I walked into Allen Park today hoping to get a better, more updated, glimpse of the Detroit Lions defensive scheme. While there was plenty of information to see on the defensive side of the ball, it was the offense that stole the show during the fifth day of voluntary organized team activities (OTA).
Let’s start my observations by addressing the 10 things I wanted to see during today’s practice.
Who will show? And the fallout of those absences.
The Lions were down 10 players by my and Jeremy Reisman’s count:
- RB Rakeem Boyd
- FB Nick Bawden — Update: Lions released Bawden
- WR Tom Kennedy
- WR Damien Ratley
- TE Charlie Taumoepeau
- OT Tyrell Crosby
- DT John Penisini
- DE Austin Bryant
- LB Jamie Collins
- LB Derrick Barnes
With no Crosby in attendance, the Lions starting offensive line remained the same (from left to right): Taylor Decker—Jonah Jackson—Frank Ragnow—Hal Vaitai—Penei Sewell. Coach Dan Campbell said he expects Crosby to be in camp for next week’s mandatory mini-camp.
Penisini’s absence—along with the release of John Atkins—gave us an opportunity to get a closer look at newly signed Brian Price. He stood out positively in DL drills today, especially with his very quick hand usage.
Boyd and Kennedy continue to miss practices, which isn’t good for players fighting to hold onto the fringe of the roster. While Bawden and Bryant not being present is a rough spot for two players who have been injured every year they have been in the NFL.
Collins continues to sit, which is not unusual for a veteran, while Michael Brockers returned to practice this week, a pre-planned arrival between him and the Lions coaching staff.
“I knew he wasn’t going to be here last week,” Campbell said. “I didn’t mention anybody that wasn’t going to be here, but that wasn’t some like – I mean, he had things going on and he communicated that to me. That was nothing, so we’re happy to have him here.”
With no pads on, it’s tough to gather a lot of information on linemen, but the one thing that stood out with Brockers in drills was how smooth he was in his technique. His ability to effortlessly string together multiple moves with no wasted motion is a lot of fun to watch.
No Barnes or Collins gave us an extended look at Jahlani Tavai, who does indeed look trimmed down and smoother. It’s important not to read too much into how players rotate through drills, but it was worth noting that Tavai was the first linebacker to do every drill. That spot is typically reserved for the player who will do the drill correctly as an example to others and speaks to the coach's confidence with him.
Will we see more action from the quarterbacks?
There was a significant rise in the number of 7-on-7 reps in today’s practice and Jared Goff looked very sharp, once again.
“Look, I don’t want to get too far on this right now, but I’ll tell you what; yesterday, it was impressive,” Dan Campbell said of Goff about OTA Day 4. “He made some throws yesterday that were – my gosh – they were outstanding. Just pinpoint, accurate throws. He was good on his reads – I felt like he had one bad throw yesterday, and it was really more he was late on the throw. I want to say he made about five throws that were just, ‘Wow. OK, that’s really good. Really good.’”
Goff basically repeated that performance today.
The quarterbacks worked in five rep sets. Goff was up first, then Tim Boyle got five, back to Goff for another set, and David Blough capped off the session with five of his own.
In the opening set, Goff went a perfect five of five, and was followed up by Boyle only completing one of his throws. Goff connected on his next three, had pass broken up by Anthony Pittman, and then completed his final throw: Nine of 10 for that session, not bad.
Blough also completed all five of his throws, including a pass to Jamaal Williams who almost retired safety Godwin Igwebuike with an insane cut in his route. Williams’ move drew oohs and ahs from the offense and after he caught the pass, he turned, and while running backward, yelled towards the defense about how he had just left them in the dust.
Quite a different scene in Allen Park these days.
Goff would go on to only miss two more throws the rest of practice by my count: a sweet diving pass break up my Amani Oruwariye and a double-clutch drop that hit Jermar Jefferson between the numbers. Boyle continued to have a rough day, seeing more pass broken up or missed badly, while Blough was steady with the third (fourth?) stringers.
If you were part of the crowd hoping Boyle would push Goff for a starting job, I left today’s practice with a strong impression that they weren’t even close to one another in skill set.
Will we get to see any new wrinkles in the defensive formations/packages?
Not really. Everything went mostly as expected, but again, without pads, this was more me being hopeful.
Will any wide receivers separate themselves from the pack?
On the first play of 7-on-7s, Goff connected with Breshad Perriman for a long touchdown. It was hard to tell if the defense was in zone or if Will Harris just got matched up on Perriman, but the speedster just blew by him for an easy big play. Goff and Perriman would go on to connect at least two more times on the day for nice plays. I didn’t see Goff connect with Tyrell Williams, but when the quarterback was not involved in a play, he was often seen talking with Williams and Perriman on the sidelines.
While Goff showed a report with his starting receivers, Hockenson seemed to be his favorite target, as the Pro Bowl tight end dominated over the middle. He’s going to be a problem, folks.
The only other receivers who had multiple catches were Victor Bolden and Quintez Cephus, who each saw at least one reception from Goff and Blough. Bolden also stood out as a punt returner on special teams which should put him in direct competition with Kalif Raymond for a roster spot. Not only do the pair look like the best options at returner, but they also have a level of quickness from the slot that this roster needs.
Will the cornerback pairings remain?
Nope. Jeff Okudah remained the first option on the field, but unlike last week when Quinton Dunbar lined up opposite him, this week it was Oruwariye. Dunbar lined up opposite rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu. Things are far from settled, but this looks to be a full-on competition at the outside cornerback spot.
There was another wrinkle among the cornerbacks group, as Mike Ford was lining up at nickel with the starters. Corn Elder also saw some time there, as did UDFA rookie A.J. Parker, but this could be a developing story to watch at next week’s mini-camp.
Which safeties will step up?
Tracy Walker held down the free safety role while Harris and Dean Marlow rotated through the other spot. There were a lot of safeties rotating in through reps today, indicating this position group is far from settled.
Any special teams standouts?
C.J. Moore once again found himself in the Personal Protector (PP) role on punts—a position he took on and excelled at last season—indicating he’s another player from the safeties group who will have a real shot at making the roster. Harris also got a look in this role, as did safety Jalen Elliott, and wide receiver Sage Surratt.
During kick return drills, Jack Fox went through the motions of punting a returnable ball, but when they shifted to real punting, he shanked his first attempt. He didn’t appear too pleased and took it out on the ball during the next two attempts, forcing the return man to retreat roughly 10-yards back from his spot to field the ball. He’s fun.
Will the coaches maintain their energy/approach?
The energy is still there and the Lions are still finding ways to keep up the intensity while also enjoying what they are doing on the field. This is yet another practice where the pool of reporters inevitably end up discussing how this staff’s approach to positive/negative plays is drastically different from the last regime.