After getting soaked and sent home during last Friday's practice, I was fortunate enough to come back and get a glimpse of the Detroit Lions' first practice open to the public on Monday afternoon. The crowd was much smaller than in recent past, but I assume that's because we were required to get tickets this year and keep it from getting too out of hand. That being said, it was a beautiful (albeit extremely hot) day for football and it was nice to see the players back on the field.
There are plenty of reasons why you should be excited about the offense this year. For one, it's Jim Bob Cooter's offense, and we've seen what he was able to do with limited weapons during the second half of last year. Secondly, the front offense has done a fantastic job of adding pieces to soften the blow from Calvin Johnson's retirement.
As our own Justin Simon pointed out earlier today, the top six receivers on the Lions are making approximately $8 million less than what Johnson's cap hit would have been this year. That's pretty remarkable.
I can also say with confidence that this year's WR crop looks much better than last year, and that is no slight to Calvin. There is much more depth this year from top to bottom, and the competition for the fourth and fifth (maybe even sixth) receiver spot is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
I don't have much to say about Golden Tate because we already know what he is at this point. He's Mr. Reliable and is more than likely going to get 90-100 receptions and be a key part of the offense as he and Matthew Stafford continue to strengthen their chemistry on the field. But surprisingly, Anquan Boldin is another guy who has already been connecting with Stafford a ton, and he's got some incredibly sticky hands. On one particular play, Boldin was matched up against Quandre Diggs in the slot and displayed strong hands to make a tough contested grab over the top of him. Get used to seeing Boldin become a big part of this offense. He's got plenty of gas left in the tank.
Another fun matchup to watch is Marvin Jones versus Darius Slay. Jones got the better of Slay a couple times during Sunday's practice, but Slay made up for it on Monday by breaking up a few passes. Still, Jones continued to impress on the field. The Lions are going to need his size and speed, and he looks like a legitimate deep threat out there. He also made an impressive catch on a designed screen play during 11-on-11 drills and moves extremely well for a taller receiver. If you weren't already a fan of the Marvin Jones acquisition, you will be soon. Trust me.
The UDFA receivers also stood out during Monday's practice, for better or for worse. Jace Billingsley had a rough day, dropping at least two passes and was overshadowed by Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis. Lee probably has the advantage over all three of them for now due to his speed and ability to stretch the field. He caught two passes for touchdowns, including one where he completely undressed Adairius Barnes on a double move. Lee also burned cornerback Alex Carter fairly easily on a deep route early in the day. Davis isn't nearly as fast as Lee, but he may have the most reliable and natural hands of the receivers fighting for a roster spot.
TJ Jones also had a solid practice and earned Play of the Day honors after laying out for a pass from Dan Orlovsky, bringing on loud cheers from the fans.
I wasn't able to see enough of the offensive line, as their individual drills were happening on the far side of the field, but I did get a good glimpse of the first and second teams during 11-on-11 drills. For the first-team offense, you had Taylor Decker in at left tackle and Riley Reiff on the right side. Laken Tomlinson (left) and Larry Warford (right) were your starting guards and Travis Swanson earned the starting reps at center. Decker is an absolute skyscraper on the field at all times and seems to fit in nicely on the left side. You should see some real improvement with the offensive line play this year.
As for the second-team offense... From left to right you had Cornelius Lucas, Joe Dahl, Gabe Ikard, Geoff Schwartz and Michael Ola. That means no Graham Glasgow, who continues to be the third-string center for now. You can tell that Ola still wants that starting right tackle job back, because he was noticeably good today and was stonewalling guys left and right during team drills.
There's not much to say about the quarterback situation just yet. Matthew Stafford is light years better than the guys behind him, and Dan Orlovsky appears to have the edge over Jake Rudock for now. Both of the backups were hot and cold, but Rudock's arm seems to be even worse than advertised. Orlovsky had a little more zip on his throws.
The running back drills were fairly tame throughout the day and you didn't see a whole lot of contact, but Ameer Abdullah was his same ole' shifty self. There is no one out there that can keep up with this kid's movement. Give him some room and he's going to put linebackers in the hospital. Once we get some more contact during running plays, I'll be able to get a better look at the running back situation.
It's early, but Eric Ebron looked like a stud on Monday and made a couple impressive one-handed catches. He also had a play where he nearly dropped an easy pass, but held on at the last second. He is noticeably faster and more fluid than the rest of the TEs on the roster, but I was also very impressed with Cole Wick. He's a bit sluggish, but can be a reliable option in 12 or 22 personnel packages.
Despite it taking place on the opposite side of the field, you could tell that the defensive linemen were getting the better of the offensive linemen in 1-on-1 drills. This doesn't surprise me a ton, because the Lions have some pretty quick defensive tackles and some slow offensive interior guys.
The starters in the secondary looked solid for the most part, but Darius Slay is on another level. No one looks smoother than Slay in individual drills, and Quandre Diggs is the only one that comes close. Slay had a few deflections during team drills, including one on a deep ball from Stafford to Marvin Jones and another where he was draped all over Jones on a short route. This man deserved an extension and the Lions got him for more than an affordable price. Lions fans should be ecstatic that he's locked up for another four years.
Nevin Lawson was your No. 2 CB across from Slay and continues to see his stock trending upward. He broke up a pass intended for Andre Caldwell late in team drills.
Rookie safety Miles Killebrew looks noticeably raw on the field, and ran with the third-team behind Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson as a big nickelback, so I wouldn't expect to see him start anytime soon, but the upside is still through the roof with this kid. He has an impressive physique when standing next to the rest of the safeties.
Keith Lewis looked noticeably taller than the rest of the CBs and had a decent day overall. I don't expect him to make the final roster, but he's a guy I'll be keeping a closer eye on throughout camp. Johnson Bademosi also stood out to me, but not in a good way. He looks more like a safety than a CB and got beaten pretty badly on a few different reps.
The linebackers didn't stand out today, but Jon Bostic continued to work with the first-team defense, which I find interesting. That's something to keep tabs on throughout the rest of August. Josh Bynes looked very quick in 1-on-1 drills. It's not his best position, but I wonder if he'll have a shot at winning the starting SAM spot over Kyle Van Noy.
I was excited to see A'Shawn Robinson on the field today, but I don't remember seeing him once. Haloti Ngata also had some very light reps during Monday's practice. I don't know if he has a minor injury, or if they just want to play safe with him due to his age.
Stefan Charles and Laken Tomlinson got into a heated altercation during 1-on-1 drills early in practice and apparently Tomlinson threw a punch. That's about as heated as it'll ever get during Lions Training Camp unless Titus Young walks through that door.
I don't remember seeing the kickers take any reps on Monday, but that's not exactly a competition worth talking about anyway. Matt Prater has that on lock. The real focus is on the #LongSnapperWatch2016. Despite drafting Jimmy Landes with a sixth-round pick, Don Muhlbach has much more zip on his snaps and is a ton more consistent than the rookie out of Baylor. It will be interesting to see how this competition moves forward, because Muhlbach simply is outperforming Landes on every rep.
One thing worth noting is that Landes moves much better than the Muhldozer. If you're weighing in the ability to run in kick/punt coverage, that's probably the only area that Landes has the advantage right now.
Sam Martin is a lock to be your starting punter -- the Lions don't even have another punter at camp -- and he also showed off his supreme athleticism by making a one-handed grab while playing catch with Prater.
Fellow Pride Of Detroit staffer Ryan Mathews also gave his observations in a Facebook Live session. You can watch that below.