With the Detroit Lions players putting pads on for the first time in training camp (Day 6), the competition got heated at times. In the very first contract drill, 3-on-3 offensive line versus defensive line, players were looking to establish themselves and set the tone for the day.
Early in the drill, Romeo Okwara paired up against Dan Skipper, both players were engaged through the whistle and Romeo’s hand got up too high. While they separated relatively quickly, as Okwara was returning to his spot on the sidelines he used a “bring it on” hand gesture towards the offensive line. The intensity level remained elevated throughout the drill and when it culminated with a Julian Okwara versus Penei Sewell matchup near the end, the rookie let out a guttural scream after he got the better of younger Okwara on the rep.
In the grand scheme of things, that interaction was fairly tame compared to what happened during a special teams session. In a one-on-one drill, rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was tasked with blocking rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, who was trying to get to the return man. The pair stayed engaged a bit longer than expected and what started out as brief pushing quickly escalated into punches and they needed to be separated. Position coaches each checked in with their player, but the conversations were brief.
On a day where Giants coach Joe Judge was making the entire team run laps after a skirmish, and reflecting on a time when Matt Patricia ejected a seventh-round draft pick for the day after throwing one punch, I was curious how the new regime would handle this dust-up.
Dan Campbell’s staff took the opposite approach. The drill continued and the players switched roles, and when it came time for St. Brown and Melifonwu to square up again, the coaches let them run the drill. The pair may have held the blocks for a tick longer than they should’ve but they separated on their own. When the team shifted to 11-on-11’s, coaches once again paired the two up and let them work it out on the field.
“You know, we’re just out there competing,” St. Brown told Detroit News’ Justin Rogers after practice. ”It was the first day of pads and the coaches wanted to see what we can do. It was aggressive, physical. He (Melifonwu) likes to block and you know I love blocking, so that was a fun drill for me.”
No laps. No ejections. And in the end, the rookies were able to get in some much-needed work on the field instead of working off a punishment.
The Lions took precautionary measures with some players who have been dealing with some lingering issues. Here’s a quick rundown of the players held out or limited at today’s practice, with the new additions bolded.
- Limited: WR Tyrell Williams, left early, returned with two fingers on left hand taped up
- OUT: C/G Evan Brown, reserve/NFI
- OUT: DT Michael Brockers, was in attendance but without pads
- Limited/OUT: DT Levi Onwuzurike, was in warmups but left and returned without pads
- Limited: EDGE Austin Bryant, removed from PUP list, individual drills today, potentially full tomorrow
- OUT: EDGE Reggie Gilbert
- OUT: LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, COVID-19 list
- Limited: LB Derrick Barnes, lingering minor hamstring issue the team is being cautious with
- OUT: CB Quinton Dunbar, not at practice due to a personal issue, per Campbell
- Limited: CB Alex Brown, left early with trainers after a collision during team drills
This list is pretty standard as guys typically get banged up early in camp, especially when the pads come on and things get more physical.
Quarterbacks and skill players
To his credit, Jared Goff keeps trying the deep ball but the success isn’t there as he continues to build chemistry with his targets. The most notable deep shot today saw Goff target Breshad Perriman, who had a step on Amani Oruwariye, but Goff underthrew the pass, allowing Oruwariye to close, high point, and impressively intercept the pass.
With the lack of success with the deep ball, Goff has often had to check the ball down to the tight ends. It’s hard to tell if this lack of chemistry is because everyone is new, the receivers are failing to separate, or Goff is just missing his targets downfield—because underneath he has been solid.
Goff wasn’t the only quarterback to get intercepted today, as David Blough saw a pass picked off by Dean Marlowe. Blough did rebound later in the period, hitting Victor Bolden for a touchdown down the sidelines.
Tim Boyle also locked onto Bolden for a big gain which could’ve turned into a touchdown. He also connected with Quintez Cephus on 40-yard pass that would’ve surely gone for six. Boyle has strung together four days of solid play and is starting to emerge as the player he was touted to be.
Cephus also had an all-around great day, flashing some of the skills he displayed on the regular in the spring. He’s still competing for the WR4 spot but it’s worth noting that after Williams exited early in practice, it was Kalif Raymond who replaced him in the starting lineup.
St. Brown is starting to flash a bit and when he’s given a free release on the line, he’s hard to handle. Late in practice, the defense played off coverage and St. Brown ate up the cushion in the seam and secured what would’ve been over a 40-yard touchdown.
Jermar Jefferson has established himself as RB3 and is being used as such. His cutbacks are special and clearly the best part of his game, but his biggest gain of the day happened on a sweep right where he broke through the line and was off to the races. While he skirted through the defense initially, Melifonwu turned on the jets and tracked him down and would’ve stopped him short of a touchdown.
Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow continue to show their value and they both had very good days in pads. Decker faced off against Jashon Cornell twice in one-on-ones and pushed the defender to the ground the first time, then pushed him to the back of the endzone the next. Decker and Jonah Jackson also parted the red sea for D’Andre Swift in 11-on-11’s, creating a hole big enough I would’ve made it through.
