Detroit Lions observations: Why Will Harris is ahead of Jeff Okudah on depth chart

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions released their first depth chart of summer Tuesday, a depth chart Dan Campbell called “officially unofficial” in nature.

That’s a fair way to put it. Depth charts are typically put together by media relations departments with varying degrees of input from coaches, and the Lions — like most NFL teams — rotate their personnel heavily at many positions in training camp.

It’s never wise to put too much stock in early-season depth charts, but the fact is they are grounded in reality. The players who get the most first-team reps in camp typically end up first-string at their respective positions on the depth chart.

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That’s why it did not come as a surprise to see Will Harris listed with the first-team defense at cornerback ahead of Jeff Okudah.

Both Harris and Okudah have taken first-team reps this summer, but Harris was with the No. 1 defense on Day 1 of camp and has spent more time working with the top unit (by my assessment) this summer. On Wednesday, Harris played opposite Amani Oruwariye with the ones while Okudah was second-string, though both worked on the first-team field during pre-practice installation.

“Will started for us at the end of the year,” Campbell said before practice, “I mean, he was our starter, so why would he not be up there at No. 1?”

Campbell makes a valid point, though not an infallible one. Evan Brown finished last season as the Lions’ starting center and now rightfully resides behind Frank Ragnow on the depth chart. Ragnow, like Okudah, missed most of last season with injury.

Harris moved from safety to cornerback last fall after injuries ravaged the Lions secondary. He played some of the best football of his career at cornerback, and has been steady if unspectacular this spring.

Okudah has made an impressive recovery from his ruptured Achilles tendon, but similar to Harris has been merely solid this summer. Both players have given up their share of receptions, both are willing defenders in run support, neither has jumped out by making big-time defensive plays.

Until or unless one does — I have my doubts that will happen — I think Harris and Okudah will settle into some sort of playtime share at one of the Lions’ most concerning positions. Harris can be a valuable matchup piece with his size and versatility. Okudah has more raw talent and needs reps if he’s ever going to approach his ceiling. The Lions are going to need contributions from both to make it through the season.

“(The depth chart) means something, but it doesn’t mean something,” Campbell said. “I mean, there’s so many things that are going to shake out. Like, I don’t know where (running back) Godwin (Igwebuike) is on that, but Godwin was probably the sixth running back last year and he made our team because of special teams. So there’s a lot in play, I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in it. I would say this: There’s probably a pretty good chance that Jared Goff stays our starter at quarterback, so that one is set in stone. But no, I wouldn’t worry too much about that.”

More observations from Wednesday’s practice

• Wednesday marked the final public practice of the summer, so maybe this comes late, but consider it a public service announcement for 2023.

The Lions had a lighter practice Wednesday — they weren’t in pads — after going hard Tuesday and with their preseason opener Friday against the Atlanta Falcons. That did not stop one fan in an “Arnold Classic” tank top — the bodybuilding event — from spending part of practice yelling at players to tackle more.

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At one point, the fan bemoaned that the Lions’ lack of tackling was why they finished in last place last season and hollered, “It’s football, not golf. You guys should be tackling more.”

Football is a physical spot, we get it. And for many, that’s part of the allure. But not all training camp practices are equal. The Lions have done more live tackling this camp than in any camp I remember since two-a-days were eliminated, and if they hadn’t, common sense should tell you they weren’t going to be doing any live tackling on a day they weren’t in full pads.

• Trinity Benson sat out his second straight practice with an undisclosed injury, but Benson, wore a compression sleeve on his left leg, did some running at the start of practice for Lions trainers. Ragnow also got a rest day Wednesday, and Quintez Cephus, Josh Johnson, Julian Okwara, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Levi Onwuzurike and Julian Okwara were others who did not participate.

Brown played really well as a fill-in for Ragnow last season and I caught up with him briefly after practice Wednesday. He took No. 1 reps in Ragnow’s absence and has had a solid camp overall. The Lions should and do feel comfortable with him as their backup center on what looks like a very good offensive line.

When I got back to the media room after practice, I saw the news that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their second center to injury this training camp. My first thought: Brown would be an ideal replacement.

I don’t have a clue what Tampa’s plans are with Ryan Jensen already out if Robert Hainsey has to miss time, but if I were Brad Holmes I would call Bucs GM Jason Licht to gauge his interest in Brown.

Austin Seibert and Riley Patterson seem to be alternating good days in their kicking battle. On Tuesday, Seibert missed wide right from 46 and 53 yards while Patterson was 3 for 3 in field goal period against a live rush. On Wednesday, Patterson missed wide left from about 44 yards, while Seibert made all three of his attempts from 41, 44 and 47.

• Not a lot to report from team period because of the nature of practice, but Derrick Barnes handled the green dot duties on defense while paired with Alex Anzalone at linebacker. Anzalone should handle defensive play calls this fall, but Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez and Jarrad Davis are others who have gotten plenty of reps at communications this summer.

• Tom Kennedy flashed in his battle to win a backup receiver job for the second straight day. Kennedy caught a play-action pass from Goff while working with the first-team offense in team period, beat Kerby Joseph on a slant from Tim Boyle two plays later, then closed the period with a big gain on a slant from David Blough.

Kennedy perennially flies under the radar in training camp, but he is sure-handed and a crisp route-runner. Do not rule him out in the battle for a backup job at receiver.

Kennedy also got reps on both the No. 1 kick cover and kick return teams Wednesday.

• The Lions closed practice by running through a few situations with their four-minute and two-minute offenses. The offense picked up a couple first downs in the first situation, ahead 10 points with 3:41 to play, to run out most of the clock. And Goff capped a relatively quick scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown when the offense was down 10 points in the same drill.

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

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