Lions camp observations: Will Harris, young tight ends stand out in red-zone work

Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Friday’s training camp practice.

► As with all these observations, sample size should be considered, but Will Harris as an outside cornerback continues to get more intriguing by the practice.

The Lions ramped up the competitiveness on Day 3 following a methodical start to camp, highlighted by multiple red zone periods on Friday. And while there were plenty of scores by the offense — more on that in a moment — it was back-to-back plays by Harris that were attention-grabbing.

Playing with the first-team defense, Harris had man-coverage responsibility on Josh Reynolds on the outside. The chemistry between the receiver and quarterback Jared Goff has been on full display throughout the offseason, but on the outbreaking route Harris matched Reynolds’ release and was able to make a diving breakup in the end zone.

On the next snap, the Lions isolated Harris on the same side of the field with tight end T.J. Hockenson. It was clear from the moment the offense got set, Goff was going to test Harris again. Sure enough, shortly after the ball was snapped, the quarterback lobbed a well-placed back-shoulder fade to his 6-foot-5 tight end, but again Harris had the answer, reaching over Hockenson’s shoulder to cleanly knock the ball away.

► As noted above, the offense was doing plenty of scoring during the red zone work, and a couple of young tight ends in the mix for a potential third job in that room led the touchdown parade.

Building off a strong spring, Shane Zylstra found the end zone three times, twice in a seven-on-seven segment and again during a full-team scrimmage. I’m obviously not tracking the totality of offseason stats, but the second-year player out of Minnesota State easily has scored double-digit touchdowns during team drills since the start of OTAs.

Further down the depth chart, working with the third-team offense, undrafted rookie Derrick Deese Jr. also scored three times, including an adjustment coming back for an underthrown ball near the back corner of the end zone.

Playing for San Jose State last season, the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder caught 47 passes for a hearty 730 yards and four scores.

► Another offensive weapon who showed up in the red zone was running back D’Andre Swift, who hauled in two scores working against linebacker Chris Board, arguably the Lions’ best coverage option at that position.

The first was the result of a flawless throw from Goff, who dropped the ball into the back corner of the end zone, just beyond the outstretched reach of the defender.

Goff had a couple other dimes during the red zone drills, including a pretty pass along the back line to Amon-Ra St. Brown that resulted in an incredible surfing celebration by the second-year receiver that started with a prone paddle out before simulating the pop up to catch the wave.

Goff also threaded a needle to Reynolds between two defenders, but a pretty good pop by safety DeShon Elliott knocked the ball free for an incompletion.

► Practice opened with an early full-team scrimmage block, with the second-team offense and defense battling head-to-head out the gate. It’s premature to be offering too detailed of an assessment on the ground game, simply because the team still isn’t wearing pads, but it didn’t go unnoticed that guard Logan Stenberg helped open up a nice hole for running back Craig Reynolds, who burst into the second level of the defense untouched.

Beyond that play, the front seven largely did a good job with their run fits through the remainder of the drill.

► Tim Boyle, serving as the quarterback for the second team, made plenty of nice throws on the day, including a well-timed post pattern to rookie Josh Johnson early in the day. But Boyle followed that up with his biggest mistake, leaving the ball behind his target across the middle of the field, resulting in a deflection by cornerback Saivion Smith that was ultimately intercepted by nickelback Mike Hughes.

Later in practice, in a one-and-done, 2-point conversion attempt, Boyle put a nice ball into the back corner of the end zone that rookie Corey Sutton managed to haul in over safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, getting both feet down as he fell out the back of the end zone.

► Rookie receiver Jameson Williams, who continues to be sidelined as he’s recovering from a torn ACL in January, has noticeably attached himself to the hip of DJ Chark. There are a lot of similarities between the two, given they both came out of top SEC programs, possess elite speed and have had to recently deal with severe injuries.

And Chark seems well equipped to serve as a mentor. Soft spoken and business-like, he said he signed with Detroit this offseason because he was drawn to how hard the team played throughout last year’s 13-loss season.

“I’m just here to be a brother — make jokes, keep it light, but also when we talk about football, just experiences, his college experiences, what to expect in the league,” Chark said about his budding relationship with Williams. “When you’re on the side watching, sometimes those days become longer than they usually are. Just keeping him engaged, keeping it lighthearted. I know he’s putting in his own individual work to get back, and I know he’s excited. I’m just here so that when he is back, you know, he can jump right in and we can keep it pushing. I think he’s going to help us a lot, but the biggest thing is being a teammate, being a brother, at this point.”

► The best pass rush of the day came courtesy of Julian Okwara, who got his hand into the chest of Penei Sewell and used that leverage to slingshot himself around the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle to get to Goff.

Rookies Demetrius Taylor and James Houston also worked their way into the backfield with a pair of quick first steps, with Taylor knocking the ball free from quarterback David Blough.

Taylor, the 6-1, 295-pounder out of Appalachian State, keeps catching my eye with his playmaking ability from the inside.

► Practice ended with a two-minute drive. Well, to be fair, the offense was only given 40 seconds from their own 25-yard line to presumably work into field-goal range.

Goff started things off well enough with short passes to St. Brown and Reynolds that brought the offense close to midfield with 16 ticks on the clock. But after throwing the next snap away, Goff threw a ball directly into the chest of slot corner AJ Parker, who ended the threat by hanging on to the interception.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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