Allen Park — Aidan Hutchinson got knocked down on Monday — and he’s fine with that.
He would not have been fine with a similar fate Tuesday, though, as the Detroit Lions embarked on the second day of training camp in full pads.
Internally, Hutchinson is focused only on two things — earning the respect of his teammates and becoming the best football player possible. They’re simple goals with complex solutions.
“You’re going to lose reps, especially at this level. You’re not going to win them all, and I’m aware of that,” Hutchinson said. “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.”
On Monday, tight end T.J. Hockenson put Hutchinson on his rear. Hutchinson struggled through a series of one-on-one matchups with lineman Penei Sewell.
Getting a pair of sacks in 11-on-11 Tuesday and staying off the wrong side of a highlight reel is a step in the right direction and a noteworthy development for a player who hasn’t shown much of a willingness to take steps backward.
“We bounced back a lot today, which is good,” Hutchinson said. “We’re just taking this thing day by day, ebbing and flowing. It’s kind of how football goes. You’re going to have some good days and bad days and you’re going to keep flowing.”
Lions head coach Dan Campbell called the Hockenson block a “welcome-to-the-NFL moment” that Hutchinson needs.
“That’s something he hadn’t seen or he’s not even thinking about that. He’s thinking about — rear’s up in the air and he’s going to get his best rush against Sewell, and all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Woah,'” Campbell said. “But that’s — he’s not the first one that’s happened to — a young guy that comes in. And so, he’ll memory bank that and I’ll tell you — it may happen one more time and I bet that’s about it, because he picks things up pretty quick.”
While many Lions fans are expecting to see Hutchinson flying off the edge come preseason, he’s taken quite a few snaps so far in camp as an interior rusher. It won’t be surprising at all if Hutchinson continues to be shuffled around as he develops his game — a challenge he welcomed, he said, because working inside has forced him to play with “a lot less space.”
“It’s a difference, getting used to it,” he said. “I haven’t really rushed from the inside until about like — the last time I did it was probably in 2019. It’s been a while for me. I’ve been getting used to it now, definitely feeling a lot better with it. I would say, as of now, I obviously feel more comfortable on the edge. I’m just getting used to just playing everywhere and being a versatile player.”
Hutchinson was a late bloomer in college. While his motor was always evident, the production was not. He had just 4.5 sacks over 29 games heading into his senior season at Michigan, before going on to break his father’s single-season record with 14 in 2021.
While it’d be understandable for a No. 2 overall pick to have a bit of an ego, that’s not who Hutchinson is. That’s not how he became a player who has drawn the focus of every eyeball from Allen Park to Allendale.
“I’m just staying quiet and learning from all the older guys in my room and soaking all the information up before we start playing against other teams,” Hutchinson said. “That’s always been the mindset for me, really, in every aspect. High school, college, when I’m young and you’ve got these guys that have been there for a while, I respect that and I want them to respect me. You earn it out on the practice field and your rookie duties, what you’ve got to do in there.”
Hutchinson has the potential to become a star in the NFL. So do a lot of other players. Fulfilling that potential requires a clear plan, which it appears Hutchinson has already developed early on in his rookie year: Be versatile, be humble and be willing to squeeze the value out of taking a loss on the practice field.
He added that he’s leaned on veterans like Charles Harris, Romeo and Julian Okwara, Michael Brockers and Austin Bryant, as he looks to figure out the nuances of getting past offensive linemen at the pro level.
His bounce-back day on Tuesday seems to be evidence that at least some of the process is working.
“I think it’s guys like Charles, guys like the Okwaras, AB, a lot of guys like that who have been in the league for a few years now. I’m just coming in, kinda getting the feel of all these offensive linemen out here. They’re definitely a lot more savvy than they were in college. I think I’m adjusting very quickly. I think I’m really taking a lot of strides,” Hutchinson said.
Oh, and about the rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that has had the whole camp buzzing this week? Despite Sewell’s claims, Hutchinson said he “wasn’t that nervous.”
“Obviously you’re a little nervous (when) you’ve gotta sing in front of the boys. It’s a little weird, but you just gotta embrace it and own it and just know everyone has got to do it.”