You couldn't have painted a better picture for Wednesday night's Detroit Lions practice at Novi High School. It was an absolutely gorgeous night for football and the weather was perfect. If you were on top of things, it was relatively easy to get yourself some free tickets to the practice, although it did sell out quite fast. According to Tim Twentyman, the attendance reached 7,200, which was a pretty solid turnout. My wife and I arrived about an hour before practice and struggled to find any space in the bleachers before finally settling in.
We waited for about 40 minutes before the players ran onto the field and practice began. As the players began their stretching, I noticed both Alex Carter and Jason Jones sitting out. Jones ended up walking around during D-linemen drills, talking to his teammates and encouraging them.
The night started off relatively slow and began with special teams drills. Jeremy Ross, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Lance Moore, Ameer Abdullah and Ryan Broyles were all back to field punts, while Sam Martin and local prospect Kyle Brindza booted some balls their way. Both Martin and Brindza had a couple of mishits and were a bit inconsistent, but it's clear that Martin easily has the superior leg.
The return drills became more physical after each rep, but for the most part it was pretty tame. I was most impressed with Abdullah weaving his way through defenders, while Tate and Jones really stood out to me as well. I was admittedly less focused on what was going on with the gunner drills.
Matt Prater had a pretty routine day, knocking down all 10 kicks with ease from about 40 yards. Each kick was drilled right down the middle, and he even hit one of the camera men on the scissor lift above the goal posts a couple times.
After that, the position groups broke off into separate drills. Ezekiel Ansah looks to be easily the most explosive player on the D-line and there is a pretty steep drop-off after that. I was unable to get a great look at most of the O-line/D-line drills, unfortunately, so I'll try to focus more on the trenches later this week. Laken Tomlinson appeared to get most of the first-team reps at left guard over Manny Ramirez, though, which is a good sign.
In 1-on-1 drills, Tomlinson appeared to hold his ground, while Riley Reiff shut down Ansah on both attempts. One player who caught my eye was Corey Wootton, who completely caught Xavier Proctor off guard and blew past him quite easily.
The first 11-on-11 drill began with Matthew Stafford airing it out deep to Megatron on three of the first four plays, if I remember correctly. Stafford got a little too excited and overthrew Calvin on two of the throws -- although it appeared that Megatron eased up and may have slipped on one of the throws -- but on the second attempt he dropped in a perfect pass over defensive back Josh Wilson for a TD as the crowd gave a big cheer.
For the most part, Stafford looked pretty solid and continued to have a great camp so far. Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky did the exact opposite of impressing me, and fourth-string quarterback Garrett Gilbert had a nice throw or two, but I highly doubt he has much of a shot at making the final roster.
Some receivers who stood out were Corey Fuller and Vernon Johnson. Fuller seems to be under a bit of pressure after an underwhelming 2014 season, but he did a nice job of separating and hauling in several catches, including a beautiful rope from Stafford across the middle toward the end of practice.
Though his chances of making the roster are pretty thin, Vernon Johnson may have had the most impressive performance of the night at wide receiver. He hauled in a beautifully thrown deep ball from Gilbert away from his body, and also made a great diving grab for arguably the catch of the night. Keep an eye out for him during the preseason.
The tight ends had a relatively uneventful night. Eric Ebron had an early drop, and you could hear a few groans from the crowd, but after that he was on point and made a few nice grabs later on. I really believe that Ebron is going to have a stellar year. He seems really focused. Joseph Fauria wasn't targeted very often, but did make a brilliant one-handed grab on a poorly thrown ball from Orlovsky. Other than that, I can't really say that any other TEs stood out.
With Joique Bell out, Abdullah looks leaps and bounds better than every other RB out there. His shiftiness is no joke, and his first cut is absolutely dirty. If you aren't already a big fan of his, you will be very soon. That being said, there were some moments where Abdullah looked pretty indecisive as a runner, but I wouldn't be too worried. Theo Riddick received a lot of reps and looked surprisingly good as a runner and also had a nasty juke that completely fooled James Ihedigbo on a screen pass.
Zach Zenner and George Winn both had pretty solid practices and it's hard to put one over the other. One very strange note from Wednesday's practice is that almost everyone looked like they were out to kill Zenner. Tahir Whitehead hit him hard twice and another player I was unable to identify completely knocked him on his butt.
Michael Burton also had a pretty solid day and it's pretty obvious he'll be making the team as the Lions' starting fullback. He had a couple of nice grabs and looks to be a pretty solid passing option out of the backfield. A lot more talented than Jed Collins.
Speaking of Whitehead... he played very hungry. Some of the hits he dished out were by far the loudest of the night. It was great to see Stephen Tulloch back too; he seemed to be in great shape after coming off of a freak injury. If I were to guess, it looks like the Lions' starting linebackers are almost set with DeAndre Levy, Tulloch and Whitehead as your SAM. Kyle Van Noy didn't look bad, but he still has some work to do. There was one particular play where Van Noy had a nice deflection on a floater from Orlovsky, and he also had a nice jump on punt coverage and may have pulled off a blocked punt had it been a real play.
There wasn't much to report on for the defensive backs, unfortunately. Josh Wilson was targeted often and early and was abused by Megatron (can't really blame him). Darius Slay got at least one "finger wag" in after breaking up a pass between Moore and Vernon Johnson.
Like I mentioned already, I was unable to get a good look at the trenches, but from what I can recall, the guys who really stood out were Reiff, Cornelius Lucas and Tomlinson on the offensive side of the ball, as well as Ansah, Caraun Reid and Wootton on defense. My goal is to get a closer look at the offensive and defensive lines during open practices later in the week.
That's about all I have from Wednesday night's practice. For live updates you can follow me on twitter at @alex_reno. I'll try to make every open practice that I can and maybe even live broadcast (if they let me) camp from Periscope.