snap at the end of the period, a sort of winner-take-all approach to the drill.

Walker broke up a pass to Hockenson in the end zone in the seven-on-seven period. Quintez Cephus made a nice move to uncover from his defender and get open for an easy touchdown throw from Boyle. Blough closed the period by sailing a pass over the head of Tom Kennedy in the back corner of the end zone.

• Cephus had a nice day Tuesday after a rough showing during the first week of organized team activities. He caught a touchdown from Boyle early in the first seven-on-seven period on a nice corner route, and was one of several receivers Campbell praised when discussing the unit as a whole before practice.

“There’s guys that I’ve been impressed with, we all have as a staff, just over these last two weeks, really,” Campbell said. “Look, Tyrell Williams is going to be able to help us. There’s things that he can do. I see it. Breshad Perriman’s going to be able to help us. There’s things that he can do. Kalif Raymond. There’s things that he can do right now that you see. Look, (Victor) Bolden’s impressed us as well. Cephus was much better last week than the week before. Look, there’s guys that are impressive. There again, (Amon-Ra) St. Brown, he’s improving.

“It’s a steady group. It’s a group that’s competing every day and what does that mean? Well, right now all it means is they’re getting better and we’re trying to identify who are the guys we can depend on. Out of the guys we can depend on, how do we use them? What do they do best and then how do we use that skill set?”

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• Jamie Collins practiced Tuesday after staying home for OTAs to be at the birth of his son, but he did not get a lot of work with the first-team defense. The Lions did some light walk-through at the beginning of practice, when Collins and Alex Anzalone lined up as first-team linebackers (with Jahlani Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin with the second-team).

It will be interesting to see if Anzalone wins the starting job once pads come on and rookie Derrick Barnes, who spent part of Tuesday’s practice working on the side with trainers, re-enters the mix.

• Outside linebacker Austin Bryant was not spotted at practice Tuesday, and Jerry Jacobs joined Barnes as a DNP for what appeared to be injury reasons.

• I though Mike Ford was the best in gunner drills during OTAs, but the Lions gave him a day off of that work Tuesday, when he played instead with the first-team defense at slot cornerback. Damion Ratley and rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu took first-team reps at gunner, with Cephus and Corn Elder working second in the rotation.

• The Lions still have one open spot on their 90-man roster, and it feels inevitable that spot will go to Todd Gurley. Some have wondered what role Gurley will have as a No. 3 running back who does not play special teams, but the Lions don’t necessarily need their third-string running back to be a big special teams contributor.

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Jamaal Williams, who is slated for backup duty behind Swift, played about a quarter of the special teams snaps for the Green Bay Packers last season and took first-team reps on punt cover Tuesday. It’s possible, if the Lions sign Gurley, that Swift, Williams and Gurley will be the three backs they keep active on Sundays.

• Because it’s minicamp, the Lions were able to add another competitive period to the mix, running one-on-one routes with receivers against cornerbacks, running backs against linebackers and tight ends against safeties. I trained most of my focus on receivers during the period and saw Cephus make a nice catch over Melifonwu, Kennedy run a crisp route to lose a defensive back I couldn’t identify in coverage, and Bolden, a standout from last week’s open OTA, beat Harris for a tough grab.

Defensively, Elder got a hand on a Goff pass to Javon McKinley and Jeff Okudah deflected a pass to Perriman in trail coverage down the sideline.

• Two final observations for the day: Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp was in attendance, for those who’ve inquired about those sorts of things, and Campbell appeared to give Trey Flowers the final breakdown of practice. Flowers has been a team leader since signing in free agency two years ago, and while people have speculated about his long-term future in Detroit, he remains an important part of the locker room and the culture Campbell is trying to establish as head coach.

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

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