Detroit Lions training camp observations: Aubrey Pleasant’s instant impact on secondary

Detroit Free Press

Pro tip for the football junkies out there: If you stop by Detroit Lions training camp in the coming weeks, try grabbing a seat next to one of the portable on-field video boards. You’re liable to hear some very insightful conversations.

Secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and linebacker Jamie Collins had one such exchange Saturday when they watched the replay of a red-zone seven-on-seven snap toward the end of practice that resulted in a Jared Goff touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson.

Lions media policy prevents me from sharing the specifics of the conversation, but it was one of the cool teaching moments that you rarely get to see outside of camp.

Check downs are his friend, but Jared Goff must rediscover deep passing game ]

The Lions purchased two 12-by-7-foot video boards to use as on-field coaching tools three years ago under Matt Patricia.

The boards replay the previous snap, allowing coaches, players and fans to get instant cut-ups of practice. We in the media use it occasionally to watch a play when our view is blocked. Pleasant used it multiple times between periods Saturday to take a closer look at a play that caused his secondary problems.

On the aforementioned seven-on-seven play, Hockenson scored an easy touchdown out of a bunch formation, when he appeared to beat Collins to the goal line.

Replay confirmed Collins did not get through traffic quick enough to make a stop, but it also revealed safety Will Harris could have done more to disrupt the play and the pick players in front of Collins at the line of scrimmage.

Pleasant, Glenn and Collins rewatched Snap 11 of the period a handful of times, and listening to Pleasant make a few quick points — while Glenn scribbled notes on his play sheet — was like sitting in a coaching clinic in real-time.

Pleasant has been as advertised, which is to say he is an energetic, passionate teacher who should have a significant impact on the Lions secondary this fall. Players gravitate to him on the field and head coach Dan Campbell has been understandably effusive in his praise of Pleasant so far.

“He’s a stud,” Campbell said Friday. “He is a hell of a teacher. He is engaging, he’s thorough, he’s interactive, he’s energetic, he’s vibrant, he gets it. There’s a reason why he’s good at what he does.”

More observations from Saturday’s Lions practice:

• One more note on Pleasant: His impact on the secondary will be noticeable this fall. Heck, it already is four days into camp.

Cornerback Jeff Okudah looks like a different, more inspired player. He’s been sticky in coverage (acknowledging the caveat of no pads applies), has rarely gotten beat deep and is clearly more confident on the field. Last year, Okudah took a reserved, watch-and-learn approach to drills. This year, he’s the alpha who always is one of the first in line.

Safety Tracy Walker looks considerably more at ease, too. He said Friday coaches have “allowed (me) to be a leader. I’m allowed to speak, voice my opinions and like I said, whether I’m right or wrong, I’m always going to be able to speak.”

• The Lions won’t sniff being an elite secondary until they force more turnovers, and judging by their reaction to their first interception of training camp Saturday, that has been a point of emphasis this summer.

When Jerry Jacobs picked off a Tim Boyle pass to Charlie Taumoepeau in the final team period of the day, the Lions’ entire defensive backfield mobbed Jacobs as he ran to the sideline.

The interception wasn’t a particularly great play. Jacobs might as well have been the intended receiver after Taumoepeau stopped short of the end zone on a fade route. But Jacobs is making an early case for a roster spot with a strong start to camp.

MORE FROM BIRKETT: Detroit Lions camp observations from Day 3

MORE FROM BIRKETT: Detroit Lions camp observations from Day 2

• No practice Saturday for linebacker Jahlani Tavai or cornerback Quinton Dunbar, though both were on field for the start of the installation period. No real changes to the Lions’ starting lineup, either, in their first practice in front of fans.

Offensively, the Lions have consistently been running with Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell on the offensive line protecting Goff, D’Andre Swift as their starting running, Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman as their top two receivers and Hockenson and Darren Fells as their top tight ends.

Defensively, it’s been Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Walker and Harris in the secondary, with Mike Ford playing the slot in nickel packages. Collins and Alex Anzalone are the starting inside linebackers, with Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers playing off the edge and Nick Williams, Alim McNeill and Michael Brockers upfront.

I believe I saw rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu play out of the slot Saturday, too, though Corn Elder still seems like the best bet as Ford’s backup.

• One more (potential) injury note: Alex Brown spent a few minutes with trainers after a big collision with Victor Bolden in the end zone. Trainers eventually gave Brown his helmet back, but I did not see him take another snap.

• Hockenson made the play of the day Saturday when he caught a deflected Goff throw for a touchdown during red zone seven-on-seven. Shaun Dion Hamilton made a nice defensive play to tip the pass, but Hockenson showed better body control to make the catch and get his feet down.

• My colleague Carlos Monarrez is writing more about the atmosphere Saturday with fans in attendance for the first time since 2019. Campbell spent a few minutes at the start of practice addressing the crowd, and the team posed for a group picture in front of the fans to loud applause before leaving the field for the day.

“Everybody wants to count us out, that’s fine,” Campbell told the crowd. “We’re not good enough. We’re a bunch of losers. We’re all these things, and that’s OK. That’s OK. We’ll just keep coming out here doing our work. We’ll do our deal. We’ll get a little bit better every day and then when they show up we’ll see what happens.”

• Matthew Wright did not have a good day Saturday in his bid to win the kicking job from Randy Bullock. Wright missed three of six field goal attempts, from estimated distances of 40, 47 and 45 yards, all wide left. Bullock was perfect once again – the two also kicked Thursday — and may be pulling ahead in the competition.

• The Lions are off Sunday, but return in pads Monday for another public practice.

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

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