Sewell hasn’t had any football contact in almost two years and you could tell he was excited to go as he played through multiple whistles.
“Man, it’s kind of like when you’re out in the desert and you take that first sip of water,” Sewell said after practice. “I would say it’s like that to be out there again, to strap it on, to put the helmet back on again. It’s a feeling that I forgot about and something that I’ve been craving for a minute that I didn’t know I was craving. To be able to go out there and the thing that I love doing, again, it’s a blessing.”
Tyrell Crosby reminded us multiple times to not forget about him. In one-on-ones, he easily handled Julian Okwara, Cornell, and Robert McCray. He’s been solid.
Rookie Alim McNeill continues to steal the show.
In OL versus DL 3-on-3s, McNeill was heads up over Evan Boehm. McNeill was too quick off the snap, grabbed him, pushed him to the side, swam over the block, and was in the gap within a second. In one-on-ones, the 330-pound man pulled off a spin move that rivaled an EDGE rusher. In the scrimmage portion, he got under Hal Vaitai and buried him. The strength is for real.
With Brockers out, today’s starters were McNeill at the nose, Nick Williams at 3T, and Da’Shawn Hand as the 4i replacement. Hand, like a few other returning defensive linemen, looked notably stronger today and was able to hold his gap today.
Kevin Strong also fits that bill and was winning reps with his power, something that was missing previously from his skill set. Despite the extra power, he still has his elite quick first step, and he used it to generate at least one sack and a tackle for loss in 11-on-11s.
On the edge, Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers beat up the offensive line reserves in one-on-ones. In 11-on-11s, Okwara looks smoother in his drops each practice, while Flowers was able to execute a PBU after dropping into coverage and undercutting a quick slant route.
Speaking of PBUs, Anthony Pittman had his third day in a row of flashing all over the field and generating pass breakups. He also showed he can clean up the trash against the run and has legitimately put himself firmly on the roster bubble. Linebackers like Reeves-Maybin and Shaun Dion Hamilton (maybe even Jahlani Tavai) need to be looking over their shoulders for the Bloomfield Groves product.
“A guy that really stands out is Pittman,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said unprompted after practice. “He’s making plays on the ball, he’s running to the ball. You see the physical nature of him. There’s a lot of things about that player that I like.”
The Lions began expanding Melifonwu’s role today and he saw reps in nickel and dime packages, and drew praise from Glenn after practice.
“Big, physical, fast,” Glenn said of Melifonwu. “Is he going to make some mistakes? Yeah, he is, because he’s still a rookie. But that is a moldable guy. When you have a guy of that size and that speed and smart—he’s smart—you really like to have a developmental guy like that. I’m just looking forward to him continuing to progress as his training camp goes, and I think he’s going to be all good.
“He’s a matchup piece, also. Thing is, he’s smart. You can play this guy in a lot of different spots. Nickel, dime. Hell, he could play safety. But we want to make sure that we take advantage of what he is right now. Not to put him in too many spots, but spots we know he can excel.”
While Melifonwu bumped Mike Ford off the field at times, it was clearly for exposure rather than him taking over because Ford also continues to stand out. He closed and blew up two screens today, looking fast and decisive.
One corner who didn’t have a great day was AJ Parker. He had a rough day in coverage, giving up two 40+ yard touchdowns (Cephus and St. Brown), but he did have the hit of the day, laying the wood versus the run.
At safety, Dean Marlowe had an interception (mentioned earlier) and a nice PBU in 11-on-11’s, but he is still taking a backseat to Will Harris. Harris, with shorter coverage zones in this scheme, looked sharper today and made a great breakup on the sideline.
“Confidence,” Glenn said of Harris. “Confidence. Knowing exactly what to do. Give him a job, and tell him he’s got to do his job well. And then competition. There’s no one that has a spot, even with Tracy. But the thing is, he bought into everything we were doing, and I like everything about that player right now.”
One final note about the secondary. After the conclusion of 11-on-11’s, while the team turned to special teams to close the day, Jeff Okudah followed a popular trend of working the video board. He cycled through a lot of plays and took advantage of the popular resource.
Both kickers were perfect today, as Randy Bullock and Matthew Wright each were successful from roughly 33, 38, 43, and 49 yards.
Second-year safety Bobby Price is the leading candidate to make this roster as special teams only player. He is first up in all gunner drills, has been blocking very well, and contributed in all phases. Right now, he’s probably the fifth safety as well, which is pushing his bubble closer to the 53-man roster.
Ford could very well be the gunner opposite him, though Melifonwu is also in the mix as well. Other notable standouts on special teams blocking/tackling drills include Pittman, Marlowe (who pancaked Jermar Jefferson), Jalen Elliott, Jerry Jacobs, Tavante Beckett, and Geronimo Allison.