Detroit Lions observations: Jason Cabinda to play super-fullback role this fall

Detroit Free Press

Coming off a physical practice Tuesday and with their first preseason game on tap Friday, the Detroit Lions dialed back the intensity of practice Wednesday.

They practiced without pads and ran most of their team periods at half-speed, which made for fewer meaningful observations than usual.

One player worth mentioning, though, is fullback Jason Cabinda. Cabinda has been doing a little of everything this summer — catching passes, running the ball and blocking — and he appears to be in store for maybe a bigger-than-usual role for a fullback this fall.

During one two-play sequence with the third-team offense Wednesday, Cabinda lined up as the lone back in a singleback set and took a toss for a short gain. He then aligned attached to the line of scrimmage as a tight end on the next play before motioning into the backfield as a fullback.

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The Lions are shorthanded at running back now with D’Andre Swift and Jermar Jefferson battling injuries (though Jefferson did go through individual drills Wednesday), but Cabinda’s usage during that two-play sequence was more about his versatility than anything else.

Cabinda played 130 offensive snaps last season, had one carry for no gain and caught two of the three passes thrown his way for eight yards. He won’t win you any fantasy championships this year, but it’s a safe bet that he will eclipse most of those numbers in the first month of the season.

“I’ve been intrigued by Cabinda since the spring,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said Tuesday. “There’s something about him — we knew he was a little raw because he made that transition last year, but there is something to him. I think he’s kind of a hybrid of a hybrid.

“(Fullback) Kyle Juszczyk out in San Francisco, I feel like he’s a little more of an H-back, tight end, flex. Whereas Cabinda can do — I do think Cabinda can do some of that stuff, but yet I think Cabinda can get back there and carry the ball a little bit, too. Like he’s kind of that hybrid type, more halfback, fullback.”

More observations from Wednesday

• We’re two weeks into camp and injuries are beginning to mount for the Lions. T.J. Hockenson and Da’Shawn Hand sat out practice Wednesday after leaving Tuesday, though Campbell said neither is dealing with anything serious. Still, I’d be surprised if either played in Friday’s preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Tyrell Crosby (hamstring), Corn Elder (hamstring), Levi Onwuzurike (back), Quinton Dunbar (personal), Quintez Cephus, Damion Ratley and John Penisini are among others who remain out.

• The Lions simulated an end-of-half situation late in practice Wednesday when they ran Randy Bullock out for a would-be game-tying field goal after a completion over the middle. I couldn’t tell how long the kick was — somewhere in the 45-yard range is my guess — but Bullock pushed the kick wide right.

Kicking has been an issue all camp for the Lions, who signed Zane Gonzalez to a one-year deal to compete for the job this week.

The Lions won’t have much margin for error this season and their suspect kicking game could make close games even more dicey.

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“Everything’s about competition. Bullock knows that,” Campbell said. “He’s been in this league long enough, but we get a look at (Gonzalez) and let Bullock keep kicking here and just see where it goes.”

• Campbell said the Lions plan to meet Wednesday night to figure out their playing rotation against the Bills. If Wednesday’s practice is any indication, here is how the groups will go on the offensive line:

Starting unit – LT Taylor Decker, LG Jonah Jackson, C Frank Ragnow, RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RT Penei Sewell.

Second unit – LT Dan Skipper, LG Logan Stenberg, C Evan Brown, RG Matt Nelson, RT Darrin Paulo.

Third unit – LT Skipper, LG Evan Heim, C Evan Boehm, RG Tommy Kraemer. RT Paulo/Nelson.

• Only one play of note Wednesday, in the Lions’ first team period of the day when Jamie Collins tipped a Jared Goff pass over the middle and Tracy Walker appeared to come up with the interception. I say “appeared” because the offense was on the far end of the field away from the media bleachers, the view obscured by the players standing behind them and the video screen we typically get replays on wasn’t working. 

• Just two more public practices left if you’re planning to see the Lions in Allen Park: Monday (2:30-4:30 p.m.) and Tuesday (6:30-9 p.m.; for season ticket holders only).

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

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