Amon-Ra St. Brown was one of the last players off the field on the first day of Detroit Lions training camp Wednesday, and there’s a good chance that will be the case most days this year.
St. Brown spent a solid 10 minutes after practice catching passes off a JUGS machine. And while he wasn’t the only Lion who devoted extra time to working on his hands — Kalif Raymond, Hunter Thedford and newly converted running back Godwin Igwebuike also took turns on the machine — the rookie fourth-round pick has a very specific post-practice workout routine.
St. Brown said he catches 202 passes every day off a JUGS machine, a practice he started somewhere around the sixth grade.
It was around that time that St. Brown and his football-playing brothers saw a young receiver who caught everything in sight. The St. Browns asked how the receiver’s hands got so good. When the receiver’s father said he caught 200 passes a day off a JUGS machine, St. Brown’s father, John Brown, bought his own machine for his boys.
Determined to outwork his competition, St. Brown started catching 202 passes a day, a number he still aims for as a pro.
The son of a former Mr. Universe and the younger brother of Green Bay Packers receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, St. Brown’s unique path to stardom has been well documented.
But watching him catch passes Wednesday — some with only his right hand, others with only his left, and some with vision-blurring goggles on for the first time — it’s easy to see why St. Brown is on the cusp of playing a significant role for the Lions offense this fall.
The Lions had a lighter-than-normal practice Wednesday as they remain in the acclimation period of training camp. Their first-team offense took just 16 reps in team periods, and players were not in full pads.
But St. Brown projects as the Lions’ starting slot receiver this fall, and I would not be surprised to see him move up to No. 2 on the depth chart. He also worked deep in the punt return rotation Wednesday.
More observations from Wednesday
• The Lions opened practiced Wednesday with a 30-minute walk-through and had 40 total reps of 11-on-11, a number they are planning for again Thursday. Lions coach Dan Campbell said he put a lot of thought into the structure of his first training camp as a head coach, trying to strike a balance keeping players’ legs fresh and getting them ready for the season.
“Look, they’re in really good shape, but now here we go,” Campbell said. “When the season comes, they’re going to play 60 plays, 65 plays, 70 plays. We’ll work them in. They’ll have some individual. Get their legs under them. We’ll be able to schematically get our system in because we’ll have the afternoon walkthrough as well. Let’s get their legs under them and get used to this a little bit. Because next week we’re rolling.”
• All 84 players on the Lions’ active roster (excluding players on COVID-IR and the non-football injury and physically unable to perform lists) took part in practice Wednesday, though cornerback Quinton Dunbar sat out some individual and team reps. Dunbar, who wore a compression sleeve on his left leg, has battled injuries in recent years.
I took my best guess at the Lions’ preseason Week 1 depth chart earlier this week, and I would make only a couple small tweaks after watching practice Wednesday. Rookie third-round pick Alim McNeill took first-team reps at nose tackle, ahead of John Penisini, and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and safety C.J. Moore are working with the second-team defense.
• The Lions have done away with the high media bleachers at their Allen Park practice facility, so some of the 11-on-11 work was tough to see. Linebacker Alex Anzalone did draw “oohs” from his teammates for one pass breakup on Jared Goff, and Jerry Jacobs had good coverage on a bomb from David Blough to Damion Ratley on the final play of 11 on 11. Jacobs also had a nice pass breakup in seven-on-sevens on a Tim Boyle pass to St. Brown.
• Watching Campbell do a series of up-downs with his players in practice Wednesday was quite the sight. Not that I didn’t think Campbell, the former NFL tight end, could still get his body in that position, but I can’t recall seeing a coach take part in a workout with his players.
Players noticed Campbell’s participation, too.
“For the players it just shows he’ll get in the grind, he’ll get on the ground, too,” defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “You gain a lot of respect for a guy that can get on that grind, get on this turf and do the same exercises as you cause some of the players wonder, if you was doing this, what would happen? And then for a coach to get down there and show you, ‘OK, I’m about this life,’ we definitely gained a lot of respect for him.”
• The Lions are shorthanded on the offensive line with Evan Brown on the non-football injury list and Evan Heim on COVID-IR to start camp, so they mixed and matched their big personnel in practice.
Backup tackle Matt Nelson saw some time at right guard during the pre-practice installation period, Tyrell Crosby played some guard for the first time I can remember during 11-on-11, and rookie Drake Jackson got a long look with the second-team offensive line at center.
Crosby’s value as a sixth lineman is significant since he can play either tackle or guard position, making him the first player in, in the event of just about any injury (including possibly center, where Jonah Jackson would likely shift inside with Crosby taking over at left guard).
• Last note of the day: Martha Firestone Ford remains actively around the team a year after handing day-to-day control to her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp. Ford, 95, attended all of Wednesday’s practice and spent a few minutes at the start talking with Campbell.