Lions camp observations: Brian Branch justifying starting role with another brilliant play

Detroit News

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

 According to coach Dan Campbell, the Lions had a bit of a bug making its way through the roster, sidelining a small group of players. At the top of that list was starting cornerback Cam Sutton, who was replaced on the first-team defense by Will Harris, outside of a random red-zone segment where undrafted rookie Steven Gilmore worked with the starters.

Also missing practice was defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who is dealing with a minor ankle issue.

 Brian Branch continues to work with the starters, at the expense of Tracy Walker, and the rookie defender is doing more by the day to solidify the decision. Working as the starting nickel, Branch made the play of the day. Coming on a blitz, he was able to get a hand on a quick throw by quarterback Jared Goff and corral the deflection for an interception.

Can anyone explain to me how this guy fell to the middle of the second round? It just doesn’t make sense.

 Safety C. J. Gardner-Johnson continues to impress with his football IQ, range and playmaking ability. On the snaps before and after Branch’s interception, Gardner-Johnson forced an incompletion on a throw to tight end Sam LaPorta and reached around receiver Josh Reynolds for a pass breakup.

 LaPorta mostly worked with the second-team offense Monday, ceding the first-team work to Brock Wright.

 With Frank Ragnow back in the fold after the birth of his first child last week, the Lions are back to rotating Graham Glasgow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right guard. Instead of flipping day-to-day, the two shared starting reps during this practice.

 Chase Cota, coming off a stellar preseason debut, got more looks with the second-team offense and continued to make some plays, including a big gain on a post pattern. Cota did seem caught off-guard by new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s velocity, allowing a ball across the middle to ricochet off his hands.

 It was another inconsistent day for Jameson Williams, who has been coming out to practice early to work on his hands with position coach Antwaan Randle El. During that one-on-one session, Williams put three balls on the ground, including two in a row. He also botched a couple punts off the JUGS machine shortly after. In team drills, Williams caught a frozen rope from Bridgewater while running a post pattern, but failed to locate a deep ball from Nate Sudfeld.

In total, Bridgewater went 1-for-3, but the two incompletions could be classified as drops.

 Matt Nelson played left tackle in the preseason opener, but he swapped sides with veteran Germain Ifedi for Monday’s practice. That might be the plan for the rest of the week as those two battle for the swing backup job behind Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell.

 Detroit worked on its short-yardage offense, with the top unit going 3-for-3 facing third-and-2. Jason Cabinda converted the first attempt on a fullback dive, running back David Montgomery got enough around the left edge on the second and Amon-Ra St. Brown concluded the perfect set hauling in a play-action pass well beyond the sticks.

The second-team offense didn’t fare nearly as well, as Ifedi would have been flagged for a hold on the first, Sudfeld missed running back Benny Snell wide in the flat on the second snap and Romeo Okwara got home for a sack on a play-action rollout on the third and final rep.

 The first-team offense kept it going deep in the red zone, scoring two touchdowns on three tries, including a crosser to a tight end out of play-action. The only stop for the defense came courtesy of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who filled his run gap and smashed Montgomery.

The backups’ only touchdown came on a play-action pass to LaPorta, after running back Devine Ozigbo was stuffed twice from the 2-yard line.

 The Lions worked a pair of one-on-one special-teams drills, simulating blocking and pursuit on kick coverage. Some of the standouts from those practice segments were Derrick Barnes, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Starling Thomas V, Chase Lucas and Brock Wright.

 Practice closed with another red-zone segment, with the offense starting first-and-10 from the 12-yard line. For the first-team offense, Montgomery got the ball four straight times, capping with the segment with a 1-yard scoring run behind Vaitai.

The second-team offense went backward immediately when Will Harris got home on nickel blitz. Sudfeld nearly erased that blunder with a perfectly placed ball into the end zone from the 20-yard line, but rookie Antoine Green couldn’t haul in the scoring strike. Just a brutal drop. The drive ended when Levi Onwuzurike tracked down and stopped a screen pass to Gibbs on third down.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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