Yesterday, I took a look at how the offense performed during the Lions' practice at Ford Field. Today, I will look at the defense and special teams.
The defensive line doesn't have a ton of depth (especially with Jared DeVries now out for the season), but they looked pretty good on Saturday. In these situations it's always tough to judge if the defensive line is getting better or if the offensive line is struggling, but I think it's probably a combination of both. The D-line got good penetration on running plays and put pressure on the quarterbacks when they dropped back to pass. Even when there wasn't a ton of penetration, Grady Jackson and his fellow defensive tackles plugged a lot of holes. Calvin Johnson looks taller than everyone on offense, but on defense I think Jackson is quite a bit wider than most. He probably equals 2 Dennis Northcutts.
The linebackers seemed to work a lot on going after the ball. One of the drills they spent a good amount of time on was catching the ball on what looked like a deflected pass, getting them ready to make interceptions once the season begins. Aside from that, there's not much I can tell you about the linebackers since no contact was allowed for all but one part of practice. Similar to the running backs, it's tough to judge the linebackers since you don't know when a tackle would have actually been made.
Moving on to the secondary, the cornerback position has definitely been upgraded with Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, and Eric King. One DB got burned by Matthew Stafford on a pump fake, leading to a long TD in a 1-on-1 drill, but that was the only critical mistake that stuck out to me. (I don't really count Culpepper's long TD pass since he was sacked and it seemed like the DB gave up on covering Calvin Johnson.) Both Louis Delmas and Daniel Bullocks were out, which was a blow to the depth at safety. It gave the rest of the safeties a chance to show coaches what they are made of, though.
I can't say enough about how good Jason Hanson is. I don't remember seeing him miss a single field goal during practice, and he was nailing them from 50+ yards with ease. Some of his kicks would have probably been good from 60 yards, which shows you that some players just get better with age in the NFL.
The team didn't practice kick returns at all, and the only punt-related drill they did involved downing the ball near the end zone. For the most part, the returners called for a fair catch. Once the ball was downed by Ramzee Robinson right at the goal line, and then another time the ball bounced by everyone for a touchback. Derrick Williams acted like he was catching the ball, but it actually sailed over his head and into the end zone. The players trying to down the ball completely lost sight of it, resulting in the touchback.