Detroit Lions observations: Offense struggles in two-minute; Da’Shawn Hand hurt

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions‘ new-look offense will have its public unveiling in Friday’s preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, and let’s hope things go smoother than they did at the end of practice Tuesday.

The Lions closed Day 13 of training camp with a two-minute period that pitted ones-on-ones and twos-on-twos.

Neither offense had any success moving the ball.

There are caveats, of course. Or excuses, depending on how you view them.

T.J. Hockenson sat out the final two periods with an undisclosed injury, though he told the Free Press he was “all good” as he walked to the locker room. D’Andre Swift continued his summer of minimal use, sitting out all team drills. And neither Breshad Perriman nor Quintez Cephus practiced.

But in what’s been a theme all summer, the offense struggled to make plays downfield and put points on the board.

Given a first-and-10 at the 25-yard line, down two points with 1:01 on the clock, Jared Goff had his first pass tipped at the line of scrimmage by Jashon Cornell. Goff threw complete to Jamaal Williams for a short gain on second down, then converted a third-and-5-ish play with a post-up pass to big tight end Darren Fells.

Down to 22 seconds on the game clock, the Lions false-started on their next play before Goff threw complete to Kalif Raymond across midfield. After a spike to kill the clock, Goff launched one final long pass that landed harmlessly out of bounds.

The Lions did give Randy Bullock a gratis 49-yard field goal try at the end of the period that he pushed wide right.

Bullock made a manufactured field goal try from about the same distance after the second set of red zone downs, but the Lions, with Tim Boyle at quarterback, had even less success moving the ball against their No. 2 defense.

Julian Okwara beat Matt Nelson for a would-be sack on first-and-5 (after an Austin Bryant offsides penalty), then threw incomplete on his next two attempts. On fourth-and-11-ish, safety Elijah Holder came flying through the line on a well-timed blitz for an easy sack.

On one hand, it was refreshing to get a glimpse of Aaron Glenn’s aggressive play calling. On the other, well, the offense remains a significant concern a month or so out from the regular season.

The Lions ranked 20th in scoring 23.6 points per game last season. If I was a betting man, I’d take the under on both those numbers this fall.

More observations from Tuesday:

  • Hockenson seemed fine as he walked off the field Tuesday, but the Lions would be wise to play things safe with their best offensive weapon this week. I know Dan Campbell wants his starters to play this preseason, but Hockenson is too valuable to give him extended reps.
  • Da’Shawn Hand also left Tuesday’s practice with an apparent injury. He pulled up in the middle of one-on-one pass rush drills during a rep against Evan Brown and was favoring his right foot/ankle.

Hand talked briefly with trainers and lingered behind the drill for a few minutes before walking slowly to the locker room under his own power.

Hand met with reporters Monday and seemed genuinely upbeat. He added good weight this offseason, was playing well in camp and was healthy for the first time since his rookie year.

The Lions are extremely shorthanded up front — Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike and John Penisini did not practice Tuesday, and Kevin Strong walked off early, seemingly exhausted from extended reps — but most importantly need to keep Hand healthy for the regular season.

  • A couple thoughts from one-on-one pass rush drills: Alim McNeill has been a terror all camp, and he showed off his grown-man strength in one team rep Tuesday when he yanked a center to the ground to get easy penetration on a run play. In one-on-ones, though, Frank Ragnow showed why he may be the best center in the game, stoning McNeill off their only snap against each other with perfect technique.

McNeill bulldozed Evan Boehm on his second rep, but I thought the offensive line fared well overall. Penei Sewell stymied a swim move by Austin Bryant, and Logan Stenberg won an impressive rep against Trey Flowers, knocking him to the ground.

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  • I mentioned Bryant’s spin move in Monday’s observations, and the oft-injured pass rusher unleashed it again Tuesday. Bryant is lightning fast with his spin, but he needs to stay on his feet better at the end of the move to convert it into a sack. Whatever the case, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said he’s been impressed by Bryant so far.

“He’s catching my eye as well,” Sheppard said. “Just with him, like I said, you can flash but this isn’t a flash business so you better have a level of consistency. Just continue to ascend, ascend, ascend as the year goes on.

“I’m thoroughly impressed by 9-4 right now.”

  • Sheppard, who played briefly for the Lions in the 2018 season, met with reporters after practice Tuesday for the first time as coach. He said his goal is to be a head coach one day, and I must say he carried himself like one in his post-practice interview.

He was polished, on-point with his message and he delivered the quote of the day. Asked what he liked about Aaron Glenn’s defense, Sheppard said, “I love it. I love it because we’re not allowing people to dictate to us, we run a dictatorship over here.”

  •  As inept as the offense looked in its two-minute period Tuesday, Jared Goff did some good things in a red-zone drill late in practice. Goff completed just 2 of 4 passes in the drill, and Amani Oruwariye made a really nice pass breakup on a pass to Tom Kennedy, when he simply dwarfed the smaller receiver. But Goff converted a second-and-about-7 on a rollout play to Victor Bolden for a first down, threw a short touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on a third-and-about-5 – St. Brown split defensive backs Tracy Walker and Jeff Okudah to get in the end zone with a quick cut upfield – and the Williams capped the period with a 6-yard touchdown run up the middle.
  •  Bullock seems to have a lock on the kicking job. He was good from 41, 45 and 47 yards early in practice, while Matthew Wright hooked his final kick wide left.
  •  Chad Hansen, Goff’s former teammate at Cal, made the catch of the day, laying out to catch a bomb at the end of one-on-one passing drills despite good coverage from Holder. Hansen and the rest of the crew competing for the Lions’ fifth or sixth receiver spot – Kennedy, Bolden and Geronimo Allison, among others – should get plenty of run Friday against the Bills.
  • One final player I need to mention who did some good things Tuesday: Dedrick Mills, who saw extended action with Swift, Michael Warren and Jermar Jefferson out of practice. An undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, Mills escaped a Jeff Okudah tackle in the Lions’ one-on-one live tackling period with a nice spin move. He also stymied Jalen Reeves-Maybin in his first rep of one-on-one blocking, and he steered C.J. Moore, one of the Lions’ best special teams players, wide in an open-field special teams blocking drill.

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

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