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Detroit Lions training camp observations, Day 5 : Getting aggressive with linebackers

The linebackers were extra active for Wednesday’s practice.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Training Camp Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Here are my overall thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ fifth day of training camp.

Participation report

The big news was that Devon Kennard was back in pads after starting training camp on the Non-Football Injury list. But Kennard participated in individual drills and walkthroughs only. Once the real hitting and team drills began, Kennard was on the sidelines. At one point, however, Kennard was working one-on-one with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni on his handwork for about five minutes.

The Lions had quite a few new players on the sidelines for Wednesday’s practice. Here’s everyone who was out:

  • Michael Roberts (new)
  • Da’Shawn Hand (new)
  • Andy Jones (PUP)
  • Ezekiel Ansah (PUP)
  • Christian Jones (NFI)
  • Dontez Ford (new)
  • Bradley Marquez (new)
  • Chad Meredith
  • Cam Johnson

Tavon Wilson returned to practice after taking Monday off, and he re-joined the first-team defense. However, Wilson was sporting the red no-contact jersey that he became all-too-familiar with last season.

Aggressive linebackers

Linebackers were hopping all over the place on Wednesday, and Matt Patricia was really challenging the offense with defenders from the second level bringing the heat. At nearly every snap, there was at least one linebacker right off the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it was on the edge, but most of the time, the Lions were sending a lot of A-gap blitzes.

This is where a versatile piece like former Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny really stood out. They lined up Freeny just about everyone along the defensive formation, but for a good 10 reps in a row, he was no further than a foot or two off the line of scrimmage.

Also it’s worth noting that during a specific A-gap blitz drill, Miles Killebrew and DeShawn Shead were hanging out with the linebacker group.

Ricky Jean Francois moving on up

For most of the day, Ricky Jean Francois was working with the first-team defense over A’Shawn Robinson. With Sylvester Williams consistently clogging up the middle of the line, Francois was mostly in the 3 or 5-tech position for most of the day.

It’s too early say who’s leading who for the starting job on the defensive line, but this may be a training camp battle that not many saw coming heading into camp.

Tight ends dominate edge rushers

For the third straight practice, the Lions had one-on-one drills with tight ends attempting to block edge rushers. The only new wrinkle on Wednesday was that the tight ends occasionally were in motion at the time of the snap, giving them a little extra momentum.

As a result, the Lions tight ends were absolutely dominant against the edge rushers. If it weren’t for a late, successful rep from Alex Barrett, it would have been a clean sweep for the tight ends. Levine Toilolo again looked like the most polished blocking tight end, while Hakeem Valles had a nice rep against Anthony Zettel.

Sit down, newbie

While Zettel was bested in that drill, he probably had the most impressive moment from Wednesday’s camp. In a simple one-on-one pass rushing drill against the offensive line, Zettel was lined up against Jamar McGloster, who was signed to the team late on Tuesday.

On the first rep, Zettel easily beat McGloster to the edge, reaching the “quarterback” for an easy sack. In this drill, they ran two consecutive snaps with the same players, and on the second rep, Zettle pulled off a Dwight Freeney-esque move that had McGloster whiffing for a second time in a row.

Offensive line chemistry not quite there yet

Together, no Lions duo may be more important than left tackle Taylor Decker and rookie left guard Frank Ragnow. It will obviously take time for those two to get on the same page, but the duo struggled in a drill meant to pick up defensive stunts. In back-to-back reps, Ragnow and Decker allowed a free rusher and gave up what would have been quick sacks had it been a full team drill.

On the other hand, the second team duo behind them was much better at the drill. Tyrell Crosby at left tackle next to Kenny Wiggins had no problem handling the stunt drill. Both Crosby and Wiggins have stood out to me as consistent players throughout camp.

While I’m on backup offensive linemen, Joe Dahl had a beautiful rep against A’Shawn Robinson in one-on-ones, re-anchoring against the physically imposing defensive tackle. But on the very next snap, Robinson drove Dahl back a good five yards into the backfield.

Drill of the day

The Lions had another drill that resembled the Oklahoma drill. This time, a skill position player would line up five yards apart from a defender, each player would start running in place, then when the coach yelled “go” the skill player would try to get by the defender. They were running about six of these concurrently, but I mostly paid attention to the running backs vs. linebackers group.

It was a pretty evenly-matched drill. The most notable rep was between Jarrad Davis and Kerryon Johnson. Unsurprisingly, Davis gave Johnson a pretty good pop, ending his forward progress right around the 2-yard line.

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