The Detroit Lions put pads on for the first time in their 2022 training camp on Monday and it didn’t take long for the starting offensive line to remind people of how good they are.
If you missed any of our camp observations so far, you can find them here:
No changes to the PUP/NFI lists, as Romeo Okwara, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Jerry Jacobs, C.J. Moore, and Jason Cabinda remain unavailable to practice.
Both Taylor Decker (foot) and Devin Funchess (groin) returned to action on Monday. At his morning press conference, coach Dan Campbell confirmed that the team gave Decker Saturday off for health management reasons, not due to a reaggravation. Decker was fully immersed in all aspects of practice while Funchess was held out of team drills. Dan Skipper, who returned from injury/illness last Saturday, also appeared to be held out of team drills.
Offensive line reminds everyone of who they are
When the Lions drafted Aidan Hutchinson last April, one of the first conversations in the media room surrounded the anticipation of him lining up across from 2021 first-round pick Penei Sewell. We saw the two square off against one another without pads last week, with Hutchinson getting the better of the matchup on Saturday, but with pads on today, Sewell was the dominant player, easily dispatching the rookie.
They faced off twice in one-on-one drills, and Hutchinson tried a different shifty technique with each attempt, but both times Sewell got into his set, waited for the right opportunity, and locked on to the edge rusher, immediately stopping him in his tracks.
In team drills, Hutchinson had a much quieter day when facing Sewell. And on those off occasions where the rookie matched up with a tight end, Sewell was always lurking and waiting to help. On one occasion, Hutchinson got the better of Brock Wright, overpowering him on the way to the quarterback, only to have Sewell peal off the interior double team and hit Hutchinson off his mark, knocking him off balance.
But Hutchinson wasn’t the only player who was on the receiving end of Sewell’s aggression on Monday. During an 11-on-11 drill, the Lions ran a screen to the right and had Sewell pull into the lead position. Jeff Okudah, who worked hard to get off a block from DJ Chark, got free just in time to be steamrolled by Sewell, resulting in one of the biggest reactions from the fans on the day. Okudah survived unscathed.
When Sewell’s on the field, he is simply relentless and he doesn’t care who lines up across from him. When asked about running over Okudah, Sewell didn’t even realize who it was, and just buried the man in front of him.
“Oh, I did? That’s just football,” Sewell said. “I don’t know what happened. I got to go watch the film.”
But Sewell wasn’t the only starting offensive lineman to look significantly more comfortable in pads. Taylor Decker looked noticeable sharper and also had a much-improved outing against Charles Harris.
“It’s real football now,” Decker told the media after practice. “You get out there in the shirts and the spiders, it’s a different feel to football. There’s not as much contact, bull rush, and the D-line hates us grabbing their pads, but I like grabbing the pads, so today’s real football.”
In all, the starting offensive line didn’t lose a single rep during the one-on-one drills. In addition to Sewell beating Hutchinson and Decker beating Harris, we also were treated to Jonah Jackson handling Michael Brockers, Halapoulivaati Vaitai getting the better of Levi Onwuzurike, as well as Frank Ragnow showing impressive anchor against Alim McNeill.
“Frank is that good,” McNeill told reporters after practice. “He’s able to move his body, he’s strong in different awkward positions, he’s able to get you turned sometimes, so when I’m out there, I’m really like having to work my technique, like really, really having to work. You do that anyway, but against a guy like Frank, yeah, if you slip up, or you’re a little bit too late this way or that way, it’s over with. You can hang it up.”
This offensive line proved on Monday that they can live up to the hype.
Block of the day
A lot of time in the new defensive scheme, Hutchinson will lineup on the tight end side of the formation. In one 11-on-11 rep, he lined up across from T.J. Hockenson, and it appeared he was expecting the tight end to run a route, as he tried to crash down on the offensive line. Hockenson had other plans.
At the snap, Hockenson went hard at the rookie and jarred him off his spot, sending him to the ground. And in true “do-it-all tight end” fashion, Hockenson entered his route with little resistance and ended up making the catch on the play.
On an obvious one-on-one matchup between the two later in team drills, once again Hockenson showed out again, anchoring and holding Hutchinson at bay. If Hockenson continues to show improved blocking and becomes the complete tight end most thought he would be when he was drafted, it would be a massive resource for the offense.
Running backs show more life
Outside of the players in the trenches, the running backs seemed to be the group most positively impacted by the addition of pads. The energy of the group was raised, especially during the escape/tackle drills.
In the matchup drills, D’Andre Swift put a spin move on Chris Board that left him grasping for air. Craig Reynolds landed a stiff arm on an aggressive tackling attempt from Derrick Barnes and put him on the ground. Godwin Igwebuike simply outpaced DeShon Elliott to a spot and turned the corner, while Jermar Jefferson ran over AJ Parker with a brutal lowering of his shoulder—though Parker managed to still get him with a shoestring tackle.
In team drills, Reynolds showed the speed to get to the sideline before Jarrad Davis, and despite Davis’ diving tackling attempt, Reynolds simply ran through it on his way up field. Jefferson showed smart decision-making in the hole and can get through the gap quickly. While Igwebuike’s speed is difficult to match, especially when he comes on the field as a change-of-pace option.
Jefferson appears to have slipped down the depth chart amongst the reserves. He is still clearly behind Reynolds for the RB3 role, and Igwebuike’s return skills give him an easier path to the roster, but Jefferson showed today this competition isn’t over just yet.
Rest of the offense
Jared Goff continues to look sharp and in command of the offense, and didn’t appear rattled by the extra traffic in front of him with the bodies flying around in the trenches. The same couldn’t be said for the backups. We have previously noted that the backups looked slow to process and make decisions, and with the extra movement upfront, they appeared to quicken things up, but with poor results. Tim Boyle, who took his turn with the second team today, missed a few wide-open pass catchers.
