Detroit Lions training camp observations: Practice dialed back after 2 physical days

Detroit Free Press

After a couple physical practices to start the week, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell gave his players a bit of a break Wednesday.

“We’ve gone two really good days full pads, and so we’re backing down a little bit,” Campbell said before practice. “More mental work today. … It’ll be light and crisp.”

The Lions have padded practices on the docket Thursday and Friday before moving to Ford Field this weekend, but Wednesday’s jog-through seemed like an appropriate time to lighten the workload of a couple important players with three full weeks left in training camp.

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T.J. Hockenson was back on the field after missing Tuesday’s practice, but Campbell gave running back D’Andre Swift and left tackle Taylor Decker the day off as part of his plan to limit their summer snaps.

Swift is arguably the Lions’ most irreplaceable offensive player (outside of quarterback Jared Goff). He is a dynamic rushing and receiving threat, and he’s had a strong camp so far.

I wrote last week about how the Lions plan to handle Swift this summer in an effort to get 17 games out of him this season, and I wouldn’t worry too much about him getting Wednesday off. He was in good spirits coming off the field. He said he felt fine, and should be back in action soon.

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Decker’s health is slightly more concerning, giving he still is feeling the effects of a foot injury he suffered seven months ago. But Decker is the kind of trustworthy vet the Lions don’t need to see on the field before September, so they’re wise to give him periodic maintenance days now (he also sat out one practice last week).

Asked about his foot earlier this week, Decker admitted, “It’s going to get sore.”

“I have these high arches,” he said, I think jokingly. “No, I’ll be all right. It is what it is. Manage it through OTAs, feeling pretty damn good, obviously, coming into camp and now it’s just managing it so nothing takes a dip. I think I’m going to be fine. I feel really good. I feel like I’m moving good, running good.”

More observations from Thursday’s light practice

• Campbell said he sprinkled a first-team rep in for rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez the other day as both a reward for a job well done and a test to see how he’d perform, so it was interesting to see a couple more rookies with the first-team offense and defense during installation Wednesday.

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Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Kevin Jarvis from Michigan State was on the No. 1 field as the seventh lineman. Decker and third-string center Ryan McCollum sat out practice Wednesday, so Jarvis’ promotion might have been somewhat injury related. But coaches also gave Jarvis a look at tackle when Dan Skipper was on the nonfootball illness list earlier this summer. He seems to be the most NFL-ready of the three UDFA linemen on the Lions roster and is certainly a prime practice squad candidate at the least.

Kerby Joseph took some backup reps at safety on the No. 1 field, too. Joseph blended into the first few days of practice, but he flashed with a nice sideline pass breakup Tuesday. He’ll be on the 53-man roster, and I suspect the Lions will give him more reps in the coming weeks to prepare him for a backup role this fall.

• The Lions have a lot of good special teams options in their linebacker room, and since special teams play is so important to the back-end roster spots, it’s interesting to see how coordinator Dave Fipp aligns his punt and kick teams.

On Wednesday, Fipp had Josh Woods, Brock Wright, Anthony Pittman and Chris Board across the front of his punt cover unit, with Godwin Igwebuike and DeShon Elliott on the wings. Rodriguez, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Woods and Derrick Barnes worked on the second team, with Joseph and Craig Reynolds on the wings.

Wright has pretty consistently drilled ahead of Garrett Griffin on special teams. Those two appear to be competing for one spot as a blocking tight end.

• The “Hard Knocks” cameras seemed zeroed in on Reynolds on Wednesday, so don’t be surprised if he’s a feature character in next week’s debut episode (and maybe future episodes, too). Reynolds was a productive player last preseason who shined when given carries late in the regular season. He’s fighting for a roster spot and has an interesting story I hope to write more about later this summer, inspired to continue playing football by a brother whose career was derailed by drugs.

Reynolds’ father and uncle attended Wednesday’s practice. If “Hard Knocks” wants to break out a feature on Reynolds, now seems like the perfect time.

• Earlier this week, the “Hard Knocks” cameras spent a lot of time focused on running backs coach Duce Staley, who never is afraid to let his defensive counterparts know how well the offense is playing.

Staley brought his running backs over to say thank you for attending practice to a group of fans wearing “Kids Kicking Cancer Heroes Circle” shirts on Monday. Don’t be surprised if he has a starring role on the show at some point, too.

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• Two more special teams note: On punt block/return, the Lions used Trinity Benson, Igwebuike and Julian Okwara alongside Board, Pittman and Woods with the first-team Wednesday. Board should have at least a rotational role in the defense this fall, while Pittman and Woods are clearly two of the Lions’ most valuable special teams players and should be considered favorites for roster spots.

New receiver Maurice Alexander joined Kalif Raymond and Kalil Pimpleton back in the return line Wednesday. Alexander was one of the USFL’s best kick and punt returners, and could bring some electricity to the position, though Fipp spoke glowingly of Igwebuike (the Lions’ primary kick returner last season) on Wednesday.

• Martha Firestone Ford made what I think was her first appearance at training camp Wednesday, and Decker spent a few minutes taking to the Lions owner/chair emeritus during practice.

Lions owner Sheila Hamp continues to be a regular at practice, too. On Tuesday, she walked off the field into the Lions’ practice facility with husband, Steve, and Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

My immediate thought was Oruwariye was headed upstairs to sign a contract extension, but that didn’t materialize (and Oruwariye told me there’s nothing new on the contract front).

Of all the Lions closing in on the end of their contracts, and there are some good ones including Hockenson and Jonah Jackson, Oruwariye is the player I would be most determined to sign if I was management. He’s a better player than most people realize and if he has another strong season he could break the bank as a free agent.

• One positive change at Lions training camp this summer has been the constant beat of music in the background. It’s something I suggested they should do back when Matt Patricia was doing his best to take the fun out of the sport, and it’s good to hear now. Even on light days like Wednesday, it adds energy to practice.

• A host of national reporters have stopped by Lions camp already, including Kevin Clark from The Ringer, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. On Wednesday, the SiriusXM NFL crew of Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan was in town and had sit-down interviews with Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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