Top takeaways from Detroit Lions minicamp

USA Today

The Detroit Lions charged through three days of mandatory minicamp at the team’s training facility in Allen Park. I was there for the final two days of action, which saw a lot of emphasis on situational offense/defense and individual position drills.

This is so far and away the best Lions roster and team at this point of an offseason. That’s the primary takeaway. A few other things stood out from the last week of work, which includes an OTA session from the prior week that was open for the media as well.

Here are some of the top takeaways from the Lions minicamp and overall offseason practices to this point, with the veterans now done until the training camp kicks off in late July.

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Terrion Arnold sure looks ready

ALLEN PARK, MICHIGAN – JUNE 05: Terrion Arnold #0 of the Detroit Lions works out during mandatory mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on June 05, 2024 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are certain expectations that come with being a first-round pick, especially when the team trades up to make sure they select the player. For Detroit cornerback Terrion Arnold, he’s exceeding those expectations with his early play.

Arnold has “it,” whatever “it” might be. Star quality. Confidence. Skill. Speed. Attitude. Presence. Hunger. Je ne sais quois.

He isn’t being handed anything, including starter reps. He’s seizing them with his play. The twitchiness of his reactions and speedy economy of movement really stand out — even with proven NFL starters Carlton Davis and Amik Robertson playing with him. The Lions haven’t had an alpha dog at cornerback since Darius Slay’s prime before Matt Patricia tried to neuter him. Arnold has that dawg in him, no doubt about it.

He’s still got things to learn, technique to clean up. He holds a little too much. He doesn’t always use the right leverage. He’s a little too quick to trust his safeties to pick up the coverage handoff without understanding they might be seeing something else. Those are all coachable, and that’s one area where Arnold has definitely impressed: he’s eminently coachable. He wants to be coached, to be pushed by his coaches and his teammates.

Jack Campbell is making a step forward

Detroit Lions linebacker Jack Campbell (46) practices during mini camp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

A first-round pick in 2023, linebacker Jack Campbell had an interesting rookie campaign. Between moving around different LB spots and adjusting to the increased speed of the NFL action, he looked like a promising but occasionally frustrating rookie. That’s to be expected.

Campbell has come back for his second season looking sharper. I didn’t see him get caught flat-footed once in minicamp, something that did plague him in coverage as a rookie. Campbell got a plethora of first-team reps with Alex Anzalone, ahead of Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez. Even with returning starter Barnes (and Rodrigo too) looking good in his own right, Campbell appears to have elevated himself into the top twosome.

While he’s not a talker and never will be, it was encouraging to see Campbell barking out pre-snap calls and offering post-play words to both the defense and, at times to the offense, letting them know he’s there and ready. Much like Aidan Hutchinson from Year 1 to Year 2, there’s a confident presence to Campbell that comes with knowing more of what it’s all about.

There’s only so much a LB can do without being able to hit or tackle. It’s imperative to understand that and not get too excited, because those are major components of the job that are forbidden in minicamp. But Campbell is in a cleaner position to do those things better, more consistently, than he did as a rookie.

Players who deserve more love

Lions linebackers Derrick Barnes, left, and Mitchell Agude practice during the organized team activities in Allen Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024.

Four names to know coming out of minicamp who aren’t getting enough attention from fans:

EDGE Mitchell Agude
WR Daurice Fountain
OG Netane Muti
DL Levi Onwuzurike

Quick hits on each…

Agude is getting a lot of second-team EDGE reps and making the most of them. Granted it’s unpadded, but his power-to-speed and long-armed bull rush look legit. He ran step-for-step with rookie RB Sione Vaki on a wheel route in Wednesday’s session and that definitely caught my attention. The 6-4, 250-pound Agude was on the practice squad in 2023 but he’s pushing for much more in ’24.

Fountain has bounced around as a wideout in part because he has lacked consistency. He’s 6-2, 210 pounds of target and he’s snagging everything thrown his way. Fountain looked clean in the slot and as a motion weapon, outplaying more heralded Donovan Peoples-Jones and Antoine Green–and they were good in their own rights, too.

Muti’s four seasons and 22 games of NFL experience showed in minicamp. Playing primarily RG with the second team but sneaking in some first-team reps, his balance and hand placement looked impressive. He appears to be well ahead of all the UDFAs (though not sixth-round rookie Christian Mahogany) at guard but also ahead of holdover vet Kayode Awosika at this point.

Onwuzurike is a fantastic comeback story. He’s fixing to be more than that. If he can keep his pad level down more consistently, he’s going to threaten for a lot more playing time as a utility DL capable of playing anywhere from the 1T to 7T.

