Detroit Lions observations: Why D’Andre Swift is one of few veterans at final week of OTAs

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell has taken a different approach than most of his peers to his first two offseasons as Detroit Lions coach.

Campbell has elected to have his team’s mandatory minicamp in Week 3 of Phase 3 of the offseason, and use Week 4 — the final week of the program — as a developmental time for young players.

Workouts are voluntary as always, but most veterans head out for the summer after minicamp, leaving rookies, second-year players and back-of-the-roster hopefuls to get additional reps and important one-on-one time with coaches this week.

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I counted 44 players at Monday’s OTA practice. Almost all of them fell into the “young” or “fighting for a job” category, but there were a couple players I did not expect to see still in town: Third-year running back D’Andre Swift, veteran receiver Kalif Raymond and starting right tackle Penei Sewell.

As a second-year player, Sewell’s appearance was the least surprising of the three. Most of the rest of last year’s rookie class was in attendance, too.

Raymond took first-team reps in the abbreviated practice at receiver, along with Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson in seven-on-seven work. He should be the Lions’ punt returner this fall, and it certainly would have been understandable if he decided to spend this week elsewhere.

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Swift’s appearance was perhaps the most surprising. Running backs play a notoriously taxing position and the Lions tend to take things easy with Swift to keep him fresh for games that count because he is such an important part of the offense.

I asked Swift why he decided to show up for this final week. He said he’s heading out of town Tuesday, but didn’t think there was anything unusual about sticking around for an extra practice.

“Trying to get better, perfect my craft,” he said. “Offense is new. Another chance to meet, another opportunity to come out here and work on my craft, that’s all.”

That maybe all he wanted to accomplish, but Swift’s appearance was important for his young running backs to see, too. Of the seven running backs on the roster, I counted five in attendance Monday (everyone but Jamaal Williams and Jason Cabinda).

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Second-year back Jermar Jefferson said it was inspiring to see Swift here this week — and see the work he puts in behind the scenes in general.

“It shows that he’s committed,” Jefferson said. “I see him in special teams meetings. I mean, that shows he’s committed. I like the guy, cool guy to be around. Very hard worker, so yeah, it’s cool to have him around.”

A few final thoughts from last open practice of spring

• Swift could be in a for a big season, if the Lions are willing to give him a larger share of the workload. He looks bigger than he was a season ago, though running backs coach Duce Staley joked earlier this month he didn’t want comments like that getting to Swift’s head.

Last year, Swift had 213 offensive touches (151 carries) in 13 games. As a rookie in 2020, he had 160 touches (114 carries) in 13 games. He missed time with a shoulder injury last season and Staley said it’s important Swift is more available this year.

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Given the depth the Lions have elsewhere on offense, I could see Swift amassing 1,400 yards from scrimmage if he hits 250 touches.

• Staley, the Lions’ assistant head coach, seemed to take the lead role as head coach Monday, though Dan Campbell was in attendance. Staley addressed the team after practice and ran players through another light-hearted competition following the workout.

Quarterbacks David Blough and Tim Boyle took turns throwing passes at a tackling dummy atop a golf cart being driven slowly across the goal line, from about 10 yards out. Blough appeared to hit the dummy on six of about 14 throws. Boyle connected on 3 of 14.

After the quarterbacks took their turn, cornerback Bobby Price (a high school quarterback) and Tom Kennedy (a former pro lacrosse player) squared off in the same drill.

Price and Kennedy played rock-paper-scissors to see who went first, and Kennedy said there was definitely an advantage to going second. Price made just one of 13 or 14 throws, while Kennedy went 1 for 7 on his first pass and won the competition by connecting on his first throw of his second turn. He took the next ball and punted it through the other corner of the end zone.

Kennedy, remember, threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Raymond on a trick play in last season’s Week 18 win over the Green Bay Packers. Still, he was modest about his throwing ability Monday.

“Played baseball a little bit growing up,” he said. “Ran some trick plays when I was young. Threw a touchdown in college, but not a great thrower by any means. If a guy’s wide open I can hit him.”

• Jeff Okudah was another third-year player at Monday’s practice. Okudah has been a limited participant in practice throughout the spring as he recovers from his Achilles tear, and that was the case again Monday. He took first-team reps in walk-through and spent most of the rest of the day watching from the sideline.

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• Price and Saivion Smith worked first-team at outside cornerback in team drills, with Chase Lucas and Cedric Boswell in the slot. Smith also saw time at safety, with Brady Breeze and Kerby Joseph.

Smith has popped at times during OTAs and minicamp. He’s long (6 feet 1) and physical and could push for a roster spot this summer, though the Lions appear committed to several young cornerbacks already (Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Hughes and Jerry Jacobs).

“I love his competitive nature,” Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant said. “I love his football intelligence and his instincts. We’ve asked him to do a couple different things since he’s been here. He’s accepted all those challenges and I think he’s done a really good job specifically this last week outside on the edge, figuring out ways to get his hands on the ball. That’s something that he did last year when we brought him in late and hopefully he continues to keep going in the right direction.”

• After this week, the Lions are off until they report for training camp the last week of July. Blough said his wife, Melissa Gonzalez, who ran the 400 meter hurdles for the Colombian team at the Olympics last summer, is scheduled to compete in the Track and Field World Championships next month in Oregon.

She ran the 400-meter hurdles in 55.32 seconds last year, and set a personal record with 54.8 in a meet earlier this spring.

“Our goal is for her to make the final,” said Blough, who hopes to be in attendance at the event. “Last year, she made the semis. This year, the goal is to make the final and she just set a new PR last week so I’m real proud of how she’s running.”

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

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