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Detroit Lions training camp observations: Day 4

With fans in Allen Park, the energy level went up a few notches.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Welcome back fans!

On Day 4 of training camp, the Detroit Lions welcomed season ticket holders back into Allen Park, marking the first time fans were in attendance for practice in nearly two years.

“We’re excited to have them out here,” coach Dan Campbell said during his morning press conference. “This is what it’s all about. I said from day one that we wanted to make this special for our fans, for this community, for the city of Detroit. This is kind of our first time to show them kind of who we are, what we are about, the new vibe we’ve got going here in Detroit, and what we’re trying to build.”

The energy was elevated, the crowd was bigger than what we have seen in recent years, and players and coaches found ways to interact with fans despite NFL rules requiring 20 feet of distance between them. From Jamaal Williams leading a dance party after walkthroughs, to players like Jared Goff, T.J. Hockenson, and Derrick Barnes throwing autographed mini-footballs into the crowd after practice, there was lots of fun to be had.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman said. “It just feels amazing to feel the energy from them. It’s been a long time since we all felt that. It felt really good, man. Can’t wait for next practice, when they’re out there again.”

The Lions are off tomorrow (Sunday) but they open up Allen Park to the general public for six days next week, beginning Monday and culminating in a Saturday practice at Ford Field.

Attendance

The Lions had the same 84 players practicing today, with C/G Evan Brown: reserve/NFI, OG Evan Heim: COVID-19 list, TE Hunter Thedford (injured on Day 2), EDGE Austin Bryant: reserve/PUP, and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin: COVID-19 list unable to practice.

Additionally, a few players left practice early, including:

  • LB Jahlani Tavai, who was not on the field after walkthroughs
  • LB Derrick Barnes, who left mid-practice and returned without a helmet and watched the rest of the day
  • CB Quinton Dunbar was limited in his participation

Offense

Well, we finally are starting to see a few deep balls completed, but it’s Tim Boyle who is showing off his gun on the long completions. Yesterday he connected with Damion Ratley on a bomb and today he found Kalif Raymond running away from Alex Brown, and Boyle made sure he didn’t miss.

Raymond has really flashed in camp and the Lions have moved him all around the offensive formation looking for ways to get him the ball. While he is still not running with the starters full time—the slot spot still belongs to Amon-Ra St. Brown—he’s making enough noise that he’s earning more time with the top group.

St. Brown hasn’t flashed as much as Raymond, but he hasn’t been bad either. He’s been consistent. His best play of camp came today making a shoelace catch at the goal line, but with Jeff Okudah trapped all over him, it looked like he came up a bit short of the touchdown.

Play of the Day

Overall the offense seemed behind the defense on the day and they seem susceptible to getting lost in the flow of the game. When things go bad, they go bad in bunches. But the opposite is true as well, when they get a spark, they tend to catch fire.

David Blough and Hockenson provided that spark on a beautiful touchdown right in front of the fans.

On the play, Hockenson ran a simple route headed towards the back corner of the end zone and was blanketed by LB Shaun Dion Hamilton in coverage. Blough dropped a touch pass that required Hockenson and Hamilton to dive for the ball and Hamilton managed to get his fingertips on it, deflecting it into the air. It appeared like a terrific pass breakup (PBU) but Hockenson contorted his body in mid-air, adjusted to the ball, and snatched it out of the air, all while having the awareness to get both feet inside the field of play for a touchdown.

Just fantastic all around and the fans appreciated it with the loudest cheer of the day.

This led to a run by the offense. Blough then completed touchdowns to Jermar Jefferson and Dedrick Mills. And when Jared Goff took the field on the ensuing series, he completed touchdown passes to Tyrell Williams and Hockenson.

The second Hockenson touchdown led to a really cool series of events where secondary Aubrey Pleasant used on-field technology to figure out why Hockenson got free and made immediate corrections.

Defense

While the defense struggled with the above series of end zone plays, for the most part, they looked sharper than the offense for most of the day. A theme the past few days of camp.

Pads are expected to be on come Monday and we should get to see some intense battle between the lines. On the defensive line, Michael Brockers is locked in as a starter and it's been Nick Williams who has lined up with him. When they are in their base formation rookie Alim McNeill continues to be the first man up at nose tackle.

Rookie Levi Onwuzurike has worked his way in with the second team now, and he and Da’Shawn Hand bring some real athleticism to the second line. When they're in base, it’s John Penisini in at nose.

When the defense shift to a subpackage, Trey Flowers has been getting some looks at defensive tackle, as defensive line coach Todd Wash eluded to earlier this offseason, which has opened things up for Julian Okwara. The younger Okwara is being used as EDGE3 right now—backing up both spots— but he is also showing some positional range that could create some exciting looks.

At linebacker, with no Tavai, Reeves-Maybin, or Barnes, it opened the doors for other linebackers. Hamilton has seen the benefit all week, but the circumstances today led to Anthony Pittman getting some run with the twos and he made back-to-back terrific plays including jumping an underneath route for a PBU that drew a huge cheer.

Another rookie working his way into the second team is Ifeatu Melifonwu. He’s not as far along as the defensive line rookies, but that’s not unusual at this stage. With Dunbar limited today, it opened up more time for Alex Brown, Jerry Jacobs, and AJ Parker as well.

The young defensive backs showed up at the end of the day, winning the last four plays of the practice. It started off with a Parker PBU, was followed up by a drop on offense, then Jacobs secured the first interception of camp, and closed out with another Parker PBU.

The Lions' defense had been teetering on an interception for days now and when Jacobs secured the pass, the defense swarmed him with cheers of excitement and energy. Quite frankly, it looked like a soccer celebration of a goal with Jacobs sprinting around and his teammates chasing him.

Special teams

It was a day to forget for kicker Matthew Wright. Coming into the day Randy Bullock had been perfect on kicks, while Wright had missed just one from 42 yards. Today, Bullock remained perfect but Wright got rattled near the end of his session and ended up missing three of his final four kicks, each looked to be around 45 yards. This is going to be a long competition but there’s a reason Bullock has been kicking in the NFL for a decade.