Jared Goff-DJ Chark connection comes alive on Day 9 of Detroit Lions training camp

Detroit Free Press

I have not written much about Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff in my observations this summer because I don’t think there’s much to learn about veteran quarterbacks this time of year.

Goff is very much a known commodity entering his seventh NFL season, and nothing he does in training camp is going to change the perception of him as a player.

Play well in the regular season and it means something. Play well in training camp and no one bats an eye.

With that out of the way … I thought Goff had maybe his best practice of training camp Thursday.

He threw a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass to DJ Chark in a two-minute period at the end of practice. He was sharp with his throws throughout the day. And he punctuated his performance with a short touchdown run in red zone work that he celebrated by half-dunking the ball over the goal post.

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(I say half-dunking because while Goff cleared the crossbar with the ball, sending it into the nearby bleachers, his attempt looked nothing like Calvin Johnson’s high-flying dunks from the past.)

Goff scored on a zone-read keeper when the entire defense seemed to bite on his fake. As well-executed as that play was, it was Goff’s touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson two plays earlier and his TD throw to Chark in the final period that really caught my eye.

First, on Hockenson’s TD, it was good to see Goff sizzle the ball into a virtually non-existent window. Yes, Amani Oruwariye had his back turned to the line of scrimmage, but Goff seemed reluctant to try those type of throws early last season (especially downfield). With a new offensive coordinator and another year with his receivers, perhaps Goff will be more willing to take chances this fall.

Second, it was nice to see the Goff-Chark connection finally come to life. The two have been slow to find a rhythm at times this summer, though it hasn’t been for a lack of work.

One more note: Goff’s TD pass to Chark marked the first time in three end-of-half/game situations this summer in which the first-team offense had a clear win over the defense.

The offense started the possession in first-and-10 at the defensive 41-yard line with 31 seconds. Goff scrambled for a 13-yard gain on first down, then took a sack on the second play when Aidan Hutchinson and Austin Bryant stormed through the right side of the offensive line.

On second-and-17, with Charles Harris bearing down in his face, Goff stayed in the pocket and dropped a perfect pass to Chark, who snuck behind DeShon Elliott on the play.

More observations from Thursday:

• The second-team offense, with David Blough under center, didn’t fare quite as well in its two-minute drill. Trinity Benson let a would-be touchdown sail through his hands on the first play from scrimmage, and two plays later Blough converted a third-and-8 by stepping up in the pocket and rifling a pass to Kalif Raymond.

The second-team offensive line drew at least one (by Dan Skipper) and maybe two holding penalties on the ensuing first down, and Eric Banks beat Skipper for a would-be sack on first-and-20.

Rather than have Blough throw a Hail Mary on second-and-27 from the 37 with 4 seconds left, Campbell ended the period and practice.

• Bryant and Raymond were other players who really popped Thursday (and Bryant has had a very strong summer overall). Bryant batted down a Blough pass at the line of scrimmage in red zone work and had another would-be sack on Blough in team drills, then woofed at the offensive players waiting behind the play.

Bryant also was involved in the biggest skirmish of camp Thursday, when he gave Skipper an extra shove after a play. Logan Stenberg didn’t appreciate Bryant coming after his tackle, so he ripped Bryant’s helmet off and tossed it to the ground before taking a charge at Brady Breeze as players from both sides exchanged shoves.

“It’s just football,” Bryant said. “People competing. Emotions get the best of you sometimes, but when we walk in that building we’re all brothers. We’re all brothers, so I wouldn’t take too much heed to that. It’s just, that’s football.”

• The Lions have had a few minor tussles this week, but no all-out fights. And after each one, including the Bryant-Stenberg scrape, everyone has gotten back to practice quickly with no one being removed from the field.

For comparison, the New Orleans Saints kicked rookie offensive lineman Trevor Penning out of practice Wednesday for fighting three straight days.

Campbell certainly encourages physical play, and Bryant said his coach’s background as a player gives him a unique understanding of how players can toe the line of aggression one minute and return to being chummy teammates the next.

“It’s however many guys competing for 53 spots, so they understand how the competition level’s going to be,” Bryant said. “And they let us red-line it, but then they also know that we know how to bring it back down cause we’re professionals, get paid a lot of money to do this. So we understand what’s most important and that’s everybody being healthy, playing ball.

• I mentioned Raymond as one of Thursday’s standouts — he is so skilled at getting off the line of scrimmage. In one-on-one drills, he made a nice catch over Mike Hughes on a go route in part because he did not allow Hughes to get his hands on him off the snap. Raymond made another nice catch while falling out of bounds after he got a free release from Cedric Boswell at the line.

Hughes did have one pass breakup on a throw to Raymond early in one-on-one drills, and rookie Chase Lucas, who got at least one first-team rep at slot cornerback Thursday, had a pass breakup on Tom Kennedy when he showed an impressive ability to shadow the shifty Kennedy’s route.

• The Lions have a battle shaping up at slot cornerback between Hughes, AJ Parker and Lucas, who caught Campbell’s eye early in camp. The Lions might be hard-pressed to keep three slot corners, though Hughes can play some outside and Lucas and Parker have special teams value.

Among the inside cornerbacks, Oruwariye and Will Harris worked with the first-team defense Thursday, with Jeff Okudah and Savion Smith joining them on the No. 1 field during pre-practice installation. Bobby Price, because of his special teams value, also is in line for a roster spot at cornerback.

• After one-on-ones, the Lions worked on some two- and three-man route combinations. Lucas and Harris had trouble with one pick route, when Benson ran wide open downfield (though officials at camp threw a flag on the play), and Breeze and Smith tripped over each other’s feet trying to navigate another stack formation.

• In one-on-one pass rush drills, Aidan Hutchinson got the better of Penei Sewell in their first rep against each other. Hutchinson, who Campbell said is great about “memory-banking” plays to learn from his past experiences, appeared to use a great hand swipe to beat Sewell outside.

Sewell stoned Hutchinson in their second rep, and Hutchinson was far too quick for undrafted rookie guard Zein Obeid in his third rep while rushing inside.

• Staying with one-on-one pass rush, Darrin Paulo had an impressive rep against Bryant, mirroring Bryant’s spin move, Tommy Kraemer didn’t allow much push in his two reps against John Cominsky and Isaiah Bugs, and Obinna Eze scored a surprising win against Harris when he shut down Harris’ spin move.

• The Lions have taken things slowly with rookie fifth-round pick James Mitchell as he returns from a torn ACL. Mitchell only recently started doing seven-on-seven drills; playing with the third-team offense Thursday, he caught a touchdown pass from Tim Boyle after leaking out the back side of the formation.

Mitchell is competing with Shane Zylstra, among others, for the No. 3 tight end job.

• In the kicking battle, Austin Seibert made all four of his attempts with a long of 52 yards from the right hash, while Riley Patterson was 2-for-3, missing wide left from about 40 yards.

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• In your daily Malcolm Rodriguez update: He laid a big hit on Jermar Jefferson in team run drill then quickly diagnosed a swing pass to Craig Reynolds on the next play (though he did not make the tackle). Demetrius Taylor was impressively quick off the line in the same period, knifing past Obeid for a huge tackle for loss.

• Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and ex-Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner were among the notables in attendance Thursday. Ex-Lions front office executive Larry Lee also stopped by practice in his new role as director of player personnel for the resurrected XFL’s Orlando franchise.

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

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