Aidan Hutchinson wasn’t sure what to expect.
Before heading into his first ever NFL training camp, the Detroit Lions rookie wondered what it feel like to put on full pads again and hit the practice fields at 8:30 a.m. for three weeks straight with his new teammates. Now, halfway through, Hutchinson said it’s been “pretty smooth. ”
“It’s just football at the end of the day,” Hutchinson said. “So, it’s what I do.”
Still, Hutchinson’s first training camp has come with challenges. With two days worth of practice in full pads under his belt, the former Michigan football standout has been tested. Most of the time, he’s passed with flying colors. Other times, there’s been a learning curve.
During Monday’s brief seven-on-seven drills, fourth-year tight end T.J. Hockenson sent Hutchinson to the ground with a blindside block and ended the play with a catch downfield. Dan Campbell said the play was Hutchinson’s “Welcome to the NFL” moment.
“(That) was something he hadn’t seen before,” Campbell said. “He’s not even thinking about (Hockenson). He’s thinking about (how) his rear’s up in the air and he’s going to his best rush against (Peni Sewell), and all of sudden, it’s like ‘Whoa.’ But he’s not the first one that’s happened to as a young guy.
“He’ll memory bank that. … It may happen one more time, but I bet that’s about it. He picks up things pretty quick.”
Hutchinson mainly battled Sewell and Taylor Decker throughout Tuesday’s practice, which ended with a drill putting the first-team offense on its own 48-yard line with 52 seconds on the clock against the first-team defense.
While quarterback Jared Goff and Detroit’s rushing attack made some early big plays, frequent inside pressure by Hutchinson stalled the drive and forced the offense to settle for a 35-yard field goal from Austin Seibert.
Seibert’s kick sailed through the uprights and into the stands, but Hutchinson said his defense ended practice feeling like it won the day overall. After all, it’s Hutchinson’s confidence that helps him put his “Welcome to the NFL” moments behind him.
“You’re going to lose reps, especially at this level,” Hutchinson said. “You’re just not going to win them all. I’m aware that, if you do lose a rep, you move on, and you get after it the next rep. That’s what I did today, that’s what I did yesterday and that’s what I do every day.”
His confidence also allowed him to break out of his comfort zone and deliver an apparently Grammy-worthy rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as part of the team’s rookie initiation. Hutchinson’s cover was supposed to be kept secret until its reveal on an episode of “Hard Knocks” later this month, but Campbell couldn’t keep it to himself during Monday’s press conference.
Hutchinson’s teammates think his singing voice is too good not to talk about. He spent “a couple days” rehearsing the song to ensure it landed.
“Who doesn’t like (Michael Jackson)?” Hutchinson said. “I found the song just about three days before (Campbell) asked me to do it, so thank the Lord he didn’t ask me any earlier than that. … I wasn’t that nervous, but obviously, you’re a little nervous because you have to sing in front of the boys and it’s a little weird. But, you’ve just got to embrace and own it. Everyone’s got to do it.”
Whether it’s by getting back up after he’s knocked down or by simply being himself around his teammates, Hutchinson just wants to earn the trust of those around him.
“That’s always been the mindset for me,” Hutchinson said. “I’m young, and we’ve got these guys who’ve been here for a while. I respect that and want them to respect me. You earn that out on the practice field and doing your rookie duties.”
Chandler Engelbrecht is a reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press and can be reached at CEngelbrecht@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ctengelbrecht.