Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Thursday’s training camp practice.
Ok, maybe the exclamation point is excessive, but with Detroit’s longest (and padded) practice of the offseason came some added aggressiveness that carried well beyond the whistle on multiple occasions.
The largest fracas came during a full-team scrimmage where offensive tackle Dan Skipper and edge rusher Austin Bryant got tangled up. By the time the players were separated, Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg and Brady Breeze were all all in the mix, pushing and shoving, with Stenberg taking Bryant’s helmet and bowling it across the field.
From that point, the intensity was ramped up, including wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and Amani Oruwariye wrestling to the ground as whistles blew. A couple of plays later, St. Brown caught a long pass, bouncing off a hit by Oruwariye near the sideline. As the receiver returned to the huddle, he punted the ball across the field in celebration. For what it’s worth, he got pretty impressive hang time on the boot.
The roster was definitely teetering on the edge for the last hour of practice, but to the coaching staff’s credit, things never got out of hand and no one had to be kicked out. Despite the intensity, and the copious amounts of trash talking that came with it, small conflicts never carried into later plays.
“It’s just the combination of all our coaches have pretty much sat in our seats, man,” Bryant said, about the coaching staff keeping calm despite the extracurriculars. “They’ve all played in this league, they know what it’s about and they know what training camp is — it’s however many guys competing for 53 spots. So they understand how the competition level is going to be. They let us redline it, but they also know we know how to bring it back down because we’re professionals.
Honestly, if I were to guess, coach Dan Campbell loved nearly every minute of it.
► Fast forwarding to the end of practice, the Lions closed with a two-minute drill. The offense was given 31 seconds to drive 41 yards for a touchdown.
Things didn’t start out great for the first team. On the first snap, Penei Sewell got away with a hold on Aidan Hutchinson as quarterback Jared Goff scrambled for 13 yards, only for Hutchinson to come back with a sack rushing from the interior on the next snap.
With time running out, Goff turned to DJ Chark. The deep throw was a touch long, but Chark was able to lay out and make an impressive diving grab in the end zone for a 35-yard score.
The second unit nearly matched it when David Blough laid a perfect deep ball into the waiting arms of Trinity Benson, but the receiver proved unable to hang on. Blough bounced back with a 21-yard bullet to Kalif Raymond in the middle of the field, but a subsequent holding call, followed by a sack from Eric Banks, ended the scoring threat.
► The Lions opened up with one-on-one open-field tackling work. Cornerback Will Harris, flashing a skill set not common to his new position, made two impressive stops, dropping Benson and rookie Josh Johnson. Linebacker Jarrad Davis and rookie safety Kerby Joseph also came up with quality tackles in a drill that favors the ball carrier.
The last time the Lions ran the drill, running back Jermar Jefferson showcased his power, running over nickel corner A.J. Parker. This time, Jefferson showed some shake, juking untouched around linebacker Anthony Pittman.
► In another drill that typically favors the offense, the defensive backs had some good reps in head-to-head coverage. Oruwariye, Mike Hughes and Chase Lucas all scored early pass breakups, with the rookie knocking one away from Tom Kennedy, one of the toughest short-area covers on the roster. Lucas appeared to score a second breakup in the rep rematch, but he was flagged for pass interference by one of the officials working the morning practice.
The star for the offense was Raymond, who showed outstanding hands, extending to haul in two balls away from his body while working against Harris and Hughes. Raymond extended again in two-on-two combo work to make a grab against Joseph.
St. Brown also had a solid showing, catching three balls on four reps. On the fourth, he had good separation working against safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, but finished with an uncharacteristic drop. St. Brown’s route running feels much improved this offseason.
► You can make a case this was Goff’s best practice this offseason. Beyond the long touchdown to Chark to end the day, the ball placement and zip on the throws was good all morning.
► The Lions also continue to get promising production out of their top pass rushers.
As noted, Hutchinson had the sack in the two-minute drill. In earlier, full scrimmage work, Charles Harris had back-to-back plays where he shed a blocker for a run stop near the line of scrimmage followed up by a sack. Bryant also continues to be highly productive, with a sack, a couple additional pressures and a batted down pass at the line.
► In the kicking battle, Austin Seibert made all four of his attempts, ranging from 43 to 53 yards. Riley Patterson went 3-for-4.
► Undrafted rookie receiver Kalil Pimpleton had more positive moments than bad, including a catch off his shoe tops while running parallel to the line 15 yards down the field, but he’ll be kicking himself for not having better ball security, fumbling a kickoff attempt.
Pimpleton was the only one with a blunder on kickoffs as fellow rookie Josh Johnson also muffed one.
► Speaking of kickoffs, new addition Maurice Alexander got his chance to handle a couple. He also snagged a touchdown pass from Tim Boyle during seven-on-seven red zone work. Not a bad first day for the all-USFL return man.
► Traditionally, the Lions ask every new defensive addition perform 40 down-ups before the start of practice. That apparently extends to coaches, so newcomer Addison Lynch was tasked with the grueling task. Unfortunately, he wasn’t warned, and had eaten a decent breakfast before hitting the field.
To his credit, Lynch completed the exercise like a champ, with the entire defensive roster and coaching staff joining him for the final 10 reps. Sadly, his breakfast didn’t survive.
► Rookie tight end James Mitchell, who was sidelined during the early portion of the offseason program while continuing to rehab a torn ACL, is finally starting to see some team reps a week into training camp. On Tuesday, he leaked across the formation and hauled in a touchdown from Boyle.
► Safety Melifonwu came up with his first interception since moving to safety, patiently reading Blough’s eyes and jumping a throw in the back of the end zone.
► Closing with one-on-one pass-rush drills, Hutchinson and Sewell split their reps in the most anticipated matchup between linemen.
A couple of backup offensive lineman who stood out were Tommy Kraemer and Darrin Paulo. Remember, Kraemer came out of nowhere as an undrafted rookie to start a couple of games last year. He only looks more comfortable and confident in his second season. Paulo, who struggled last offseason as a rookie, looks much improved in his second stint with the team.
A last notable rep saw undrafted rookie Obinna Eze stuff Harris. Eze is understandably raw, given how late in life he picked up football, but he has eye-catching size at 6-foot-8, 325 pounds. Winning a rep against Harris will undoubtedly serve as a confidence boost as he pushes to stick as a developmental fourth offensive tackle.