Amon-Ra St. Brown did something today during one-on-ones that he didn’t do all of last season: drop a pass. St. Brown immediately held his hand up as an apology to Goff and didn’t drop another target (that I saw) during the day. He also took a misdirection play untouched about 45-yards before DeShon Elliott was able to track him down inside the 10-yard line. And to top things off, he hurdled Bobby Price during the escape/tackle drills.
DJ Chark continues to win 50/50 balls and short contested catches, which is an element of his game that I was unaware he was so good at. The Josh Reynolds-Goff connection also continues to roll on, and they connected on another back shoulder play for big yards. Another receiver that stood out was Quintez Cephus, who, as expected, was much more physical with pads on. He also had another sharp one-handed catch today, this time in one-on-one drills.
Among the reserve offensive line, Obinna Eze, Tommy Kraemer, Evan Brown, and Kevin Jarvis didn’t get beat in individual drills, Matt Nelson and Logan Stenberg spilt their reps with the defensive line, while Skipper and Zein Obeid both had rough outings. Eze in particular is looking more comfortable and continues to hold down the left tackle spot with the second team while Skipper reacclimates.
Coaches’ eyes on Malcolm Rodriguez
Ahead of practice, both coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn identified rookies Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston as players they were looking forward to watching in pads today. Houston saw a few splash plays, getting in on run fits and even dropping into coverage, but he looked about what you’d expect from a rookie in pads for the first time.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, was able to flash his instincts and intelligence, showing zero hesitation in his decision-making. Combine that with his fearless aggressiveness and the Lions definitely have something to work with.
Now, he is still repping with the reserves, but he quickly identifies correct gaps and crashes them with force. When the Lions tried a screen play to his side, he slipped past his blocks and was at the pass catcher’s side at the same time the ball arrived
He still has a lot of bodies in front of him before he is ready to take meaningful reps but the instincts are glaringly obvious and he just needs to gain experience. There’s a lot to like about the rookie’s play, fans just to be patient.
The rest of the defense
While the offense had the better day with the offensive line throwing people around, there were a few defensive players that caught my eye.
While Hutchinson was on the wrong end of a lot of offensive line play, he still had his positive moments. Still, this is the nature of the role Hutchinson has with the team. There are going to be days where he crushes people and others where offenses focus on taking him away.
In those situations where Hutchinson is occupying attention, it frees up opportunities for Charles Harris, whose tireless effort and high level of play are not lost on the offensive line.
“You can’t take a play off,” Decker said of repping against Harris. “You just can’t… I love having him on the team. He doesn’t say a word out there at practice. He’s the quietest guy. He plays super hard. He’s consistent. He’s not dirty. He just plays hard. He’s a good teammate. He’s gonna make me better. Hopefully, I can make him better.”
Another day and another time I’ve noted that Austin Bryant is making noise off the edge. He and John Cominsky–who exposes reserve offensive linemen with his penetration skills–are making predicting the bubble players a tough decision.
Speaking of potential bubble players, Jashon Cornell was one of the better run stuffers on the day and is repping higher and higher each practice. He is making a strong case for DT4 duties and should be the early favorite.
It was Mark Gilbert’s turn with the second team opposite the Okudah/Will Harris duo and he’s firmly put himself in the mix for a reserve spot.
“Man, he is not afraid,” Campbell said of Gilbert in his morning presser. “When the lights are on and it’s time to go out there and try to make a play he will – he is not afraid to challenge. He will challenge you on the perimeter. He’s not worried about getting beat.”
Gilbert has been physical during camp and today was no exception. Although his most notable play today was one he did not make. During the play, Cominsky flushed the quarterback out of the pocket to Gilbert’s side. Gilbert squared up and waited for the quarterback, but Cominsky tracked the quarterback down for the sack. Immediately following the play, his hesitancy was addressed by the coaching staff and more aggression was encouraged.
In addition to Gilbert, some other defensive backs showed well in pads and were on the positive end of some physical plays, including Will Harris, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Bobby Price, Chase Lucas, and Saivion Smith.
Tracy Walker’s coverage skills are looking sharper in camp, as he is taking much better angles on receivers. In one-on-one drills, he held his own against Kalif Raymond, shadowing his cut to the sideline while also drifting deeper down the field and anticipating the out-and-up route, which Raymond ran. In the past Walker has been aggressive in coverage and could get out of position here, but it appears his experience is helping him get to better spots.
Back to the punting drills today, and most things played out as they have through the first five days of practice. Kalif Raymond and Kalil Pimpleton remain the primary competitors, with Amon-Ra St. Brown taking the occasional rep to stay familiar with the role.
We noted last week that with C.J. Moore sidelined, Tracy Walker was taking PP (personal protector) reps with the punting unit. Walker took those reps again today, and per Dave Birkett of the Free Press, this is likely a permanent position for him. Will Harris took reserve reps at the position. You may recall that this was Harris’ role before being replaced by Moore, who will likely enter the gunner competition (a job he also previously held) once healthy.
The gunners also haven’t changed, with the primary pairing being Ifeatu Melifonwu and Bobby Price, followed by AJ Parker and Trinity Benson. Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye are putting in some reps during the individual drills—likely as emergency options—but are not involved in the team drills.
We also saw some physical play during special teams drills from Melifonwu, Harris, Barnes, Anthony Pittman, and Josh Woods.
One final note
The Lions welcomed fans into practice again, and they designated a section right in front of the running backs for the Kids Kicking Cancer group. Lions’ assistant coach/running backs coach made a point of going over to talk with the group ahead of practice and told them the running backs group was going to be practicing for those children today, per Jeremy Reisman. Team president Rod Wood also made time to talk with the group a little later on during practice.