WR depth spots look like a big battle

Detroit Lions wide receiver Maurice Alexander (1) and wide receiver Jalon Calhoun (80) practice during OTAs at Detroit Lions headquarters and training facility in Allen Park on Thursday, May 30, 2024.

There’s a clear pecking order at the top of the Detroit Lions WR depth chart. All-Pro Amon-Ra St. Brown leads the group, with Kalif Raymond and Jameson Williams next in line. After that, well…

It’s going to be a very interesting summer sorting out which players earn WR3 through WR5 and perhaps WR6 on the active 53-man roster. Minicamp did little to clear up the battle lines other than elevating Daurice Fountain more prominently into the conversation.

Fountain, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Antoine Green and even Isaiah Williams and Kaden Davis have had their moments this offseason. Peoples-Jones is clearly at the top of this list of players in the team’s eyes right now, but that could change. Maurice Alexander and Tre’Quan Smith merited longer looks and more reps, too–but not enough to feel good about their chances to make it.

UDFA watch

The Lions have had a great run of landing undrafted rookies who make the team and often wind up playing significant roles early on. After watching rookie minicamp, OTAs and this week’s minicamp, I’m not sure that run continues into 2024.

Some of that is a function of just having a much better, deeper all-around roster of returning talent. However, none of the UDFAs have really jumped out other than long snapper Hogan Hatten, who has been more consistent than holdover Scott Daly on FG snaps.

There are still some UDFAs who can compete for a role and maybe an active roster spot. Illinois WR Isaiah Williams is the best bet to make it, though as a return man more than at receiver. While he’s not a rookie UDFA, tight end Parker Hesse probably stands the greatest chance of moving from rookie minicamp audition to playing a role. Hesse, a third-year LB convert from Iowa, outplayed both James Mitchell and Shane Zylstra in receiving and special teams drills all spring.

A lot of key pieces are still injured

Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs (26) practices during mini camp at Detroit Lions headquarters and practice facility in Allen Park on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

This is not specific to the Lions, not even a little. Every team is dealing with projected starters still being sidelined with injuries lingering from last season. But for the Lions, those injuries are hitting at very important spots.

Namely, the offensive line. Without Taylor Decker at left tackle, Kevin Zeitler at right guard (replacing departed LG Jonah Jackson) or (often) Frank Ragnow at center, the line looks a lot less impressive. Even with the players not being in full pads, there’s a very visible difference–notably in the run game. The holes and ability to sustain blocks, to hit second-level marks that are so critical for RBs like David Montgomery and Craig Reynolds, they’re just not there.

The other spot where the lack of depth is readily apparent is safety. With Kerby Joseph and Brian Branch out, the starting duo is Ifeatu Melifonwu and Brando Joseph. Each had his moments and bring real positive attributes to the table, but neither is versatile. Speed in coverage is a major issue for them, something the Lions offense exploited a lot in the practices. The deeper reserves, including vet CJ Moore, didn’t look like NFL-worthy safeties in coverage at all.

Things looked better at other spots where injured starters were out. Depth stepped up at running back (for Jahmyr Gibbs), defensive tackle (D.J. Reader) and EDGE (Marcus Davenport).

All business

ALLEN PARK, MICHIGAN – JUNE 05: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions looks on during mandatory mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on June 05, 2024 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There is a focused energy that permeates the practice sessions. More than any Lions team I’ve been around in nearly 15 years of covering Detroit, this coaching staff and group of players understands the goal.

“The whole enchilada,” as coach Campbell put it before Thursday’s practice.

The players do have fun in practices. The end of Thursday’s session, with giant OL Dan Skipper cleanly fielding a punt after sprinting about 20 yards to make the catch, is a great example. Overall though, there is a tone of serious work to be done. Players holding one another accountable after a bad rep is commonplace from the starters through the third-teamers.

I thought linebacker Derrick Barnes expressed it very well after Wednesday’s session,

“When you get to a place like we did last year and know what it took to get there, that’s always been the mindset. Like Coach said, it does take more. It is going to take more this year. It’s going to take that extra little oomph of things, practice, games. When they say finish all four quarters, it’s going to take all four quarters. It’s going to take everybody here.

Like I said, we’re a hungry team. A lot of people are going to come here and be ready to play us, and that’s the way we want it. And we worked to let teams know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s definitely a new Detroit. And like I said, it’s the same mindset this year. We’re not dancing and giggling because we went to the NFC Championship. We believe we should’ve went to the Super Bowl, and that’s our mindset. So, everybody gotta get it.”

That sense is tangible in Allen Park.

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