Allen Park — After spending his first four seasons in Jacksonville, wide receiver DJ Chark admits to feeling a little like a rookie again during his first offseason with the Detroit Lions.
From learning a new area to a new playbook to new teammates, Chark acknowledges he’s still getting acclimated to things a little more than four months after signing with Detroit. But he feels as if he’s making steady progress, particularly with quarterback Jared Goff.
“We’ve still got a ways to go, but just today, a few plays I saw what he was thinking before he threw,” Chark said.
Chark, who played with a rookie quarterback in Jacksonville last season, noted there’s an added comfort level to playing with an experience veteran under center, particularly when the Lions have worked collaboratively with Goff to tailor the scheme and playbook to his likes and strengths.
“I can go ask the same question I would ask (offensive coordinator) Ben (Johnson) or (receiver) coach (Antwaan Randle) El, I can go ask (Goff),” Chark said. “That helps a lot when I can go straight to the source, the guy that’s throwing the ball.”
After a series of early offseason practices, as well as some private throwing sessions with Goff and a handful of Lions teammates out in California, Chark can feel the rapport building.
“Getting used to the way he throws the ball,” Chark said. “He’s very consistent with the way he throws. At this point, I kinda know where to expect the ball to be.”
A former Pro Bowler, Chark missed most of last season after breaking his ankle in the Jaguars’ fourth game. Even 10 months later, he admits it doesn’t feel 100%, although he’s content with his progress there, as well.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Chark said. “Every day I come in, I work it a little harder. Today, spending more time (in the training room) before coming out, but I’m the type of the guy that I don’t want to let any of these things hinder me. We have a good training staff that put a plan together for me. But like any other injury, it takes time, but I like where I’m at at this point in my recovery.”
In the market for beef
Since the arrival of coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes in 2021, there’s been an emphasis on getting faster and more athletic on defense. But looking over the roster to start training camp, those adjustments have come with the sacrifice of size.
Among the linebackers in serious contention for playing time, none weigh 240 or more pounds. And following the abrupt retirement of John Penisini this offseason, the team is left with only one defensive lineman tipping the scales north of 300 pounds.
That added speed and athleticism should help in a number of ways, including rushing the passer and in coverage, but the lack of size could be an issue when attempting to defend the run, particularly when facing double-team blocks along the inside of the defensive line.
That’s not lost of Campbell.
“We’ve got to hit these gaps, we’ve got to hit the blocks, we can’t allow ourselves to get road graded,” Campbell said. “Now, I will tell you this, I do think that we may need a little bit more girth up front. I wouldn’t say that we’re not looking for that or won’t be.”
Campbell noted the team recently added Isaiah Buggs, a 295-pound defensive tackle, to help fill the void created by Penisini’s departure. Buggs brings experience as a two-gap defender, playing nose tackle at both the University of Alabama and with the Pittsburgh Steelers the past two seasons.
Not a one-hit wonder
Charles Harris experienced a breakout with the Lions last season. After struggling the first four years of his career, the former first-round draft pick signed a low-cost, one-year deal with Detroit last offseason.
Despite modest expectations attached to that signing, he ended up leading the team in both sacks and quarterback pressures. That success earned Harris a new contract, at a considerably higher rate.
But even though the narrative around his abilities has shifted, he’s intent on approaching this upcoming season the same way he approached the last, with an eye on proving his 2021 production wasn’t an aberration.
“It’s still a prove-it mentality,” Harris said. “Without a doubt, show it ain’t no fluke. Show it ain’t no one-hitter quitter. It’s no change in mentality. I’m going to approach every single day, every single practice like it’s my last. Came here to play like it’s my last, play my heart out every day.”
Fullback Jason Cabinda, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list this week, is dealing with a lingering ankle injury, according to Campbell.
As for rookie defensive lineman Josh Paschal, he underwent surgery to repa sports hernia earlier in the offseason, which could put him on track to rejoin the team before the start of the season.