Detroit Lions training camp observations: Long drives, limited points an offensive staple

Detroit Free Press

For better or worse, long drives like the one the Detroit Lions mounted in the first quarter of their preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills last week might be commonplace this fall.

The Lions ran an 18-play, 75-yard drive on the second possession with their first-team offense Friday. The drive covered nearly 10 minutes, which is a good thing, but ended in a field goal, which is not.

“I’m not going to ever complain about that,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the game. “That was good, but you can’t always count on 18-play drive, either. I think there’s something to possessing the ball, but I think that as good as that is, if you’re going to possess that long you need to come away with a touchdown, which those things we’ll talk about.”

It’s hardly the same thing, a scripted practice versus a game, but the Lions were back at it running long drives that ended short of the end zone in practice Monday.

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In the day’s first team period, the Lions’ first-team offense ran a 14-play drive in a late-game situation in which the scoreboard showed them down four points. The Lions inched the ball downfield on the drive, converting three third downs, before Jared Goff threw incomplete on his last pass as time expired.

Later in practice with the scoreboard showing a 17-14 score and just over 2 minutes on the clock, the Lions ran an 11-play drive that ended in a field goal.

As was the case in Friday’s game — and has been the case all summer — the Lions didn’t show much in the way of a vertical passing game Monday, preferring short, safe throws and leaving themselves with multiple third-and-mediums.

All the usual caveats apply — T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift were not practicing, and taking care of the ball is extremely important in the NFL. But the reality is, long drives are incredibly difficult to live off of, and the Lions’ lack of big-time offensive playmakers is glaring.

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If there is a bright side to the Lions’ tortoise ball, at least they’re making their field goals. Or most of them, anyway.

Randy Bullock was a perfect 3-for-3 in Sunday’s loss to the Bills, and both he and Zane Gonzalez made most of their kicks Monday. Gonzalez missed one kick wide left from about 48 yards, when Mike Ford appeared to get a hand on the ball. Other than that, the pair was a combined 7 for 8 Monday, with Gonzalez missing another long try wide left.

More observations from Monday

• Swift spent the early part of Monday’s practice running on the side with trainers, a promising sign as Campbell said the Lions hope to begin integrating him back into practice Tuesday. Defensive tackle John Penisini also worked on the side with trainers. Penisini has been out since leaving an Aug. 4 practice early, and the Lions remain shorthanded on the defensive line with Levi Onwuzurike, Michael Brockers and Da’Shawn Hand all battling injuries, though Onwuzurike and Brockers were back on a limited basis Monday.

Quarterback Tim Boyle, cornerback Corn Elder (hamstring), tight end Brock Wright, receiver Chad Hansen and linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton were among others who did not practice Monday.

• We’ll get an update on Boyle’s status Tuesday, but the backup quarterback took a couple hard shots against the Bills and had his ankle taped pretty good when he was on the field before practice Monday. If he can’t play this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, third-string quarterback David Blough should get a lot of run, and will have a chance to play his way off the roster bubble (though I’d put him on my 53-man roster prediction, regardless, if I was doing one today).

• With a scrimmage scheduled for Tuesday night, the Lions had a relatively light practice Monday, so I don’t have a ton else in the way of observations to report. One player who did make a few notable plays was A.J. Parker, who continues to take first-team reps at the slot cornerback spot.

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Parker broke up a Goff pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown during the first team period and had good coverage (and maybe another pass breakup) on a corner route in the end zone to Tyrell Williams later in the same period. I still would guess Mike Ford or Nickell Robey-Coleman starts at slot in the Lions’ opener, but Parker is playing his way onto the team.

• Quintez Cephus made a nice juggling touchdown in seven-on-seven drills Monday, beating Amani Oruwariye on a post route from about 20 yards out. Goff was 5-for-6 passing in the seven-on-seven, missing Tyrell Williams high in the back of the end zone for his only incompletion.

Cephus remains the favorite for the No. 5 receiver job, and judging by practice Monday appears to be trending towards playing this weekend against the Steelers.

• The Lions used running backs Godwin Igwebuike and Craig Reynolds as wing protectors on their punt team in practice Monday. Igwebuike took first-team reps at the position, opposite Dean Marlowe, while Reynolds, the surprising rushing star of the Bills game, worked with the second-team opposite Tracy Walker.

Both are long shots for the 53-man roster, but it appears as if the Lions will use Saturday’s game to see if either can be of help on special teams.

• Final observation for the day: A couple Tigers made an appearance at practice Monday, pitchers Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. Skubal, who was wearing a Romeo Okwara jersey, and Manning spent time after practice talking with a handful of Lions players, including Okwara and rookie defensive tackle Alim McNeill. I jokingly asked McNeill, a baseball star in high school, how he’d fare against the major league pitchers after practice. He laughed and admitted they’d have his number, but said he wants to make it to a Tigers game in the near future.

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

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