Detroit Lions observations: ‘Free Jamo,’ and Parker Romo looks good in kicking battle

Detroit Free Press

The backflips are out, but Kerby Joseph will never stop having fun.

On Thursday, at the Detroit Lions‘ sixth organized team activity practice of the spring, Joseph returned an interception for a would-be touchdown in seven-on-seven drills; danced in celebration as his offensive teammates did planks after losing a kicking competition (more on that later); and donned a “Free Jamo” T-shirt in support of suspended receiver Jameson Williams, who will miss the first six games of the season for violating the NFL’s gambling policy.

“The shirt really just say I’m glad Jamo’s still out here working with us,” Joseph said. “He know what he did, but he’s trying to get better and he wants to get better. We want to get better. We’re going to grow from it and we’re going to learn from it. This is just in support of my guy, my dog Jamo, man. So that’s all it is.”

Joseph insisted the shirt, which he got from a fan on Twitter and which had Williams’ picture with the words “Free Jamo” in big red letters on the front, was not meant as a commentary on the NFL’s hypocritical gambling rules.

Williams was suspended for placing legal wagers on non-NFL games from an NFL facility even though the league makes millions off its partnerships with sports betting firms. He practiced Thursday and will take part in training camp and preseason games this summer, but cannot be with the team once the regular season begins.

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“It ain’t none of that,” Joseph said. “It’s just I love my dog, my dog out here still practicing, going hard, wanting to get better, that’s all.”

Joseph’s own improvement in his second NFL season will help determine how much better the Lions’ defense is this fall.

Joseph had a team-leading four interceptions, forced two fumbles and recovered a third last season, when he started 14 games in place of the injured Tracy Walker.

On Thursday, he lined up alongside Walker with the first-team defense during pre-practice installation and played next to Ifeatu Melifonwu during a situational period late in practice when the Lions’ No. 1 defense kept the starting offense off the scoreboard. Walker is not taking part in team drills this spring as he returns from a torn Achilles tendon and free agent addition C.J. Gardner-Johnson did not practice Thursday, but Joseph is expected to join those two as a starter in sub packages this season.

Joseph, who said coaches told him to stop doing backflips during pre-game introductions and in celebration of big plays, picked off a Jared Goff pass intended for Kalif Raymond during seven-on-seven drills and pranced his way to the end zone Thursday.

Last year, he showed a special nose for the ball — three of his interceptions came against future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers — but occasionally freelanced too much for head coach Dan Campbell’s liking.

Campbell said Thursday that Joseph’s challenge this season is to be a more consistent player, and in early June, he likes the strides his young safety has made.

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“There’s a ton of growth still with this player,” Campbell said. “That’s what is exciting. And he’s very conscientious, he works at it, he is instinctive, and that, man, that fires you up for a young player. I mean, that’s what you want. Guys that have shown the potential, but yet they continue to grow and have a lot of room to grow.”

More observations from Thursday’s practice

⋅ It’s a small sample size, but the Lions defense has looked ahead of the offense in the two OTA practices that have been open to reporters. On Thursday, the Lions scrubbed most of their team period to hold a kicking competition, but closed with an end-of-game situational period: First-and-10 from the 38-yard line, 45 seconds to go, offense trailing, 17-14.

The first-team offense managed one first down on its series, with Goff completing a 10-yard pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the first play of the drive before firing two straight incompletions. Melifonwu broke up a first-and-10 pass to St. Brown, then gave the receiver a hard stare, and Goff threw high to Brock Wright on second down. After a short completion to St. Brown, Joseph nearly had his second interception of practice when Goff threw in Raymond’s direction on a play where most of his receivers were covered.

Backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld opened the second-team offense’s situational series with three straight incompletions before hitting rookie tight end Sam LaPorta for a 15-yard gain on a busted coverage in the right flat. Sudfeld threw more incompletions before finding Tom Kennedy on fourth-and-10 to set up a would-be field goal. Khalil Dorsey and Brady Breeze had PBUs for the second-team defense.

In last week’s open OTA, the first-team offense went four-and-out in a situational period against the first-team defense, with Goff missing on a couple deep shots to Williams and Jahmyr Gibbs, and Sudfeld ending the period with an interception.

⋅ I didn’t see what precipitated it, but Melifonwu got in a minor scuffle (I think with St. Brown) during the Lions’ half-speed installation period at the start of practice. Teammates quickly stepped in, Alim McNeill escorted Melifonwu to the sideline, and everyone went about their day. Still, it isn’t often tempers flare during what’s essentially a walk-through period with no pads.

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⋅ Goff wore a sleeve on his right knee at practice Thursday, which is something I have not noticed from the Lions quarterback before. I asked him about it after practice. He said there was nothing to be concerned about. He simply had the sleeve on for comfort and has some minor tendinitis in his knee.

⋅ David Montgomery and Malcolm Rodriguez, who left last week’s OTA with what appeared to be leg injuries, were among those who did not practice Thursday. Marvin Jones, Frank Ragnow, Emmanuel Moseley, Chase Lucas, Trinity Benson, Isaiah Buggs, John Cominsky, Levi Onwuzurike, Logan Stenberg and Kayode Awosika were among other veterans who sat out Thursday or I didn’t see on the field.

Campbell said Montgomery and Rodriguez are dealing with minor injuries, and the Lions are simply being careful with anyone who has any health issue this time of year.

⋅ I don’t know if the Lions are looking to trim their three-person kicking battle to two before training camp, but Parker Romo and Riley Patterson squared off in a kicking competition, with incumbent veteran Michael Badgley taking the day off.

Campbell gathered his offense and defense near midfield and gave each unit one of the kickers, then summoned his specialists from a side field for a kick-off — before they had even taken full-approach warmups. Romo kicked first (after coming closest to guessing a number Campbell had in his head) and drilled four field goals from approximately 43, 48, 48 and 53 yards. Patterson was good from 43 and 48 on the right hash, but missed wide left from 48 on the left hash before making from 53.

Romo then drilled a 57-or-so-yard kick from the right hash, while Patterson pushed his kick short and to the left. Joseph danced gleefully as offensive players dropped to the ground for about 50 seconds of planking.

Romo was with the New Orleans Saints last preseason, but he did not land so much as a workout after he was cut and spent the spring kicking in the XFL. He has some jet fuel in his leg, and if he kicks like he did Thursday — he also made a 62-yard field goal at the end of practice, before missing wide right from 65 — he’ll be kicking for the Lions (or someone) this fall.

Patterson, who the Lions acquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, also made two kicks from 53 yards at the end of practice.

A couple depth chart notes:

⋅ Derrick Barnes continues to work ahead of rookie Jack Campbell at the second inside linebacker spot next to Alex Anzalone. James Houston, who many projected as a starting outside linebacker after his eight-sack season last year, also is running with the twos for now. In team period Thursday, the Lions used Charles Harris and Julian Okwara along with Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal as their top pass rush group, with Jerry Jacobs, Cam Sutton and Will Harris at cornerback.

⋅ With Ragnow out, Halapoulivaati Vaitai still limited in his return from back surgery and Taylor Decker getting some veteran rest, Matt Nelson played left tackle, Ross Pierschbacher played center and Graham Glasgow played right guard with the first-team offensive line, along with regular starters Jonah Jackson and Penei Sewell. Jackson was back at practice this week after missing time last week for the birth of his daughter.

⋅ Gibba, Raymond, Maurice Alexander and Jermar Jefferson took reps at kick return Thursday. Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said last week Gibbs could handle returns in some circumstances this fall.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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