Practice? We talking about practice?
Indeed we are, and with all due respect to Detroit casino legend Allen Iverson, Tuesday’s Detroit Lions-New York Giants joint practice felt like something a little more to some of the parties involved.
Lions coach Dan Campbell came to the podium for his morning news conference sounding like he had ingested double the copious amount of caffeine he usually scarfs down in a day. Undrafted rookie cornerback Starling Thomas got into a shoving match after losing his helmet on the first play of the special teams period. And when all 180 or so players from both teams convened for a red zone period at the end of practice, Jared Goff sidled up next to Alex Anzalone and asked a very important question.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, how’d you guys do over there?'” Anzalone told the Free Press after the first of the Lions’ two joint workouts with the Giants. “You get a vibe and a feel of how you guys did, and you got to wait till you watch the film really and who really dominated and everything like that, but they hit a run on you, you’re like, ‘(Expletive)!’ It’s like, ‘Damnit.’ And that’s why these practices are so good is cause it’s really like a game without game consequences.”
Neither the Lions nor Giants will walk away from this week’s practices with a tally on their record, but don’t think for a second the two teams — and everyone else in attendance — aren’t keeping track of how they did.
Campbell attributed the extra jolt of energy he felt Tuesday morning to the competitive nature of the day.
“I can’t wait, man,” he said. “I love this and if I’m in that locker room, this is the greatest, man.”
When Giants pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux walked off the field after practice, a reporter asked, “Who won?”
Thibodeaux smiled and said, “It’s up to y’all to tell that.”
And facing the same question, multiple Lions players said they felt good about the team’s overall performance.
“I feel like that first team period we definitely got to them,” Anzalone said. “They broke a couple runs, which is always tough as a defense but we’ll watch the film and see. But I feel like it was a good day.”
There’s so much going on at joint practices — two fields run constantly, with the Lions offense facing the Giants defense on one, and the Giants offense going against the Lions defense on the other — that it’s impossible to have full accounting of what happened without watching the film, and I’m certainly not going to declare a winner here.
But the Lions very much held their own in the 20-minute red zone period at the end of practice, when the rosters for both teams gathered on one field. Aidan Hutchinson had a sack on the first play of the period, Jahmyr Gibbs scored a touchdown and the Lions sideline demonstratively celebrated every little success and failure.
Defensive players flooded the field after Gibbs’ TD, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was audibly ticked after back-to-back quarterback-center exchange problems with the second team, and Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph and David Montgomery came flying in from the sideline to celebrate a truck stick when Jermar Jefferson ran over the Giants’ Darren Evans for a would-be touchdown.
“That’s what I feel like are really good about these joint practices, too,” Anzalone said. “Kind of you go against each other for what, two, three weeks now and butt heads the whole time and you finally get to develop that team chemistry rather than just offense vs. defense. Everyone’s together, everyone’s watching, pulling for each other. It’s like a game but you have more fun.”
More observations from Tuesday’s practice
I put this disclaimer out there every year, but because there’s so much going, I devote one of my joint practice days each week to the offense and one to the defense. Goff was due to talk at the podium post-practice Tuesday, so I spent the day watching the Lions’ offense go through drills. On Wednesday, I’ll focus on the defense.
If you have a ticket for Wednesday’s sessions, the Lions’ offense is on the field farthest from the practice facility, by the big set of fan bleachers, and that’s the field the teams used when they came together for red zone period, too.
Making it work with what you’ve got
Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Denzel Mims and Trinity Benson were among the notables to sit out practice Tuesday for the Lions. Mims and Benson are dealing with leg injuries, while Jackson sat with an apparent left middle finger injury; he had tape on the digit, though he downplayed the extent of the injury on his way off the field. Ragnow was out with his wife due to give birth to the couple’s first child.
Down two starters up front, the Lions shuffled personnel on their line. Graham Glasgow played center, Halapoulivaati Vaitai played right guard and Kayode Awosika got most of the first-team reps at left guard, with Darrin Paulo also getting some work at guard with the first team.
Campbell said last week none of the Lions’ interior backups had distinguished themselves early in camp, but I thought it was notable Awosika got the first look with the ones Tuesday in a padded practice against a good opponent. One of Glasgow or Vaitai will be the Lions’ top backup, rookie Colby Sorsdal is a good bet to make the roster and the Lions need a swing tackle, but Awosika would be my guess for the ninth offensive lineman as of today.
One other injury note: Goff wore a brace on his left knee at practice Tuesday for the first time in camp. Goff said after practice he wears the brace in games and simply had it on because of the nature of the workout. Goff did wear a sleeve on his knee one day randomly this spring, and when I asked him about that at the time he said it was nothing serious and he has some occasional tendonitis in his knee.
Who faced who
For one-on-ones, the Lions and Giants split the practice field into three parts: Offensive and defensive linemen faced off on the small field on the north side of the complex, with running backs/tight ends going against linebackers/safeties in blocking and receiving drills on the far side of the main fields, and one-on-one receiver drills on the side closest to the media.
In receiver/cornerback one-on-ones, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond, as usual, had good days. St. Brown always makes this drill look easy, while Raymond destroyed Nick McCloud in his first rep of the period, freezing the cornerback with a stutter step at the line of scrimmage to gain huge separation. Raymond had a ball sail through his hands later in the period, but he beat Darnay Holmes on that incompletion and had another catch on his third rep.
