On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions will don pads for the first time in training camp. Before we get to that, now is a good time to reflect on everything we have learned from the team’s first five practices at Allen Park. Obviously, with no pads, it’s hard to make any sort of definitive statements about the offensive or defensive linemen. Similarly, for most positions, it’s far too early to declare who has won a camp battle considering we aren’t even at preseason Game 1 yet.
Still, here are my eight biggest takeaways from Detroit’s first five training camp practices.
The defense is significantly ahead of the offense
Maybe this means the defense is significantly better. Maybe this means the offense is significantly worse. More than likely it’s a combination of both. But regardless, the defense has been making plays all offseason with a lot of broken-up passes and a couple of interceptions.
This is really highlighted in the red zone, where the defense has been lights out, and the offense has really struggled to punch it in.
Remember, this is all without the benefit of a running game so far, but when it comes to the passing game the defense has been king.
Jared Goff has been accurate, but indecisive
You can’t talk about the passing game without talking about Jared Goff. It’s been a mild start to camp for the new Lions quarterback. He doesn’t miss his target very often, but it’s clear he still working on chemistry and finding comfortability in the system. While last week he said he loves to throw the ball deep, his first week of training camp practices was more defined by dump-offs and checkdowns. It’s probably worth noting that he also said this.
“Checkdowns are my friend.”
Maybe it’s Goff playing it safe after turning the ball over a lot over the past couple of years. Maybe he’s having trouble going through his progressions. Or maybe...
Lions need a wide receiver to step up
There just haven’t been any big plays made really by any wide receivers this camp, let alone the presumed top two in Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. For the first time all camp, Goff found Perriman for a big play on Monday, but it had been extremely quiet for the Lions receiver prior to that.
Williams has been a little more consistent and is clearly the Lions’ best wide receiver, but it remains to be seen whether he can truly handle duties as the No. 1 guy. For now, cornerback Jeff Okudah has gotten the better of him.
Detroit will ride the hot hand at running back—but we may finally see two on the field at the same time
Both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams have shared the load of first-team reps at running back, and there doesn’t appear to be a heavy preference in either direction. In fact, head coach Dan Campbell specifically said that during the game, they will often roll with whoever has the hot hand at the time.
“We’re going to use both of those guys, they know that,” Campbell said. “A guy gets a hot hand, he’s rolling.”
For those worried that Swift won’t get enough touches this year with Williams vulturing some playing time, Campbell also noted that Swift isn’t going to sit idly by if Williams is feeling it.
“If Jamaal is in there, we’re rolling. Jamaal is going to be rolling and we’ll use Swift for other things, which is fine,” Campbell said. “That’s a good problem to have.”
During Monday’s practice, Swift didn’t get much of any work in team drills, leading many to speculate that he may have been dealing with an injury. However, assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley quickly shut that down after practice.
“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Staley said. “Today was set up for Jamaal and a couple of other backs.”
Guess Williams was the hot hand Monday.
Jeff Okudah, Tracy Walker look dialed in
It’s easy to note the drastic changes in the ways that both Jeff Okudah and Tracy Walker are carrying themselves at practice. They’ve got a ton more energy on the field, they’re smiling and they’ve clearly bolstered their confidence, too.
That’s led to plenty of on-field improvements, too. Okudah is in on almost every play that goes in his direction. Of course, he’s not going up against the likes of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. this year. Still, it’s hard not to notice his confidence building out there.
As for Walker, he hasn’t made as many plays as Okudah—though he hasn’t been beaten much, either. However, one impressive moment came during Monday’s practice. In the second rep of 11-on-11s, Walker closed in on a crossing route from T.J. Hockenson, forcing Jared Goff to throw it at the tight end’s back shoulder. The pass was a little off and fell incomplete. After that set of 11-on-11s, Walker ran to the video screen, loaded up that play on a tablet, and watched the replay about a half-dozen times.
That speaks to both Okudah’s and Walker’s work ethic this offseason. While many players spend special teams drills catching their breath, both of those players have spent that time alongside a coach or going through reps with Aaron Glenn or Aubrey Pleasant.
Some rookies are being fast-tracked, others may be looking to 2022
When it comes to first-round pick Penei Sewell, third-round pick Alim McNeill and fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown, those Lions rookies will likely see the field on Day 1—perhaps Play 1—of the regular season. All three players have been regularly getting first-team reps at their respective position, and none seem like they’re going to relinquish that position.
On the other hand, the Lions have taken it very slow with both second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike and third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu. Both players are dealing with a fairly deep roster at their position—defensive tackle and cornerback, respectively—and may not see the field much immediately. That being said, Onwuzurike has a better chance of making an impact simply because of the amount of rotation a defensive line goes through.
Derrick Barnes has been only getting light work lately, potentially due to an injury. So it’s hard to get a read on his track.
The specialist battles may already be done
Both long snappers Don Muhlbach and kicker Randy Bullock entered training camp as the presumed leader in the clubhouse, and nothing has indicated that will change.
I have yet to see Bullock miss a field goal in camp—though I haven’t seen him attempt one beyond 50 yards either. His competition, Matthew Wright, had a rough session on Saturday, converting just three of six field goals with all attempts coming from 45 yards or shorter.
Muhlbach has been showing Scott Daly the ropes at long snapper, but there is no reason to believe Daly will truly push for the starting job.
Aubrey Pleasant is a stud
There is no coach out there that seems to be having more fun than the Lions defensive backs coach. He is clearly very effective at motivating his players, as they all seem to seek him out individually during down times.
“Every chance we get, we’re trying to pick Coach Pleasant’s brain,” Amani Oruwariye said on Monday. “He loves football, he loves studying the game”
As a former DB himself, he’s always very involved in every drill, showing off his own footwork and hand placement.
“He is a hell of a teacher,” Campbell said last week. “He is engaging, he’s thorough, he’s interactive, he’s energetic, he’s vibrant, he gets it. There’s a reason why he’s good at what he does, and he’s coached some good players and developed good talent.”
The work Pleasant did in Los Angeles speaks for itself, but seeing him do the actual work is something to behold. The future is bright for Pleasant.