The Detroit Lions returned to the outside field on Tuesday after thunderstorms forced them inside on Monday. With the full pads on and a decent crowd in attendance, it was an active and eventful day at Allen Park.
Here are my observations from Day 12 of Lions camp.
Austin Bryant’s very good day
The Lions’ 2019 fourth-round pick hasn’t had much of any opportunity to shine in training camp during his first two years of his career, having spent most of that time on the sidelines due to an injury. Tuesday was the best I’ve seen him play since donning the Honolulu Blue. Bryant picked up three sacks during team drills, two of them on back-to-back plays.
On the first, he simply beat Dan Skipper to the edge. The next play, the Lions tried to put a tight end in front of him (Alize Mack). Bryant easily disposed of him and came crashing down on the quarterback again.
Outside linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard was impressed with big plays here and there, but he still looking for consistency from Bryant.
“He’s catching my eye as well. Just with him, like I said, you can flash, but this isn’t a flash business,” Sheppard said. “You better have a level of consistency that’s continuing to ascend, ascend, ascend as the year goes on.”
Though he did say that level of consistency is starting to come with Bryant.
“Absolutely. I’m thoroughly impressed by 9-4 right now.”
With so many players beaten up right now, several depth players got a chance to make an impression with extra playing time. Let’s go position-by-position.
With Breshad Perriman still not participating in team drills, Kalif Raymond was repping with the first-team offense as the outside receiver opposite Tyrell Williams. Raymond had a big play on a one-minute drill (more on that later), and he pulled a brilliant double move against the second-team defense that had safety Alijah Holder reacting a bit too late.
His ability to play inside and outside makes him pretty darn close to a roster lock. Just look at what Dan Campbell had to say about him.
“Kalif’s a stud. He embodies everything we’re about. Anybody that has flexibility, versatility, position, flex, smart, on top of the ability that he has, it helps significantly.”
Also of note, new wide receiver Darius Jennings was immediately placed into the kick return battle, shagging kickoffs alongside Tom Kennedy during one special teams session. Jennings led the NFL in kick return average back in 2018.
No D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, or Michael Warren during team drills, which meant a lot of Jamaal Williams and even more of both Godwin Igwebuike and Dedrick Mills. Unfortunately, Detroit’s depth beyond RB3 continues to look substandard. That said, both Igwebuike and Mills had good reps during pass protection drills against Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, respectively.
The interior defensive line situation is beginning to look dire. With Michael Brockers still resting, as well as John Penisini and Levi Onwuzurike nursing injuries, the Lions couldn’t afford more bad luck. Unfortunately, they got it. Da’Shawn Hand left practice early with a leg injury and Kevin Strong limped off the field at the end of practice.
Prior to his injury, Strong was getting a lot of reps with the first-team defense and continued to look solid. Jashon Cornell played almost all of practice with the first-team defense. By the end of practice, though, they were forced to shift things around, occasionally repping Trey Flowers inside for help.
The Lions do have a bunch of new names at defensive tackle, including PJ Johnson, Bruce Hector, Miles Brown, and Michael Barnett, but none have stood out in their short time with the team yet.
With Corn Elder sidelined for a bit, the Lions signed Nickell Robey-Coleman to help with depth in the slot. Interestingly enough, Campbell said that Mike Ford—the team’s starting nickel for all of training camp—would move to the outside for some reps.
“Mike Ford is going to transition a little from nickel going to outside,” Campbell said. “We’re going to get a pretty good look at him out there, too. So it just — he gives us more flexibility and a guy who’s done it and played it, knows it. That was really kind of the premise behind doing it.”
However, that transition hasn’t happened yet. Robey-Coleman had an acclimation day and did not participate in team drills, leaving Ford exclusively at the nickel for at least one more day.
AJ Parker, who has been getting more opportunities in the slot with Elder out, almost made another big play at camp today. He stepped in front of a Tim Boyle pass intended for Amon-Ra St. Brown and timed the jump perfectly. Unfortunately, he dropped the pass.
One more injury scare
There was a tense moment near the end of practice that nearly took out two of the Lions’ most important players. During 7-on-7 drills, Jared Goff targeted T.J. Hockenson deep on a well-thrown ball. Hockenson just couldn’t hold onto it with Jeff Okudah defending on the play. Okudah stayed down for a couple of seconds, while Hockenson limped off.
From there Okudah sat on the sidelines for the rest of the 7-on-7 reps (replaced by Ifeatu Melifonwu). However, he would return during the next 11-on-11 drills. Hockenson, on the other hand, did not participate in team drills during the rest of practice. However, he did not leave the practice field and didn’t appear to have a noticeable injury after practice ended. He told the Detroit Free Press he’s “all good.”
One-minute drill is... bad
Toward the end of practice, the Lions ran a one-minute drill with the first and second teams. Here was the scenario:
- 1:01 left
- No timeouts
- Down two points
- Starting on own 25-yard line
Here’s how Jared Goff and the first-team offense did
First-and-10, 25-yard line: Ball tipped at the line, almost intercepted, incomplete.
Second-and-10, 25-yard line: Dump off to Jamaal Williams for 4 yards, tackled in bounds
Third-and-6, 29-yard line: Pass to Darren Fells for about 6, tackled in bounds, first down.
First-and-10, 35-yard line: Spike
Second-and-10, 35-yard line: False start on Victor Bolden
Second-and-15, 30-yard line: Pass up the middle to Kalif Raymond for 20 yards.
First-and-10, 50-yard line: Spike — just 9 seconds left
Second-and-10, 50-yard line: Desperation pass, incomplete. 2 seconds left
From there, they simply attempted a field goal from the 50-yard line for practice. Randy Bullock pushed it wide right.
The second team was far worse. Led by Tim Boyle, Detroit’s offense couldn’t manage a single first down, even after being gifted an offsides penalty on the defense to start the drive. On the next play, Julian Okwara was credited with a sack. On fourth-and-16, the Lions' defense sent a blitz, and Boyle’s prayer was unanswered.
The good news is that Bullock’s practice 50-yard kick with the second team was good. Interesting that Matthew Wright didn’t even get an opportunity here.
UPDATE: Well, this explains it. Wright has been waived, and the Lions are signing free agent kicker Zane Gonzalez.
Obviously, it will take a while for the Lions' offense to develop a rhythm for late-game scenarios, and it’s worth pointing out they were missing their two biggest weapons in D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson. But I think this highlights some of Detroit’s current struggles that could hurt them in 2021. Goff’s hesitation and overreliance on checkdowns just won’t work in a gotta-have-it scenario. And when Detroit’s kickers can’t make anything beyond 50 yards, these kinds of late-game scenarios will only be tougher. This is a drastic shift from the Matthew Stafford/Matt Prater era.