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Detroit Lions Week 3 OTA observations: Rookies get opportunity to shine

With most veterans excused for the final week of Detroit Lions OTAs, a few draft picks shined in a toned-down practice.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions had about half of the team in attendance for the first of four practices in the final week of Organized Team Activities on Monday morning. The Lions coaching staff sent most of the veteran players home for the rest of June, as the team gears up for training camp at the end of July.

With just about 45 players in attendance, it was definitely a slower-paced practice with a higher emphasis on individual and positional drills over 11-on-11 competitive drills. So here’s an abridged version of observations from Monday’s final practice open to the public prior to training camp.

Attendance

Remember that OTAs are voluntary, and for the last week the Lions excused most of their veteran players to get a closer look and more intimate coaching with their younger players. So here’s a look at the players who weren’t at practice:

Quarterbacks

  • Jared Goff

Running backs

  • Jamaal Williams
  • Jason Cabinda

Mildly surprising that D’Andre Swift was still around.

Wide receivers

  • DJ Chark
  • Josh Reynolds
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown

Jameson Williams was at practice, but sidelined. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had to lock St. Brown out of the building.

Tight ends

  • T.J. Hocknenson

Derrick Deese and James Mitchell were at practice, but not practicing.

Offensive lineman

  • Evan Brown
  • Matt Nelson
  • Taylor Decker
  • Dan Skipper
  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai
  • Jonah Jackson

Despite how important he is to the team, the Lions chose to keep Penei Sewell around for an extra work of week.

Defensive lineman

  • Alim McNeill
  • Michael Brockers
  • Levi Onwuzurike
  • Bruce Hector
  • Josh Paschal
  • Eric Banks
  • Jashon Cornell
  • Romeo Okwara
  • Julian Okwara
  • Charles Harris

Basically, the only defensive linemen in attendance were Demetrius Taylor, John Cominsky and Aidan Hutchinson (also James Houston). It’s definitely surprising both Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike didn’t hang around, but with Levi they may be choosing to be overly precautious with his back situation. Josh Paschal was likely held out due to injury.

Linebackers

  • Austin Bryant
  • Alex Anzalone
  • Jarrad Davis
  • Chris Board
  • Shaun Dion Hamilton
  • Josh Woods

Natrez Patrick was at practice, but not practicing.

Cornerbacks

  • Mike Hughes
  • Amani Oruwariye
  • Bobby Price
  • Mark Gilbert
  • AJ Parker

Jeff Okudah was still held out of team drills, but did a lot of individual drills. Ifeatu Melifonwu and Jerry Jacobs were also in attendance but did not practice. AJ Parker’s absence should definitely be considered a surprise.

Safety

  • DeShon Elliott
  • Tracy Walker
  • Will Harris
  • JuJu Hughes
  • C.J. Moore

No surprises here.

Rookie intelligence shining

Lions linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard has raved all offseason about how sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez is one of the smartest young players he’s been around. Rodriguez displayed those smarts early in practice, recognizing a screen pass almost immediately and blowing up Godwin Igwebuike behind the line of scrimmage.

“There’s things I can do with Malcolm that you might have to scale back on a third-year player, to to be honest,” Sheppard said before practice. “I saw this immediately at rookie training camp, being able to take command of the huddle.”

The other draft pick who continues to flex his mental muscle on the field is seventh-round pick Chase Lucas. Detroit continues to work hard on pre-snap motion from a defensive standpoint, communicating changes in assignments as the offense moves at a quick pace. Lucas is not only the quickest to recognize that shift in assignment, but he’s also the most vocal of the group, showing no fear in barking out assignments to the rest of the defensive backfield.

“You see Lucas, great short space quickness, great agility, has some position flexibility, and he’s very vocal,” Lions defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant said on Monday. “He’s a leader out there.”

Pleasant also made it clear that nickel cornerback is Lucas’ “home” right now. Given that AJ Parker and Mike Hughes are ahead of him on the depth chart, it seems unlikely he’ll be able to make up that ground by the end of training camp, but early returns are still positive.

Defense steps up in red zone

The offense only scored once on a total of six red zone snaps. Coverage was particularly impressive as Brady Breeze had a very good rep blanketing Kalil Pimpleton and knocking him to the ground once the quarterback had left the pocket. His play earned a hug from Aubrey Pleasant afterwards.

The best play during that portion of practice came from defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor, who continues to make the most of his early opportunities. He deflected a pass at the line, then snagged the ball out of the air for an interception.

The only slip-up from the defense came from Anthony Pittman, who had a rough day in coverage on Monday. Tight end Shane Zylstra, who stood out among the remaining tight ends, beat him cleanly on an in-breaking route.

Competitive passing

To end practice, the Lions placed a blocking dummy on a cart and slowly drove it along the goal line. Quarterbacks David Blough and Tim Boyle took turns trying to hit the blocking dummy as it traveled left to right, then back right to left. Blough bested Boyle six (of about 14 passes) to four.

Then it was time for non-quarterbacks to try the drill. Bobby Price, who had a surprisingly strong arm, was bested by a more modest-throwing Tom Kennedy. Kennedy only connected twice with the dummy, but after winning, he had an impressive punt.

Lions beat writer combine

I won’t spoil the results, but both myself and Erik Schlitt were on hand for a “beat writer” combine after practice, that was really more like a skills competition. Your only spoiler: both myself and Erik went into the final event tied for the lead.

Drills included 17-yard field goals, catching a punt from the Jugs machine, longest punt, quarterback accuracy, 55-yard chipping on the green and a three-point contest.