Joint practices with New York Giants ‘a good litmus test’ for where Detroit Lions stand

Detroit Free Press

Jonah Jackson didn’t have joint practices as a rookie when the NFL put a temporary stop to them due to COVID, and in his second season, the Detroit Lions didn’t schedule any training camp workouts with other teams because Dan Campbell was still settling into life as an NFL coach.

The Lions visited the Indianapolis Colts for two good days of practice last summer and with two more sets of joint workouts on tap this month — the Lions host the New York Giants for practices Tuesday and Wednesday and the Jacksonville Jaguars for two days next week — Jackson can’t imagine training camp life without them.

“It’s just you get out of the monotony of hitting the same guy over and over,” Jackson said. “You see a different rush and the Giants have got a dang good rush. You got Leonard Williams, Big Dex (Lawrence), a couple other guys, but that’s a good litmus test or baseline test to see how things are going, see how sharp your skills are and just give it a go against somebody else.”

The Lions got some of their most valuable work of last year’s preseason during their extended stay in Indianapolis.

As fans of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will remember, they spent two days clashing with the Colts in one-on-ones and lining up against them in team drills, then used their exhibition game two days later to overload their young players and backups with much-needed reps for development.

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Campbell said this week’s practices will follow a similar format to the ones the Lions had last year, and that means “there’s going to be a few players that this is their game.”

Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, Alex Anzalone and the entire starting offensive line were among the Lions who did not play the preseason game against the Colts last year after taking part in joint workouts.

“(Practice) is really their game reps,” Campbell said. “That was kind of part of the allure for me, too, is, man, we can really load our guys up with great looks, a lot of volume, intensity and then they may sit in games.”

While NFL teams have trended towards sitting key starters for most or all preseason games in recent years, they’ve embraced joint practices as a way for those same players to get the work they need to be ready for the start of the regular season in a more controlled environment.

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Quarterbacks still wear red no-contact jerseys, most periods are physical but not tackle-to-the-ground, special teams work is heightened and players get a chance to practice against someone other than teammates who know their every move.

“You get unbelievable work with, for example, (Penei) Sewell and Hutch, going (against each other every day in practice),” Campbell said. “Over and over, and you start figuring each other out a little bit, which is awesome because you have to keep tinkering with it. Well, to be able to now get a different opponent, to get a totally different look and I’ve got to adjust quickly, quickly to get my job done, I think those are invaluable.”

From a player standpoint, Jackson said that’s one of the best things about joint practices, going against new faces like Lawarence, a second-team All-Pro, Williams and the rest of a Giants defense that was one of the best in the NFL last season.

“I mean, we have powerful guys here, but they got very powerful guys there as well and a little bit bigger in stature maybe more so than the interior guys we got here,” Jackson said. “So just a good little change up to get the range of rusher throughout the league.”

While joint practices are typically scheduled through coaching connections — Campbell and Giants coach Brian Daboll have been tight since their days working together with the Miami Dolphins — Campbell said the Lions were fortunate to land two sets of workouts against high-level opponents with differing styles that should help them prepare for the season, too.

The Giants went 9-7-1 and won a wild card playoff game last season in their first year under Daboll, and the Jacksonville Jaguars won the AFC South last season and took the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who the Lions open with this fall, to the wire in the playoffs thanks to Trevor Lawrence, one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.

“We’re excited to bring the Giants in here and hit some pads with some other guys that we don’t know,” defensive lineman John Cominsky said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

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

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