Detroit Lions’ David Blough makes bid for backup QB job: ‘It’s fun when it clicks’

Detroit Free Press

David Blough had just finished a 12-minute interview with a reporter Tuesday when he made a polite request.

Make sure, Blough said, that whatever you write is about those guys.

Blough had just finished a standout performance at the Detroit Lions’ first practice of minicamp Tuesday. Working with the second-team offense for the first time in front of reporters this spring, Blough followed two perfect sets of a red-zone period with an impressive three-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in an end-of-half situation and he wanted to make sure his receivers got credit for their contributions.

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Trinity Benson opened the series with a nice sideline catch against safety Juju Hughes, and Quintez Cephus made two tough grabs worthy of highlights, the second a one-handed catch behind rookie safety Kerby Joseph for a touchdown.

Both Benson and Cephus had nice practices Tuesday, and Blough would not have driven the offense 81 yards in 20 seconds without their help.

“Guys made plays,” Blough said. “We had some shots kind of stored away that (offensive coordinator) Ben (Johnson) had tucked away. All of them came open. That’s kind of how that happened.

But Blough’s performance was my biggest takeaway on a cold and cloudy Tuesday when the Lions spent the bulk of their team period in the red zone. He looked confident throwing the ball. He was accurate with his passes. He showed some of the moxie that has endeared him to Lions coach Dan Campbell.

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Most importantly, he looked worthy of being the Lions’ No. 2 quarterback behind Jared Goff, though he had no interest in wading into the debate of whether he or Tim Boyle will win that job come training camp.

“I mean, it’s not my decision,” Blough said. “Dan preaches reliability, durability, being available and I’ve got to keep going to the right place with the football. And Ben — ultimately anyway that’s their decision and we’re excited to piece this together and everything’s coming together. We’re excited to improve upon last season and do something special. I just want the Detroit Lion quarterback room to play well.”

The Lions did not get great play out of their quarterbacks for most of last season. Goff struggled early in the year before finding his stride down the stretch, and Boyle went 0-3 as a fill-in starter when Goff was out with COVID-19 and knee and oblique injuries.

Blough appeared in one regular season game and did not attempt a pass, and with an expiring contract this spring, most assumed his time in Detroit had run its course. The Lions went into the offseason open to changes at the quarterback position, but ultimately brought both Blough and Boyle back to compete for the No. 2 job.

Before Tuesday, Boyle had taken second-team reps in both of the Lions’ open organized team activities practices this spring.

“I’ve been here for four years and I appreciate Brad (Holmes) and Dan bringing me back and giving me a chance to compete and that’s kind of, being a part of this culture is what I wanted to do,” Blough said. “And when I take the field, I want to help them build what they want to build and we’re in it together. So yeah, my job is to put the ball where it’s supposed to be and give those guys chances. You saw Cephus, there’s a lot of guys who are making plays to do it. It’s fun when it clicks on a day and you have a good one.

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Blough has attempted just 10 passes (with six completions) since starting five games as a fill-in for Matthew Stafford in 2019, when he was an undrafted rookie who was months into his tenure with the Lions after being acquired in a trade at the end of the preseason.

He threw two touchdowns in his first-ever NFL appearance, against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving, but struggled most of the next four weeks. With no preseason the next summer because of COVID-19, those five starts are all most have seen of Blough in Detroit.

Blough, though, has improved significantly the past two seasons and Tuesday he looked like a bonafide NFL quarterback.

“It’s night and day,” Blough said. “I’m not the same player, not the same guy. I’ve learned a lot, seen a lot of ups and downs, been around a lot of great players. It’d be a shame if I was that same player then. I know I’m better. I know my coaches see me as more, the people who make decisions see me as more than who that guy was who started as an undrafted rookie and is from Cleveland and been here a few weeks. It’s different. I believe in myself and it’s my job to keep helping others believe in me, too.”

More observations from Tuesday’s practice

• Campbell said John Penisini was not at mandatory minicamp practice Tuesday, though he planned to meet with the defensive tackle Tuesday night and excused his absence,

“I know what’s going on with him,” Campbell said.

Along with Penisini, Romeo Okwara (Achilles), Jerry Jacobs (ACL), Jeff Okudah (Achilles), DeShon Elliott, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Jameson Williams (ACL), James Mitchell (ACL) and Derrick Deese were among those not taking part in practice.

Okudah went through prepractice walk-through, like he did during OTAs, and ran on a side field with Elliott during special teams drills. Okwara watched practice from the sideline, the first time I’ve seen him this spring. And rookie Josh Paschal was not spotted on the field.

• An HBO promo crew was on hand Tuesday to shoot footage for the Lions’ “Hard Knocks” appearance this summer. The crew will be in Allen Park all week, and spent time Monday shooting off-site at a local auto plant. NFL Films crews will return next month and embed with the Lions for the duration of training camp.

• Cephus’ touchdown grab was a beauty, on a pass that got to him so quickly it surprised Joseph in the back of the end zone. He made another nice touchdown catch in red-zone drills, when he shrugged off contact from Bobby Price to get open on the goal line. But I thought Shane Zylstra made the catch of the day when he laid out to haul in a touchdown pass from Goff in seven-on-seven drills.

• Goff looked sharp in red-zone drills. He took a would-be sack on his second play of the period, when Charles Harris and Levi Onwuzurike both found their way into the backfield, but he went to what appeared to be his third option to complete a pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown and dropped a well-placed pass into Zylstra’s hands on his final throw of the period that Tracy Walker ripped away for an incompletion.

Goff was not as good in the Lions’ end-of-half situation. Starting first-and-10 at his own 19 with 29 seconds on the clock, Goff got away with near-interceptions (by Walker and Amani Oruwariye) on his first two attempts before overthrowing Josh Reynolds on third-and-10.

Blough’s performance was a stark contrast, as he moved the second-team offense effortlessly down the field on the ensuing three plays.

• One other play from Blough that stood out: In red-zone work, Blough followed a touchdown pass to Greg Bell off a play-action fake with a short touchdown run made possible by a pump fake on a rollout play that froze the defense.

• Boyle did not get an end-of-half opportunity, and he went 0 for 4 with a sack in his lone red-zone series, when Savion Smith (on a pass to Corey Sutton) and Chase Lucas (on a pass to Josh Johnson) had pass breakups and he grounded a ball to Johnson.

In fairness to Boyle, though, he looked sharp in two series of seven-on-seven as the second quarterback in the rotation, while Blough missed his first three passes (with one drop) as the No. 3 quarterback. Perhaps Blough was right, and receivers Cephus and Benson do deserve more credit than they’ve received.

• Aidan Hutchinson took some first-team reps at defensive end last week and again on Tuesday. Though the Lions continue to use him primarily with the second-team defense during their installation period, Hutchinson was on the field with both the first- and second-team defenses for the start of red-zone work.

The Lions should be able to put a nice and versatile rush package together this fall with Hutchinson, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara (once he returns) and some combination of Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers and Onwuzurike.

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

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