It’s still ridiculously early to be declaring any positions battles won or lost in Detroit Lions camp. Not only have the pads not yet come on, but with practices still barely over 90 minutes—and most of that time spent on walkthroughs or special teams—any sort of sweeping conclusions about the 2022 Detroit Lions would be extremely premature.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw some early observations from which players appear to be on an upward trend and which players have their work cut out for them after two modest practices.
So let’s check in with a few players who have made an impression—in either direction—after the team’s first two sessions in Allen Park.
Trending up: Aidan Hutchinson
In the spring, Hutchinson was mostly working with the second and third team, but the Lions aren’t messing around now that training camp has begun. On Wednesday, he was basically splitting time with Julian Okwara on the edge, and on Thursday, it was almost exclusively Hutchinson with the first team.
And he looked the part. During Wednesday’s practice, he had at least two would-be sacks, and on another rep, he had the entire defensive roster calling for a hold on Taylor Decker after a clean beat.
Trending down: Julian Okwara
It was only a matter of time before Hutchinson was going to pass him on the depth chart, and his placement here isn’t meant to suggest his roster spot could be in danger. He is still a unique piece who can both rush the passer and drop into coverage well. But when head coach Dan Campbell was given the opportunity to praise Okwara before Thursday’s practice, it sounded more like a public challenge.
“He’s a good athlete, but that’s where we’ve really feel like it starts for him. That’s where he’s really got to excel and then in the meantime, we’re in base, he needs to be able to get better at the Sam linebacker, taking on blocks, attacking on the perimeter, certainly rushing from when we ask him to go.”
“Look, he made steps last year. He made strides, and he needs to do it again this year. He knows that and if he can make another stride, another step like he did last year, then we’re going to be on the right track. He’s going to be on the right track and help us.”
Campbell clearly expects more out of Okwara, and he’s got a month to prove he’s made that extra step.
Trending up: Will Harris
Compare what Campbell said about Okwara to what he said about Harris.
“Because he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he can run, he’s got a chance. And you tell him to get out there and compete, and hit a guy up, and play technique, he’s pretty good. And so, we just – sometimes when you take a little bit off a guy’s plate, man they can really grow. In the meantime, now that he’s played nickel, he’s played safety, now if he can excel at corner and get better. Man, you’ve got a versatile guy. He’s a jack of all trades and now he can play multiple spots on top of special teams when he goes in the game, that’s an asset.”
Harris’ transition to cornerback is no longer a tryout, it’s set in stone. He got better as last season went on, and he fully looks the part in camp. He’s been able to take and maintain the majority of first-team reps from Jeff Okudah. Harris’ love for the competitive nature of the cornerback position comes through in his aggressive playstyle.
“Being out there on the island, man, there’s nothing else like it,” Harris said after Thursday’s practice. “There’s nothing else like it. Just the adrenaline you get ... I don’t know, I’m a competitor, man, so I get amped just being out there.”
Trending up: JuJu Hughes
As the shuffling in the secondary continues, one constant has been Hughes playing with the second-team defense. Granted, the Lions are taking it slowly with the likes of Ifeatu Melifonwu and rookie Kerby Joseph, along with C.J Moore currently on the Non-Football Injury list, but Hughes looks comfortable in his role as the primary backup to Tracy Walker.
It’s easy to forget that this is not only Year 3 for Hughes, but he caught the eye of Brad Holmes in Los Angeles as an undrafted free agent when Holmes headed up the Rams’ college scouting department.
Hughes even got some first-team reps in the spring, so this has not just been a fluke couple of days. He’s someone to keep an eye on when the pads come on.
Trending down: Offensive rhythm
I know people are probably going to freak out about this one, so let me explain myself.
One of the goals this offseason for the offense was to get to the line quicker and use a lot of pre-snap motion to keep the defense on their toes. Those are clearly goals they continue to emphasize, but on Thursday they had to scale that back a bit. On at least three different occasions after the offense had broken the huddle, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson blew his whistle before the snap to make the team huddle up again due to a mistake.
This isn’t all that out of the ordinary this early in camp for a new offense and new philosophy. But it does serve as an important reminder that much of this is new. The Lions have more talent on the offensive side of the ball, but if you think they’re going to come out in Week 1 looking like a well-oiled machine, it’s worth remembering that very rarely do new systems look perfect right out of the box.
Trending up: Craig Reynolds
Reynolds has been consistently repping as the third running back on the depth chart, and as Erik Schlitt noted in his Day 2 observations, he was also first up in the all-important upback role on special teams.
Given that Reynolds looked like the strongest reserve runner behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, this isn’t exactly a surprise. But with Godwin Igwebuike battling for the kicker return job with Trinity Benson, Jermar Jefferson taking late reps, and Greg Bell suffering what appeared to be a pretty serious injury, Reynolds looks like he’s firmly the team’s RB3.
Trending up: Austin Bryant
On our training camp preview podcast, I noted that Austin Bryant will need a quick start to camp. With Romeo Okwara, Josh Paschal, and Natrez Patrick all sidelined, Bryant will get a lot of early reps with the second team, and that’s exactly what has happened thus far. He’s notched at least one “sack” in each of the team’s first two practices and has consistently been a disrupter in the backfield.
He still has a long way to go to procure a spot on Detroit’s suddenly crowded edge defender room, but this was as good of a start as he could’ve hoped for.