Lions camp observations: C.J. Gardner-Johnson shows off playmaking versatility

Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Monday’s Detroit Lions’ training camp practice.

 Folks, if you needed one day to encapsulate what defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson is going to bring to the roster, this was the one. The safety/nickel hybrid was a big-hitting ballhawk during his first fully padded practice in a Lions uniform.

Gardner-Johnson had multiple pass breakups, leaping to knock away a fade in the end zone to Denzel Mims, while blanketing a one-on-one rep to Jameson Williams and nearly picking a throw to Amon-Ra St. Brown during a two-minute drill at the end of practice.

More memorable than any of those reps was a walloping hit Gardner-Johnson laid on rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Facing a collapsing pocket, quarterback Jared Goff flicked a pass into the right flat to Gibbs, who immediately took a big shoulder-to-chest pop from the defensive back.

Welcome to the NFL, rook.

And, as you might expect, Gardner-Johnson was talking all day, sometimes to no one in particular, while challenging his teammates to “get on his level.” After practice, he told me he only knows how to practice like he plays, so that should give fans plenty of optimism for what he’s about to bring to the table on Sundays.

 After their daily walkthrough and stretching routine, the Lions opened practice with a one-on-one tackling drill. The snaps were running fast and furious, but one player who caught my eye above others was safety Kerby Joseph. He showed outstanding technique wrapping up and bringing down big-bodied receiver Mims. Joseph also dropped return man Maurice Alexander.

 On the far field, linebackers and safeties matched up in a pair of drills. First, the offensive players were asked to pick up blitzing defenders. Joseph again impressed, somehow dipping low enough to get under the natural leverage of short and stout running back Mohamed Ibrahim.

More impressively, rookie linebacker Jack Campbell has the potential to be a force as a situational rusher. He worked over both tight end Sam LaPorta and running back Justin Jackson during his two reps.

Speaking of LaPorta, it’s not clear the exact moment, but he left practice around this time and didn’t return.

The sides ultimately switched things up with the backs and tight ends running one-on-one routes against their defensive counterparts, which the former predictably dominated. The only pass breakup of note came from safety Ifeatu Melifonwu.

 It was another solid day for Melifonwu. He knocked away a pass from Trinity Benson in one-on-one red zone work, before physically forcing Kalif Raymond out of bounds on an end zone target. He also disrupted the passing lane enough, causing quarterback Nate Sudfeld to sail a shot too long for Mims.

Another defensive back who has had a couple good days in a row when in coverage is second-year man Chase Lucas. On Monday, he netted pass breakups against Josh Reynolds and Benson.

 In terms of receivers, I wanted to highlight a couple of guys at the back end of the depth chart. Undrafted rookie Dylan Drummond, a former Eastern Michigan standout who earned a contract as a tryout player back in May, continues to show some impressive shiftiness with his route running. He’s tracking well toward earning a practice squad job, which would be a huge win for him.

Additionally, Trey Quinn, whom the Lions recently added to the roster, has shown nice footwork with his routes. You can tell he has some NFL experience, even if he hasn’t caught a regular-season pass since 2019.

 Quinn replaced Tom Kennedy on the roster. Kennedy was waived-injured last week but reverted to Detroit’s injured reserve after clearing waivers. He’s been at practice the past two days with his left arm in a sling with the collarbone injury.

 It’s becoming an amusing trend, but when the Lions want to test one of their up-and-coming rookie defensive backs, they challenge them to cover Raymond. In this practice, it was Steven Gilmore who went to that school of hard knocks, losing the battle both before and after the catch as Raymond hauled in the throw and juked the rookie out of his shoes before crossing into the end zone.

Tight end Shane Zylstra left practice with what appeared to be knee injury after cornerback Khalil Dorsey went low to make a tackle. It was an unnecessarily risky play by the defender.

 Halapoulivaati Vaitai was back with the first-team offense after missing a couple practices with a sore back. The only injury absence of note was offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who remains in concussion protocol.

 Brodric Martin continued to see extensive work with the first-team defense and he continued to add to his early reel of positive snaps by shedding center Frank Ragnow and dropping running back David Montgomery in the hole.

 No one seems interested in grabbing a stranglehold on the kicking competition. Both Riley Patterson and Parker Romo went 4-for-5 on their field goal attempts, with Patterson missing wide right from 45 yards and Romo sending a 51-yarder wide to the same side.

As previously mentioned, the Lions ended practice with a late-game scenario with the offense getting the ball at the opponent’s 41-yard line with two timeouts and 31 seconds on the clock, needing a touchdown.

The first-team offense kept the drive alive early when Goff connected with Reynolds for a 14-yard gain on fourth down, but stalled out after the quarterback threw it out of the back of the end zone as the clock hit zero.

Honestly, it should have ended two plays earlier, but safety Tracy Walker dropped an interception.

The second-team offense also failed to score, going four-and-out. On fourth-and-5, Alim McNeill and Josh Paschal combined to sack Sudfeld.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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