Lions notes: After rough debut season in Detroit, WR Trinity Benson turning heads in camp

Detroit News

Allen Park — If you forgot about Trinity Benson, no one could really blame you.

Acquired by the Detroit Lions via a trade days before the start of last season, the inexperienced wide receiver with zero regular-season snaps under his belt was pressed into action almost immediately. Not surprisingly, he never really found his footing, barely playing down the stretch and finishing the year with 10 catches for 103 yards.

“Definitely challenging, just coming from Denver, being with them during the preseason, learning that offense and then coming here, basically Week 1, trying to learn this offense,” Benson said. “Basically, just getting thrown off the deep end.”

Before heading home after the season, Benson sat down with coach Dan Campbell and bluntly asked what he needed to have more success in the future. The biggest emphasis was on better learning the intricacies of the playbook, something that can be a challenge to do on the fly.

So that’s what Benson did, and the results have been showing up on the practice field. He’s seemingly making big plays daily, including a diving touchdown grab in the back corner of the end zone during Thursday’s practice.

“I definitely know I can play at this level,” Benson said. “It was just, last year, I was really just out there (over)thinking. The mind was tying up the feet. Now that I’m learning the offense, I’m getting those reps that I really needed last year.

“Now, I’m just playing freely and making the plays.”

Benson faces a different uphill climb this year as the Lions invested heavily on bolstering the team’s talent at receiver, signing former Pro Bowler DJ Chark in free agency and making a bold trade up in the first round of the draft to snag Alabama playmaker Jameson Williams. That makes the path to a roster spot and playing time a crowded one, given the Lions also brought back Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus.

But Benson continues to have strong support from position coach Antwaan Randle El and the receiver’s early offseason success hasn’t gone unnoticed by Campbell, putting Benson in position to keep pushing for a job come training camp.

“Every time the ball comes my way, I look at it as an opportunity,” Benson said. “Every time I’m out there, it’s an opportunity to make a play. … Last year definitely didn’t go how I wanted it to, so it’s kind of a bounce-back year for me.”

Taking nothing for granted

Cornerback AJ Parker‘s first season in Detroit went much smoother than Benson’s.

Benefiting from being with the team the full offseason, Parker not only overcame the odds to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie, he served as the team’s starting slot cornerback most of the year, logging more than 500 defensive snaps.

And while the team has brought in some potential challengers for that role this offseason, signing former first-round pick Mike Hughes and drafting Chase Lucas out of Arizona State, Parker has been seeing most of the first-team reps and continuing to hold his own during the early stages of the offseason program.

Still, Parker isn’t daring to rest on his laurels, assuming his spot on the roster is safe.

“This is the NFL, man,” he said. “Your job is really never safe, so it’s always about getting better and working. So that’s all I focus on, is just trying to be better.”

In that effort to improve, Parker has been picking the brain of Hughes, who has experience playing in multiple schemes, both as a nickel and outside corner. And after missing some time last season, Parker, listed at 178 pounds, is also putting an emphasis on preparing his body for a full slate.

“I’m in the weight room with coach (Mike) Clark and really putting the weight on and muscle on, so I can play 17 games or 20 games or 25 games, however many games we’re playing this year,” Parker said.

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A conservative approach

Second-round pick Josh Paschal was absent from practice again Wednesday, after sitting Tuesday and also last week’s OTA practice open to the media.

Campbell said the rookie defensive lineman is dealing with a lower-extremity issues and the team is trying to be smart and cautious with the injury, hoping to have Paschal back at full strength for training camp.

Short stay

The Lions freed up a roster spot Wednesday after rookie cornerback Jermaine Waller was transferred to the reserve/retired list.

Waller, a three-year starter at Virginia Tech, led the team with four interceptions last season. He signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent, netting a $10,000 signing bonus.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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