Detroit Lions observations: How Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond set standard for young WRs

Detroit Free Press

They don’t have a nickname — yet. And if they did, it might defeat the purpose.

But every day after practice, a group of Detroit Lions waits their turn for one of a few JUGS machines set up to give players extra reps catching passes.

On Wednesday, undrafted rookie Josh Johnson was the last player off the field. On Thursday, Johnson was there again, a good 40 or so minutes after practice ended, catching balls and working on his releases against a pop-up tackling dummy.

Johnson wasn’t alone. Fellow undrafted rookies Kalil Pimpleton and Derrick Deese were among the last players off the field, and before them receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond, and defensive backs like Tracy Walker spent time working on the JUGS.

St. Brown’s post-practice routine jumped out at me last summer, when he was a rookie on his way to a 90-catch, 912-yard season. He explained then that he caught 202 extra balls a day because as a kid he once saw a young receiver with great hands. When he asked how the player developed his hands, the player said he caught 200 extra balls a day.

St. Brown, wanting to be better, decided then he would catch 202.

Virtually every day last season, St. Brown stuck to the same routine, lining up a few yards from a JUGS machine while one Lions staff member or another fed him passes. Raymond joined St. Brown on the JUGS machine daily, and the two now set the standard of effort in the Lions’ revamped receiving room.

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“It’s easy in the beginning,” Raymond said Thursday. “But that’s why Ra was so good. Week 16, he’s doing the same thing.

“It takes one for the rest of the train to go. But when it’s Day 12 of camp and everybody’s tired, that’s when (you see who’s committed to it).”

No matter who sticks with the JUGS routine and for how long, it’s undeniable the impact St. Brown and Raymond have had on their young cohorts.

Pimpleton said St. Brown (and running back Craig Reynolds) do extra abdominal workouts in the weight room that young players try to emulate, and apart from their JUGS work, St. Brown and Raymond set a standard of work that’s impossible not to notice.

“It’s not necessarily those guys going out there catching JUGS. Just because they’re catching JUGS doesn’t mean I have to catch JUGS,” Pimpleton said. “But to see those guys taking leadership and doing that on their own and other guys do follow as well, but it means a lot to have those guys showcasing on a daily basis what it means to be great.

“And that in itself shows why Kalif’s been in the league so long and why he continues to produce, and why Amon-Ra continues to come out on a daily basis, cause not only is it taking the time out on the field after practice. It’s also in the training room and in the cold tub, the hot tub. Stretching. … It’s everything that they do.”

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The Lions held their second practice of training camp Thursday and it was similar to Wednesday’s opener in that it was lighter than the usual training camp fare. There was only one full-speed team period, and one set of seven-on-sevens.

Observations from Thursday’s practice

• Running back Greg Bell left Thursday’s practice with an apparent hamstring injury. Bell, an undrafted rookie from San Diego State, went down on the second-to-last play of seven-on-seven, when he ran a simple out route. He clutched the back of his left leg as he hit the ground and was helped off the field by trainers.

Judging by how gingerly he was moving — trainers initially brought a cart over for him — I wouldn’t expect to see him on the field anytime soon.

• One more glimpse of St. Brown’s leadership: Anyone who’s watched an NFL practice knows practice goes on after a player gets hurt. The Lions moved the line of scrimmage up a few yards for the next play and finished their seven-on-seven drill as trainers tended to Bell on the ground.

After the period ended, St. Brown jogged over to Bell and tapped him on the helmet as most everyone else moved on to the next drill.

• David Blough took second-team reps at quarterback Thursday ahead of Tim Boyle. The Lions won’t make a decision on their No. 2 quarterback until later in camp, and it won’t be an easy decision as both quarterbacks look much better working with the second-team offense than they do with the third-stringers (for obvious reasons).

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Blough hit Raymond with a slant pass that would have went for a nice gain in team drills, while Boyle delivered the period’s biggest pass to wide open Tom Kennedy.

• Some more thoughts from team drills: I’m not sure how realistic it is that John Cominsky makes the team, but he showed a nose for the ball as a run defender Thursday, snuffing out two draw plays. The Lions claimed Cominsky off waivers late in spring, and Dan Campbell admitted Thursday the Lions are looking for more beef for their interior defensive line.

One play before Cominsky’s second run stop, rookie linebacker James Houston perfectly diagnosed a screen to Shane Zylstra. Houston would have laid a huge hit on Zylstra had the play been live. As it was, he earned an excited high-five from linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard for his play.

• I gave Austin Seibert the edge in the kicking battle in my way-too-early 53-man roster prediction this week, and Seibert showed why Thursday. He made all four of his kicks, from 28 yards off the left hash, 33 yards down the middle and 38 and 43 yards off the right hash. Riley Patterson missed his 28-yarder wide right and did not have as much distance on his 43-yard kick, though it cleared the uprights.

• The Lions kept many of the same lineup pairings from Wednesday, though they continue to juggle personnel. Jeff Okudah took first-team reps at left cornerback in team drills, though Will Harris worked with the No. 1 defense in virtually every other period.

AJ Parker continues to get first-string reps at slot cornerback, ahead of Mike Hughes.

Undrafted rookie Kevin Jarvis is seeing time at guard and tackle with Dan Skipper on the nonfootball illness list.

And Aidan Hutchinson is working as the Lions’ starting base end, where he belongs, with Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill and Charles Harris typically joining him on the starting defensive line.

“(If) he proves to be what we think he can, then, yeah, he probably just sits in there in the ones, until he needs a blow or rotation or whatever, but there again he’s got to prove it,” Campbell said. “He’s got prove it that he can do it consistently and that he is the right guy to be in there right now. But he’s ready for it.”

• The Lions will welcome team employees to practice Friday for their first semi-open workout of the summer, then host season-ticket holders Saturday before an off day Sunday. A word of advice for when the general public is allowed in next week: Take notice of where the sky cameras are set up when you arrive. The Lions utlize every inch of both practice fields, but they do most of their team work on the field (and in the end zone) with the cameras.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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