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Detroit Lions 2022 training camp observations: Day 1 depth charts take shape

The Detroit Lions kicked off their 2022 training camp on Wednesday and Pride of Detroit was on hand to observe.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions opened their 2022 training camp on Wednesday and Pride of Detroit was on hand to take in all the excitement of the first day. The Lions held a 90-minute practice without pads—those come on later in the onboarding process per NFL rules—and they ran a series of individual drills, 7-on-7s, 11-on-11s, and a variety of special teams activities.

Attendance

Leading into training camp the Lions announced several players were placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) and NFI (non-football injury) lists, and then coach Dan Campbell updated that list with a few more players ahead of today’s practice. Here’s a reminder of the players with injury designations:

PUP:

NFI:

  • Jameson Williams, WR
  • Natrez Patrick, LB
  • C.J. Moore, S
  • Dan Skipper, OT (illness)

Beyond the players listed on an injury list, the remainder of the roster was in attendance and practicing.

Position changes

We had reported that Will Harris and Ifeatu Melifonwu had been cross-training positions during the spring, but today the team made their position switches official: Harris is now a cornerback and Melifonwu a safety, as listed in today’s media roster sheet and on the team’s website.

Offense

Practice was a bit subdued today as players are re-acclimating back to on-field work, but for the most part, the Lions' offense picked up where they left off in the spring. Quarterbacks looked lightyears ahead of where they were a year ago, and the extra work they’ve put in with their pass catchers was evident in their chemistry.

With no pads, contact is prohibited, which leaves us with little judgment on how certain position groups are progressing. For example, the running back depth chart beyond D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams is still very much up in the air, and we may be several practices away from having any clarity at the position.

The same is true with the offensive line, though we were able to get a closer look at who was lining up where on the depth chart. The starting offensive line was as expected with (moving left to right) Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Penei Sewell building chemistry.

The second team offensive line saw a bit more shaking up, and with Skipper on the NFI, it was UDFA rookie Obinna Eze stepping in at left tackle. Evan Brown remained at center and Matt Nelson at right tackle, but Logan Stenberg and Tommy Kraemer switched sides, with Kraemer in at left guard and Stenberg on the right.

The only other interesting note from the offensive line group on the day came late in practice when Jackson shifted from left guard to center (Ragnow took the reps off) and UDFA Kevin Jarvis got reps at left guard with the ones. Jackson was called upon to play center in Week 18 last season, so getting reps early in camp is likely just a matter of keeping his skill sharp.

Top wide receivers traveling together

Sometimes it’s the stuff that happens in between drills that is the most telling about a team and its cohesion.

When individual drills kicked off practice, expected starters DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, and Amon-Ra St. Brown were the first three through the drills. When in team activities, they started together, they moved as a group when the twos and threes were on the field. They chatted, hard to say what about from a distance, but the conversation was consistent.

When the team moved to special teams drills, Chark and Reynolds (who are not involved in special teams) followed St. Brown and Kalif Raymond to their punt returner drill, sitting behind and watching, as well as chatting with them when it wasn’t their turn. Jameson Williams was locked onto wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El’s hip for most of the day, but when he wasn’t, he also joined the top group during this time.

Play of the Day

The Lions have put up all of their training camp stands and shelters for fans, and the media has the option to work between specific areas. When the team transitioned from position group drills to team drills, the media shifted from one field to the other. As we arrived at the location, we were treated to easily the best catch of the day.

During this 7-on-7 period, right as the media settled in with the play already underway, Jared Goff threw the ball to Quintez Cephus, who elevated, adjusted in the air, and snagged the ball with one hand over Amani Oruwariye:

Not only did Cephus make the catch, but once he landed, he immediately accelerated to space and broke away from the rest of the secondary. Cephus ran untouched for about 30 more yards until he found the end zone and dunked on the goal posts in celebration.

Defense

For the most part, the defensive roles were as expected and each position group had a top-three that they cycled through their starting two positions.

On the interior, Michael Brockers and Alim McNeill got the most of the starting reps. When they added a third, Levi Onwuzurike stepped in and Brockers slid outside a bit more depending on the look. Jashon Cornell was next in the rotation, and once again, would have likely gotten a sack if these were live drills.

On the edge, the Lions had a few wrinkles in their depth chart. When they separated into positional drills, it was notable that Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, and Eric Banks worked with the interior defensive line. While the EDGE/linebacker hybrids worked together in a group that included, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, James Houston, and Anthony Pittman, who had a new role on defense I will get to in a bit.

While they worked separately during individuals, during team drills the two units combined and there was a clear pecking order. Harris held down one starting role, while Hutchinson and Okwara rotated through the other. There were times all three were on the field, as well as a variety of combinations between them, but these three were clearly the preferred top options.

At linebacker Alex Anzalone was a clear starter, and as we saw in the spring, Derrick Barnes and Chris Board rotated through the second starting spot. With the twos, one of the Barnes/Board combo grabbed a spot, while the other saw a rotation of players, with Jarrad Davis and Shaun Dion Hamilton getting most of the looks.

An interesting wrinkle that we didn’t see in the spring was the use of three off-the-ball linebackers. In that situational experiment, the Lions didn’t put out Anzalone, Barnes, and Board, but instead, kept just two and brought on Pittman as their SAM defender.

When we combine this SAM linebacker role and the fact that we saw Pittman working out with the edge rushers during individuals, it’s fair to assume he has entered the mix for a hybrid role. That means more competition for Davis and Houston in their battle to back up Julian Okwara.

At cornerback, the top trio included Amani Oruwariye holding down one starting role, while Jeff Okudah and Will Harris alternated series at the other starting spot. Whichever player didn’t take first-team reps in that series, found themselves with the second team and a rotation of players fighting for a spot with the twos. Initially, Bobby Price got the nod, but Saivion Smith ended the day with the most reps on the second team, among the reserves.

At nickelback, the pecking order remained the same. AJ Parker continues to hold down the starting role, followed by Mike Hughes (who also saw reps on the outside) and rookie Chase Lucas.

At safety, things were even more clear with Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott starting every rep with the ones. The second team saw a rotation of players, starting the day with Melifonwu and JuJu Hughes, with Brady Breeze mixing in as practice wore on. Kerby Joseph was with the third team, which is not unexpected for a rookie, and expectations are his role will expand soon enough.

Special teams

The Lions did several special teams drills today and we got a closer look at some of the possible pairings and front runners for roles.

At punt returner, it was a three-man competition between Kalif Raymond (the incumbent), UDFA rookie Kalil Pimpleton, and St. Brown. Raymond and Pimpleton each had four opportunities to return, while St. Brown had just two, but that’s expected with St. Brown also maintaining a starting role. It’s very likely St. Brown is just familiarizing himself with the role in case he is called upon for emergencies, and the battle is truly between Raymond and Pimpleton.

At gunner, the Lions put six players through drills and used them in the following pairings when punting drills went live: Price and Melifonwu, Trinity Benson and Parker, Lucas and Okudah. Is Okudah truly in the mix for a gunner role? It’s hard to say, but he looks willing to put the work in.

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