Detroit Lions rookie Aidan Hutchinson continues trending up

Detroit News

Allen Park — After a strong performance against the Chicago Bears, it sure does feel like Detroit Lions rookie Aidan Hutchinson has turned a corner.

And that’s according to head coach Dan Campbell, who on Monday at the Lions’ facility in Allen Park again sang the praises of the No. 2 overall pick, a “pretty instinctive player” who “picks up things pretty fast.” In Chicago, Hutchinson sacked Bears quarterback Justin Fields on the final drive, had eight tackles, and made a monster play covering a tight-end screen to Cole Kmet, which forced Fields into a pick-6.

“What’s interesting is that I can still remember the first two days of spring practice out here, when we had him run with the ones, and we threw, shoot, I think we threw three screens at him within the first four days,” Campbell said. “He’s just sprinting at the quarterback and they’re just — you know, it’s gimmes.”

He’s come quite a long way since then. Hutchinson on Sunday engaged with Kmet in pass rush, but as Kmet disengaged to get open for the screen, Hutchinson stopped rushing to get back and cover a would-be pass. That forced Fields into an errant throw that Jeff Okudah returned for his first NFL pick-6 and the Lions’ first pick-6 since 2018.

“Just to see where he’s come from there, he can — he’s figuring it out. He is very instinctive, so look, obviously, he was a huge factor on that play to make Fields hold onto it,” Campbell said, adding that defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs deserves some love for his impact on the play, too.

“Buggs was in his face, continued to just close the distance, hand up, he didn’t bite on the pump fake or anything. And so, we forced him to make an errant throw there and then Okudah made a hell of a play,” Campbell said.

While Hutchinson, who now has 5.5 sacks on the season, had a great day in the box score and an even better one on film, one could argue that his play to force the pick-6 wasn’t even his best. It certainly wasn’t his most physically impressive. That play came in the second quarter with the Bears trying to punch in a score before half, when Hutchinson traversed the line of scrimmage from the weak-side edge to ragdoll Bears running back David Montgomery short of the goal line.

Kennedy’s catch receives high praise from ‘Cheetah’

Lions players and coaches have been praising the work ethic and reliability of Tom Kennedy for years now, but it’s hard to imagine he could get a better compliment than the one he got from the man who’s on pace to challenge Calvin Johnson‘s single-season receiving yards record.

“You can’t tell me Tom Kennedy don’t run like Wes Welker,” Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill tweeted Monday morning, along with two crying laughing emojis.

He was most likely talking about Kennedy’s 44-yard catch on third-and-eight to keep the Lions’ go-ahead touchdown drive alive and move Detroit into the Chicago red zone.

Without DJ Chark (ankle), Josh Reynolds (back) or Trinity Benson, who suffered an ankle injury during the game, in the lineup, Kennedy with just over three minutes to go in the game caught a ball from Jared Goff over the middle and ran for 31 more yards to the Chicago 14-yard-line. Jamaal Williams scored the game-winning touchdown just two plays later.

It was a moment years in the making for Kennedy, who joined the Lions in 2019 as an undrafted free agent and made just 13 appearances from 2019-2021. He was one of the last players cut from the Lions’ roster, a preseason hero who couldn’t find his way onto a roster that revamped its receiving core over the offseason.

“(Tom Kennedy), you never know when your number’s gonna be called,” Campbell said. “One of the reasons he goes to the game is because he can play multiple roles for us, mentally and physically, he can do some things. He’s better suited at other things, not everything, but he has to do everything for us in case he is needed and he is needed right now.”

Injury update

The start of Week 11 means that Chark is eligible to come off his four-week stay on injured reserve, but Campbell didn’t give any hints Monday as to whether that’ll come to fruition.

Chark caught seven passes through his first three games with the Lions before suffering a setback on the ankle injury that ended his 2021 season. He signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Detroit in free agency this past offseason.

“I know that Chark’s a little bit better, I know that Reynolds is a little bit better, but that’s just that. It’s just a little bit better,” Campbell said. “We’ll know a lot more tomorrow.”

Reynolds, meanwhile, has been dealing with a back injury since the Week 8 loss to Miami. Campbell also didn’t provide an update for former All-Pro center Frank Ragnow, who on Sunday was spotted in a walking boot while leaving Soldier Field.

“Frank, I don’t know about Frank. I didn’t even know he had a boot on last night. You guys saw that? Was it the right foot or the left?” Campbell said, unclear if he was joking or not, before moving on to talk about Chark.

Campbell didn’t speak about veteran safety DeShon Elliott, who is in concussion protocol after a hard end-zone collision with Fields on a second-quarter touchdown run, or provide an injury on rookie defensive lineman Josh Paschal. Paschal left the game with a knee injury but returned in limited capacity.

Paschal played 17 snaps, or 28% of defensive plays. That’s down from the workload he’d received since returning from injury. He played 89% of snaps in Week 7, 91% in Week 8 and 81% in Week 9.

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