If you haven’t already, check out my full breakdown of Friday’s practice here. While that is a pretty comprehensive look of what happened during the Detroit Lions’ fourth padded practice of the year, I wanted to take some time to focus specifically on five players that really made a positive impression. These players deserve a little extra attention for their efforts on Friday, and I wanted to delve into what that could mean for the team in 2020.
Here are five players that stood out to me from Friday’s practice.
If you read every single training camp observations from Monday to Friday, I’m not sure you’d see more than a handful of passing observations on Trey Flowers. The reason for that is Lions left tackle Taylor Decker, who is having as close to a perfect training camp as I’ve seen.
Personally, I haven’t seen him lose a one-on-one rep against defensive lineman, and Matthew Stafford’s left side has been clean during team drills, as well. For a guy that’s likely about to get paid, he sure is leaving a positive impression on Lions general manager Bob Quinn.
In our latest Bubble Watch, five staff members had rookie running back Jason Huntley on the final roster, while only four thought the same of Ty Johnson. Though I was one of the four, it really felt like a toss up to me. However, after seeing the way the Lions are using him early—plenty of reps with the first-team offense—and how Johnson is responding by being a tough matchup in coverage and looking somewhat comfortable running between the tackles, I’m starting to think we’ve all underestimated the guy.
I’m not calling Johnson a roster lock or anything right now, as a lot can change in the next three weeks. However, Johnson is going to make it really hard for this team to even consider cutting him.
No one looks as effortless when going up against Lions defenders than T.J. Hockenson. On Friday, he beat the Lions’ best tight end defender in Tracy Walker with relative ease, and he continues to get a ton of wide-open catches during team drills.
I hate to be the guy that brings back the Hockenson hype train after the way last season ended, but it’s also very hard for me to see a similar result this year. The Year 2 jump seems quite probable given the way he’s performed thus far in camp.
Easily the biggest surprise from Friday was Shelton flashing some serious pass rushing skills. Here’s what I wrote about Shelton after Tuesday’s practice:
Joe Dahl easily handled Shelton on back-to-back reps, but Detroit likely isn’t expecting much pass rush help from the 335-pound nose tackle.
Shelton answered that call by completely blowing by Frank Ragnow with some impressive short-area speed on Friday. Ragnow, who has looked impenetrable this week, looked as shocked by the moment as I was. And to top it off, Shelton did almost the exact same thing to Joe Dahl when he lined up for the next rep.
I’m still skeptical of Shelton’s overall pass rushing abilities. He only has 4.5 career sacks in five seasons, after all. However, three of those came last season, so it’s certainly possible the 27-year-old has some new tricks up his sleeve.
We finish with Julian Okwara, a guy I’ve tried to focus heavily on in the first two practices I’ve attended. The first on Tuesday, I barely got to see much of him at all. During individual drills, he was mostly working with special teams, not the linebackers. And during team drills, he only got a handful of reps.
While they’re still taking him along slowly, Okwara did see a lot more opportunities during Friday’s practice. Working some with the second-string defense at jack linebacker, Okwara displayed his burst off the edge and picked up what would’ve been at least two sacks during full-team periods.
Okwara’s main concern is his lack of pass rushing moves and overreliance on his speed, but during one rep on Friday, I saw his initial pass rush denied, only to see Okwara with a smooth spin move inside to get a late pressure on the quarterback. To see that kind of progress this quickly has got to be a good sign for the Lions’ third-round pick.