Lions camp observations: Offense struggles in red-zone, 2-minute situations

Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from the Detroit Lions’ training camp practice on Tuesday.

► As always, let’s kick things off with the injury report. The Lions were missing several players, a few others were limited and two important pieces to the puzzle had to exit after getting banged up during the day’s session.

Most of the players sidelined have been out multiple days. That group consisted of cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar (personal) and Corn Elder, wide receivers Quintez Cephus (head) and Damion Ratley, defensive tackles Levi Onwuzurike and John Penisini, running back Jermar Jefferson (ankle) and Michael Warren II and offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby (hamstring).

Additionally, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver Breshad Perriman were in uniform, but limited in their participation to individual drills, or in Swift’s case, even less.

To compound Detroit’s injury issues, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand and tight end T.J. Hockenson both failed to finish practice.

Hand, who a day earlier excitedly talked about being healthy and ready to go, caught a bad break when he stepped awkwardly during a one-on-one pass rush and appeared to roll his ankle.

After testing it out for a couple of minutes after the rep, he decided discretion was the better part of valor and headed to the locker room. Assuming it doesn’t end up being a dreaded high-ankle sprain, he shouldn’t miss much time. Still, it’s worth noting he’s ended the past two seasons on injured reserve due to ankle issues.

As for Hockenson, he came down hard trying to catch a deep ball. To make matters worse, cornerback Jeff Okudah landed on top of him. Both players were slow to get up, but Okudah was able to finish practice. On the bright side, Hockenson remained on the sideline, suggesting it isn’t serious.

► For the first time this camp, I got eyes on the linebackers and safeties working head-to-head with the running backs and tight ends, both in pass protection and pass-catching drills.

Linebacker Anthony Pittman looked sharp, winning both of his pass-rush snaps and breaking up a pass intended for fullback Jason Cabinda. The Wayne State product also found himself in excellent position to make a play on a deep throw to supersized tight end Hunter Thedford, but the defender turned his head the wrong way when trying to locate the ball, resulting in a long completion.

► Darren Fells impressed as both a blocker and a pass-catcher, including a rep where he stymied Romeo Okwara, the team’s best pass-rusher. As a receiver, Fells got the best of safety Dean Marlowe, coming back to the quarterback and using his massive frame to box out the defender.

The only snap Fells lost was when Alex Anzalone was able to reach around him and break up a pass. The veteran linebacker has had a good camp and looks extremely comfortable in Aaron Glenn’s defensive scheme.

► It was a mixed bag for Alize Mack. The young tight end ran a couple of superb routes against safety Jalen Elliott, a former college teammate. The second, an out-and-up, went for a big gain.

But as a blocker, Mack remains wildly inconsistent. Rookie cornerback A.J. Parker blew past the tight end on a blitz pickup.

► In full-team work, linebacker Austin Bryant had his strongest day of practice that I’ve seen, not just this year, but for his career. In the first segment alone, he beat an offensive tackle for a sack, then overpowered Mack on a bull rush, forcing quarterback Jared Goff to quickly bail from the pocket.

► The Lions running back situation is getting ugly with both Swift and Jefferson working through injuries. Jamaal Williams will get the start in the preseason opener, but expect to see plenty of Godwin Igwebuike and Dedrick Mills against the Bills. Igwebuike was splitting first-team reps with Williams on Tuesday.

► Not that it’s unusual, but the second-team offensive line is young and struggling. The subpar play up front is one of the biggest reasons preseason football can be tough to watch.

► The kicking game also continues to be suspect. Randy Bullock, the presumptive favorite, remains the sharper of Detroit’s two options, but after squeezing attempts from 41 and 45 yards inside the right upright, he sent a 49-yard effort wide right.

Matthew Wright, the challenger, badly hooked one wide left from 47.

► Newcomer Darius Jennings, signed ahead of Monday’s practice, got some run returning kickoffs in his second day with the team. He led the league in yards per return in 2018.

► In one-on-one pass-rush work, Logan Stenberg stood out. Impressively, the second-year guard bodied Trey Flowers to the ground before stonewalling defensive tackle Michael Barnett.

Meanwhile, rookie Alim McNeill continues to dominate everyone this side of Frank Ragnow, but the Pro Bowl center managed to slow the powerful and athletic nose tackle in his tracks.

I only caught one of Penei Sewell’s two reps. The rookie right tackle hooked Bryant on an outside rush that likely draws a holding flag if an official sees it during a game.

► The Lions also got in some full-team red zone and two-minute drill work.

The second- and third-team offenses were limited to one touchdown on four total snaps, with backup Tim Boyle finding Geronimo Allison in the back corner of the end zone. That throw made up for Boyle’s previous snap, where he underthrew an open Amon-Ra St. Brown on the same route, allowing Parker to recover for the pass breakup.

The first-team offense got an extended look during the segment, but wasn’t much better. Amani Oruwariye broke up a back-shoulder throw in the end zone intended for Tom Kennedy to open the series and Goff overthrew an open Mack on the second snap.

The best play was a short-yardage run, which saw Williams walk into the end zone behind the blocks of Ragnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

► The two-minute offense was even rougher. The situation saw them down two, starting at their own 25 with one timeout and 1:01 on the clock. Goff had his first pass battled down at the line of scrimmage by Jashon Cornell and Flowers got pressure, forcing an incompletion. Ultimately, the drive stalled at midfield, well outside of Bullock’s field-goal range.

The second-team offense was far worse, thanks to the shaky protection provided by the line. Julian Okwara put the offense behind the chains with a sack on first down, and after a pair of throws wide of their intended targets by Boyle led to fourth-and-16, the threat was ended by an aggressive blitz call that netted a sack for safety Alijah Holder.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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