The Detroit Lions closed their third practice of training camp with a two-minute drill Friday, pitting their first-team offense against their first-team defense in a situational period that will be a point of emphasis all summer.
Lions coach Dan Campbell has said going back to spring he plans to ramp up his team’s work in got-to-have situations, and he explained Friday that he’s doing so in an effort to identify two types of players.
“Those guys that, under pressure, man, they’re cool and collective,” Campbell said. “Like we’ve said, pressure goes up, your heart rate goes down. Who are those guys? Who can handle it? And produce?
“Or, who are the guys that, man, they just crumble under it. They just can’t. And they can be great for three quarters, and that’s awesome. But when it comes time and it’s high pressure, they just — they fold. Those guys will kill you, they just will, and I’d like to know that now before we get into a game. So, that’s on me to put them into that.”
The Lions ran five plays in the period and second-year slot cornerback AJ Parker made the type of play Campbell was looking for, picking off a Jared Goff pass to no one in particular and returning it 50 or so yards for a would-be touchdown.
To start the period, the Lions offense was given a first-and-10 at its own 25-yard line, with 40 seconds left in the first half. The offense was looking for points heading into the locker room, but instead made the kind of game-changing error few teams can afford.
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Goff completed a short pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the first play of the period, which forced the offense to burn a timeout, then picked up a first down on a check down to Josh Reynolds on second-and-1.
With no one open on the next play, Goff threw a pass harmlessly to the sideline, leaving 16 seconds on the clock for a second-and-10 at the 44. Charles Harris flushed Goff from the pocket and forced an incompletion on second down, and on third down Goff threw towards the middle of the field where none of his receivers were waiting.
Without the benefit of replay, I can’t tell you what Goff saw on the play, who the pass was intended to or why it wasn’t particularly close to a receiver. But I do know Parker was in the right spot and made a play that surely left an impression on Campbell.
“Just trying to do my job so it’s one of those things where I believe in the scheme and I just trust my coaches where I’m supposed to be and keep a calm, steady head and just make the play when it comes to you,” Parker said.
Parker had one interception in 13 games (seven starts) with the Lions as an undrafted rookie last fall. This summer, he has taken the majority of first-team reps at slot corner through the first three days of practice.
Interestingly, Parker said he had a chance to change numbers this offseason — he was given 41 when he arrived in Allen Park last spring — but said he chose not to as a way to keep the chip on his shoulder that he came in with as UDFA.
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“You got to (have that mindset),” Parker said. “You’ve got to come earn your spot every day. That’s why I keep this 4-1 on, to remind myself every time I look down that it’s not given to you and I’ve got to go earn it every day.”
Here are more observations from Friday’s two-hour practice
• Defensively, Will Harris and Amani Oruwariye played cornerback with the first-team defense during the two-minute drill, with Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott at safety, Parker in the slot, Alex Anzalone and Chris Board at linebacker, and Julian Okwara, Jashon Cornell, Aidan Hutchinson and Charles Harris on the defensive line.
Offensively, Taylor Decker sat out the period. Penei Sewell moved to left tackle in his place, and Matt Nelson played right tackle.
• The Lions did not have any of the jog-through run-fit periods that slowed practice the first two days. They went longer in their seven-on-seven and team periods, and added a chippy 15-play red zone period where Goff, Tim Boyle and David Blough all threw multiple touchdowns.
Lions assistant head coach Duce Staley spent most of the red zone period chirping at defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn about how well the offense was doing. Glenn good-naturedly got Staley back at the end of practice as the two were heading off the field, yelling, “You’re walking slow,” as he was coming up behind Staley.
“You trying to catch up?” Staley responded. “It’s been like that all practice.”
• Boyle, working with the No. 2 offense, made a good decision on the second play of red zone, bypassing an open receiver in the short flat to find Shane Zylstra open for a touchdown in the end zone. He threw a second TD pass to Kalif Raymond from about the 2-yard line, when Raymond made a nice toe-tap in the back of the end zone to stay in bounds.
Boyle’s only incompletion of the period was a drop by second-year running back Jermar Jefferson. It wasn’t a perfect pass, but Jefferson is fighting for a roster spot and needs to haul in those type of catches if he’s going to win a job.
• Will Harris made two nice pass breakups for the first-team defense in red zone. He made a diving deflection on a pass to Reynolds in the front corner of the end zone and a play later won a one-on-one battle with tight end T.J. Hockenson split wide to the left. Goff went straight to Hockenson on the play, but Harris, who I wrote about Friday, did not allow any breathing room.
D’Andre Swift, who has looked good all camp, caught a touchdown on a well-schemed misdirection play in the period. He also beat Board twice for touchdowns in seven-on-seven drills.
• James Houston had a nice red zone rush with the third-team defense; plays like that will get him noticed by coaches. And Corey Sutton made maybe the catch of practice to end the period, fighting off a elongated jam (and maybe a pass interference) by Ifeatu Melifonwu, for a touchdown.
In team drills, Houston had another pass rush that helped force a turnover. He beat Obinna Eze off the edge, forcing Blough to adjust in the pocket. Undrafted rookie Demetrius Taylor, who has practice squad potential, cleaned up the play by knocking the ball out of Blough’s hand for a fumble.
• One more play of note: Savion Smith jumped his receiver (I didn’t catch the number) to deflect a Boyle pass in team drills and Mike Hughes ran under the ricochet for an interception. Smith immediately dropped to the ground to knock out a set of push-ups because he didn’t get the turnover.
• C.J. Moore, one of the Lions’ top special teams players the past three seasons, appears close to returning from the nonfootball injury list. Moore took part in a walk-through drill where the Lions were working on passing off receivers in a bunch formation, then retreated to the side field to run sprints for trainers.
Moore worked as a gunner on special teams this spring after playing various roles in previous seasons. With Moore out, Melifonwu and Bobby Price once again took first-team reps at gunner, with Parker and Trinity Benson getting the only other live work at the position.
I’ll write a more about this elsewhere, but Walker is repping as Jack Fox’s personal protector this summer, a position he’s never played before but said he feels comfortable at.
• One final special teams note for the day: The Lions did a one-on-one drill to simulate blocking at the line of scrimmage on punt return, and as players ran downfield. Anthony Pittman excelled in the drill while going against Shaun Dion Hamilton, Brock Wright outperformed Garrett Griffin in the drill — those two could be competing for the No. 3 tight end spot given their blocking ability — and Jefferson and Houston had good reps in the drill.
• Lions owner Sheila Hamp, her husband, Steve, and their son, Michael, continue to be regulars at practice. And a few hundred team employees and family were guests Friday, the first semi-open practice of the summer. That seemed to add to the intensity of practice. Former Lions quarterback Mike McMahon and ex-tight end Rob Rubick also were on hand to great fans.