Allen Park — Lions general manager Brad Holmes and assistant GM Ray Agnew revealed the team’s original expectation for rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, while also reminding everyone to have continued patience with the sixth-round pick after he surged to the top of the depth chart this offseason.
“Watching him on tape in college, the first thing that jumps out to you is how fast he plays the game,” Agnew said Thursday. “And then the first thought is that, ‘OK, we got us a four-core special teams player when we get this guy.’ But he’s proven to be a little more than that.”
Holmes confirmed the special teamer vision, which if that’s all Rodriguez ended up being his first year, it would have been a success.
“He was a bona fide four-core special teams candidate throughout the draft process, so right there, it’s like, ‘OK, he’s going to be playing,'” Holmes said.
But Rodriguez has left those modest expectations in the dust, ending training camp in the driver’s seat for a starting job after excelling on the practice field and the team’s three preseason games. And the spotlight was only brighter after being prominently featured on HBO’s documentary series “Hard Knocks.”
That’s left Detroit’s top front office members warning that bumps in the road almost certainly still lie ahead.
“He’s had a really good camp, productive camp,” Agnew said. “The guy has played fast, he’s played physical. But the guy, he’s still a rookie, man. He’s still learning. He’s still developing.
“He has a ways to go that he has to develop, but we’ve been very pleased from what we’ve seen from him.”
Another rookie who hasn’t drawn a fraction of Rodriguez’s attention is tight end James Mitchell. But that hasn’t quelled the team’s optimism for the fifth-round pick.
After missing the early portion of the offseason program while recovering from last season’s torn ACL, the Virginia Tech product was slowly incorporated during training camp and the preseason, logging 40 snaps in two games.
Mitchell is likely with the Lions because of Agnew. The tight end’s tape caught the assistant GM’s eye, who insisted Holmes take a closer look.
“His upside is tremendous,” Agnew said. “What stood out about him is the route running and the ability to catch the ball. And he was a much better blocker than you’d think in college. A lot of college guys are not great blockers, but he was pretty good. And before the injury, he was playing really well. So, the upside was what stood out to me.”
Mitchell suffered the torn ACL the second game of the 2021 season. The previous year, the 6-foot-4, 249-pounder caught 26 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns.
Kicker returns, Blough gone
The Lions filled one of the team’s three practice squad openings with a familiar face, adding kicker Aldrick Rosas to the mix.
A five-year veteran, Rosas appeared in one game for the Lions last season, making his lone field goal attempt (44 yards) in the team’s 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. He spent the rest of the year on the practice squad and remained on Detroit’s roster until late May, when he was released.
For his career, Rosas has appeared in 59 games, mostly with the New York Giants from 2017-19, making 72 of 91 field goals with a long of 57.
One player who won’t be back with the Lions is quarterback David Blough. Clearing waivers after he was cut by the Lions on Wednesday, the 27-year-old passer signed with division rival Minnesota, joining the team’s practice squad.
With 10 days remaining until the team’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Lions were missing several key contributors during Thursday’s practice.
Not practicing for the Lions were tight end T.J. Hockenson, cornerback Amani Oruwariye, guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, defensive end Austin Bryant, defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and safety Ifeatu Melifonwu.
In positive news, linebacker Julian Okwara was back on the practice field after missing the past three weeks with a lower body injury.
The team will be required to file its first official injury report starting next Wednesday.