With pads on for the first time, there was a noticeable increase in intensity at Allen Park Tuesday morning. The Detroit Lions really opened practice up, getting in far more team drills, as well as full-speed positional reps. It’s not just exhilarating for the players, but for the writers that have had to deal with 60 percent speed and limited contact, Tuesday’s practice felt like the true first day of practice.
There were a lot of things to behold—far too many for the single eye to catch. So here are my nine players who stood out during Tuesday’s practice, but make sure to check out Erik Schlitt’s own observations from training camp coming later on Tuesday.
Tuesday was Alim McNeill day. Head coach Dan Campbell kicked the day off by trying to hold back his obvious admiration for McNeill in the opening presser, but couldn’t help it.
“I think this kid’s going to be able to do more than just play a nose (tackle),” Campbell said. “I think there’s going to be more to this kid than just that.”
Then McNeill took the field and immediately showed why they call him “twinkle toes.” No 330-pound player should move that quick. On his very first rep during 3-on-3s with the offensive, he immediately sent two offensive linemen two the ground as everyone tripped over each other. Then, poor newbie Evan Boehm got tossed by McNeill on back-to-back plays.
54 was just all over my notebook today, and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn couldn’t help but give the young man praise, too.
“I tell you what, man, he’s unbelievable,” Glenn said after practice. “Strong, agile, everything that we expected when we got him.”
For the second straight day, Pittman was making plays in coverage. Yesterday, he picked off David Blough in zone coverage, and he nearly did it again on Tuesday. Again, he jumped a route that was a good four or five yards away when he broke on the pass. He was able to get there in time to knock it down, but not pick it off.
Pittman also made a physical hit along with cornerback AJ Parker that drew “ooohs” from his teammates.
Unprompted, Pittman got love from Glenn after practice.
“A guy that really stands out is Pittman. He’s making plays on the ball, he’s running to the ball. You see the physical nature of him. There’s a lot of things about that player that I like”
Cephus had one of the earliest big plays of the day, beating Parker for a deep pass from Tim Boyle during 11-on-11s.
Getting used both on the outside and the slot, Cephus continues to have one of the more consistent camps among the Lions’ wide receiver group. In the slot, he took Corn Elder’s lunch money on one rep, gaining a couple extra steps on the nickel corner.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
The Lions’ lead candidate for the starting slot receiver job, St. Brown certainly had a notable practice. During a special teams drill practicing on one-on-one blocking, he got into a slap/punching fight with fellow rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu. St. Brown won the rep, completely stymying the corner, who took exception to the way he was blocking.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the two got another special teams rep against each other—with the roles reversed—as well as some matchups against each other during 7-on-7s. Both went without incident.
But St. Brown wasn’t just throwing punches, he was also a huge weapon during team drills. His best play came on a seam route. He cleanly beat Parker off the line, and his speed up the middle was enough for Goff to get him the ball before Tracy Walker could close in on him. It likely would have been a 50+ yard touchdown.
It’s early, but it doesn’t look like anyone is going to catch Jefferson for the RB3 job. His ability to make one cut and go was on display Tuesday, as he had two of the biggest runs of the day. Both involved finding a cutback lane and just exploding with acceleration.
Jefferson’s testing times weren’t great for the draft, but as general manager Brad Holmes noted, he plays a lot faster on the field and that much was obvious.
The forgotten man in a deep defensive line rotation, Strong made a compelling case for a 53-man roster spot during the first padded practice. Granted more playing time with Michael Brockers sidelined, Strong dominated both during one-on-ones and team drills.
I credited him with two out of two wins during 3-on-3s with the offensive line—including a decisive win over Halapoulivaati Vaitai. During team drills, he was even better. He got a simulated sack and a tackle for loss, proving he can still bring some disruption to the backfield.
I wouldn’t say Okwara was notably dominating Penei Sewell in the pair’s first padded practice, but any time anyone else lined up opposite Okwara, it got ugly. Both Tommy Kraemer and Dan Skipper felt his wrath during positional drills.
The Lions also got some edge pressure from former first-round pick Charles Harris. Harris displayed his ability to set the edge as a run defender during 11-on-11s, and while his pass rush remains a work in progress—he was stopped by rookie Tommy Kraemer during one set of positional drills—he also created pressure on a couple of situations during team drills.
I wanted to include one quick section on Flowers, since his transition to stand-up linebacker has been a big topic of discussion, specifically his ability to drop into coverage. Flowers showed on Tuesday that that is in his arsenal, as late in practice, Flowers sneakily dropped back into coverage, directly into the throwing lane to Tyrell Williams, who had beaten his man by a couple steps on a quick slant. Goff never saw Flowers, and the edge defender easily knocked down the pass.