Marvin Jones made two impressive catches in the period, including one over Evans, the Giants’ second-year corner. Jones didn’t get much separation on any of his three routes. Ordinarily, that’d be cause for concern at 33 years old, but Jones has always excelled as a contested-catch receiver and never needed much separation in his first go-round with the Lions in 2016-20. Old friend Amani Oruwariye had a breakup on Jones’ third rep in one-on-ones.
Jameson Williams did not catch any of the three passes thrown his way in the period. Adoree’ Jackson played sticky coverage on Williams on two of his routes, and Holmes broke up a pass on the third. And undrafted rookie Dylan Drummond out of Eastern Michigan went 0 for 3 in his chances and couldn’t make a one-handed grab in his final attempt.
Williams had two catches and Drummond three in seven-on-sevens. Notably, Williams caught both his balls from backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld, while Drummond caught two of his passes from Goff. Goff draped his arm around Drummond as the two walked to the Lions’ sideline after the second catch, and Goff was complimentary of the undrafted rookie after practice.
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“He’s a good player, man” Goff said. “He does everything right, continually shows up. I know he’s good on special teams, from what I’ve heard. But yeah, for me, he’s a guy that continually is exactly where he’s supposed to be, on time, he’s fast, he’s sudden, he’s smart, he’s got good hands. How many more adjectives can I say? He’s a good player.”
If Drummond keeps making plays, he’ll be hard to leave off the 53-man roster at the end of the month.
I had Goff completing 11 of 13 passes during the 11-on-11 portion of Tuesday’s practice, though most of those completions seemed to come within a few yards from the line of scrimmage. He led Sam LaPorta a little too far on one pass when he had pressure in his face at the start of team drills and missed another pass later in the period when there might have been a defensive holding penalty, but was sharp otherwise.
The Giants did have at least one would-be sack against the Lions’ starting line when Goff was besieged by pressure from the right side. Glasgow also had one false-start penalty when he failed to snap the ball.
Asked what he wants to see out of Wednesday’s practice, Goff mentioned eliminating pre-snap penalties and attacking downfield.
“I think they do a good job on defense of keeping it tough, diagnosed-wise,” Goff said. “But being able to push it a little bit down the field and make some plays further down the field.”
In the red zone
Both the Lions and Giants got five first-team snaps on offense in the red zone period. The Lions held the Giants out of the end zone, while Goff closed his day with a TD throw to Gibbs. Hutchinson started the period with a would-be sack on Daniel Jones, beating Matt Peart — who was filling in for the injured Evan Neal — with an inside move. Jerry Jacobs was flagged for pass interference downfield on the play, but Hutchinson was in the backfield first.
Hutchinson held the edge on a Jones keeper on the next snap, and Kerby Joseph stayed home to tag Jones down 2 yards short of the end zone on another quarterback option keeper.
On offense, Goff completed a pair of short passes, held onto the ball on a keeper that went for a small gain and handed the ball to Montgomery for another short gain before throwing his TD to Gibbs.
Thomas and Tae Hayes had pass breakups for the Lions’ backup defense in the red zone, though the Giants scored two touchdowns in the period. Collin Johnson made a one-handed catch on a Tyrod Taylor ball against Thomas, subtly sticking his hand out to catch a pass that Thomas, who was in trail coverage, never knew was coming. Third-string quarterback Tommy DeVito also ran for a touchdown when Julian Okwara bit hard on a run fake.
Sudfeld and backup center Brad Cecil had their snap problems in the same period. The pair muffed one exchange from under center, and Cecil fired a low snap at Sudfeld’s feet on the second. Adrian Martinez replaced Sudfeld at quarterback on the next snap, a handoff, then Sudfeld returned for the final three plays.
Jefferson sent the Lions sideline into a frenzy with his touchdown run, but Logan Stenberg got beat for a sack on the next play by former Michigan defensive back Germon Green and Sudfeld threw incomplete to Chase Cota on the final play of the day when Cota beat his cornerback with no safety help over top.
Special teams update
It’s not always easy to discern who’s winning and losing in special teams drills, but the Giants’ gunners collectively had an easier time splitting vice coverage from the Lions’ jammers than vice versa. Bryce Ford-Wheaton made the drill look easy, splitting Will Harris and Ifeatu Melifonwu, while none of the Lions’ gunners — in order, Thomas, Melifonwu, Drummond, Antoine Green, Chase Lucas or Hayes — shined. Hayes had the best rep, in my opinion, and Raymond had one potentially big return when the drill moved from the gunner-isolation portion to the protection unit covering downfield.
Last note for the day: The owners for both teams watched Tuesday’s practice, Sheila Hamp and John Mara, and there were plenty of other notable faces in the crowd, including Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, NBC play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, Fox analyst Jay Glazer and Detroit Tigers players Zack Short, Jason Foley and Kerry Carpenter.
Sanders spent quite a bit of time after practice talking with Giants running back Saquon Barkley, and Lions players St. Brown, Montgomery and Gibbs. Both Montgomery and Gibbs have called Sanders their favorite running back of all-time, and Montgomery said that was his first time talking to Sanders in person.
“That was amazing,” Montgomery said. “I’ve talked to him a couple times, but to be able to see him in person and talk to him, it’s like one of them star-struck moments. I’m blessed I’m able to talk to him.
“To still be in his presence, be in space, it’s crazy. It just made me be like, ‘All right, I got something I got to play for.’ I got to go try to catch him.”