Lions camp observations: Physicality rules the day as pads come on for first time

Detroit News

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

► The pads were on for the first time this offseason and the Lions wasted little time exposing the players to contact, conducting a one-on-one, open-field tackling drill early in the day.

Running rapid-fire reps every five or so seconds, defenders had to try to bring down the ball carrier in space, with the offensive players winning a significantly higher percentage.

Among the highlights were D’Andre Swift juking safety DeShon Elliott out of his cleats, running back Jermar Jefferson barreling through nickel cornerback AJ Parker, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown successfully hurdling cornerback Bobby Price (and tossing in a subtle wave to boot) and cornerback Saivion Smith making a picturesque tackle, going low and upending rookie tight end Nolan Givan.

► As the front seven worked on their run fits against the offensive line in nine-on-sevens, the receivers went one-on-one against the defensive backs on the opposite field, with the majority of the routes heading to the deeper portions of the field.

DJ Chark was able to get over the top working against Price, but later had a slant knocked away by cornerback Amani Oruwariye. Meanwhile, Quintez Cephus got a step on Will Harris twice but ended with zero catches after the first was overthrown and the receiver dropped the second. Josh Reynolds also put a deep ball on the ground after getting past corner Mark Gilbert.

Other defenders who forced incompletions included Tracy Walker, knocking one away from shifty slot receiver Kalif Raymond, while the big, physical Smith smothered Reynolds on a second deep ball.

Undrafted rookie Kalil Pimpleton didn’t have any issues, hauling in both of his deep throws, the latter coming against the coverage of cornerback Cedric Boswell.

► In full-team scrimmage work, the backup quarterbacks continued to work through some struggles. Tim Boyle, working with the second-team offense, misfired his first throw, a dump-off to the running back, after getting pressured by defensive tackle Bruce Hector.

Boyle ate a sack a few plays later when he couldn’t find an open receiver and was chased down from the backside by John Cominsky.

Boyle and Shane Zylstra split responsibility on a couple of missed connections, with the QB sailing a throw over his wide-open target on one and the young tight end dropping another that hit him in stride a few plays later.

► Penei Sewell flattened cornerback Jeff Okudah in the open field on a swing pass to St. Brown. Afforded patience to allow Sewell to get into position because of a well-executed lead block from Chark, Okudah got destroyed by Sewell, firing into the flat ahead of St. Brown, leading to a nice gain.

The Lions deployed Sewell in this manner a bunch last season, taking advantage of the young tackle’s rare athleticism on the move.

► The Lions gave a handful of first-team reps to some different players, with defensive tackle Jashon Cornell filling in for Michael Brockers, linebacker Derrick Barnes replacing Chris Board and wide receiver Trinity Benson, who has had a great offseason, getting a handful of snaps with the top offensive group.

► The Lions also slid rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez in for a single rep with the first-team defense, which struck me as a not-insignificant acknowledgment of how he’s been coming along during his first couple of months with the team.

Rodriguez didn’t do anything of note on that lone snap as Jared Goff tossed a long back-shoulder ball down the right sideline to Reynolds, beating Okudah directly in front of defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.

But staying on the field as the second unit subbed in, Rodriguez immediately blew up a screen pass to running back Craig Reynolds.

► Transitioning into one-on-one pass rush work, the starting offensive line dominated, shutting down the defenders the first 10 snaps. That included Sewell stymieing rookie Aidan Hutchinson twice and Frank Ragnow anchoring against tackle Alim McNeill both times they squared off. Even after the monster nose tackle got a jarring first hit on Ragnow the second rep, the former Pro Bowl center managed to immediately regain his balance and halt McNeill’s push.

The defense had a better go of it against Detroit’s backup offensive line, with Charles Harris and Austin Bryant blowing past Dan Skipper and Matt Nelson on back-to-back reps.

Two backup offensive linemen who stood out were Evan Brown, who started a dozen games for the Lions last season, and the recently re-signed offensive tackle Darrin Paulo. Each won both of their reps, including Paulo getting the upset against Julian Okwara.

Among the defenders who stood out, rookie James Houston flashed the explosive first step that intrigued the Lions enough to draft him in the sixth round out of Jackson State.

► Safety Brady Breeze had a nice finish to practice, scoring a sack off a blitz and forcing an incompletion by blanketing Givan across the middle, drawing kudos from Pleasant.

► St. Brown had a monster gain on an end around, getting the left edge, but Elliott was able to chase the receiver down in the open field and take him down from behind after approximately a 50-yard pickup.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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