The Detroit Lions are still in the middle of their player acclimation period portion of training camp, but the team spent more time in team drills today, specifically in the red zone, which increased the competition level. Not only did we see more intensity from the players, but the coaches energy raised some as well.
Practices are fun to attend on their own, and team drills in front of fans (today the Lions hosted family members of organizational employees) is great, but when defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley start chirping at each other, it really highlights the uniqueness of current regime.
If you missed any of our camp observations so far, you can find them here:
There were no changes to the PUP or NFI lists—save Natrez Patrick being released to make room for Darrin Paulo on Thursday—and coach Dan Campbell gave injury updates on Greg Bell (hip/back) and Devin Funchess (groin):
“Bell, you guys saw kind of went down. He had a back/hip, so we’ll get him – we’re going to get him checked out today a lot more thoroughly, get a scan on it and see where he’s at. But he won’t be out there. And then, (Devin) Funchess, it looks like this will be a light, kind of groin, so looks pretty optimistic. But he won’t be out there today. Everybody else is pretty good to go.”
Almost all of the injured players were in attendance—save Romeo Okwara and Bell—and it’s worth noting that Funchess and C.J. Moore (NFI) were working with trainers, which is typically a strong indicator that the player is taking steps to return to practice in the next few days.
Welcome to the Will Harris Show
The Lions have been rotating Will Harris and Jeff Okudah opposite Amari Oruwariye all camp, and Friday’s practice was no different. Harris opened up with the second unit in team drills, then moved to the first the next. By the time they got into the red zone portion of practice, Harris was back with the ones.
Lining up inside the 10-yard line, the offense was primed to strike and Jared Goff had his sights on getting Josh Reynolds the ball. Reynolds ran into the end zone then hard cut to the sidelines, and Goff timed the throw as well as could be expected. The problem was Harris recognized the route and closed on the ball, diving in front of Reynolds and causing a pass break up. The play happened right in front of the defensive players on the sideline and it drew some cheers.
On the next play, Hockenson lined up across from Harris and ran a similar route as Reynolds, just faster and shorter, but once again, Harris’ read and react skills were on point and he once again jumped the route for a diving pass break up—this time the defensive players exploded in excitement.
“I love it,” Harris said of working on an island at corner. “At the end of the day man, I’m a competitor, so there’s something about it that’s, you know, ain’t nothing like being out there, man. And just, it’s you and him, and sometimes you gotta wear that, you gotta put on that hat and be out there. And that’s where the grown men play. That’s where the grown men play. So I love being out there.”
Harris transition from safety to corner started last season due to injury, but after finding success, coaches decided to make the move permanent.
“We feel pretty good about keeping Will outside right now and just letting him compete out there, knowing that if we ever need him in the back end, he can do that, and so let him continue to grow at corner,” coach Dan Campbell said on Thursday.
Oruwariye mentioned on Friday that he is working with Harris to help him with the transition to corner, and that Harris’ experiences in the secondary have really helped him become a valuable asset for the team:
“Yeah, I mean Will stepped up huge for us last season. It’s hard to go unnoticed. He’s just Mr. Consistent, Mr. Know It All. He’s played every position on the defense (secondary), so he’s just out there making sure he can perfect his craft at corner. It’s new to him still, but I’m helping him out a lot. He’s just learning and competing.”
The competition between Harris and Okudah is legitimate, and will likely carry on throughout the entire training camp. With Okudah still acclimating back to football after his Achilles surgery, Harris growth as a corner could be a major factor in the secondary’s success early in 2022.
After a two solid days from the quarterbacks, day three had some hiccups, as the Lions offense was a bit up and down on Friday. The nature of the team drills led to a lot of touchdowns, and there were some great stand out plays, but there were also some rough spots amongst the quarterback group.
Most of the obvious offensive flaws were direct results from slow processing. Screens were slow to develop, all three signal-callers held onto the ball too long, and a lot of the “roll outs” probably would have been sacks in live drills. These mistakes are correctable, and not unexpected early in camp, and the beauty of training camp is that they’ll get a chance to make adjustments tomorrow.
While the team is still not in pads, the running backs were more involved in team drills today. D’Andre Swift reminded everyone why he is RB1, showing burst and quickness on wheel routes and catches in the flat, resulting a multiple touchdowns.
“He looks great,” Campbell said of Swift on Friday. “Swift’s an explosive athlete, phenomenal shape and I remember this time last year, we were like ‘Man, this guy’s wow.’ Just the way he’s wired, and he looks even better this year, just from a physical standpoint, great shape.”
We talked yesterday about how Craig Reynolds was settling into a RB3 role and he further cemented that on Friday, showing burst through the hole and finding the end zone in a red zone drill.
Amon-Ra St. Brown looked sharp, scoring on a curl route, and in the back of the end zone crosser. Kalif Raymond getting matched up on a linebacker is extremely unfair, and when it happened he almost always took advantage.
It was also nice to see a couple of the UDFA receivers show up, as Josh Johnson beat fellow UDFA Cedric Boswell in the back corner of the end zone for a score, and Corey Sutton beat a really tough jam from Ifeatu Melifonwu and caught a fade in the end zone.
Amongst the tight ends, it was the pass catching options who made noise. Shane Zylstra continues to be a problem with the ball in the air, and UDFA rookie Derrick Deese scored at least two touchdowns.
Late in practices the Lions have experimented with some offensive linemen at their secondary positions—typically Jonah Jackson at center—and on Friday they ran their final team reps with Penei Sewell at left tackle and Matt Nelson on the right.
The Lions moved their defensive line around some on Friday, showing a few new looks and giving players some reps at new spots.
With Isaiah Buggs taking reps behind Alim McNeill at nose tackle, Jashon Cornell shifted into Michael Brockers-type role, working between the 3T, 4i, and 5-technique spots. The 3T is the most natural spot for Cornell, but with defensive end experience at Ohio State, bumping out to the 5T, looked easy for him.
John Cominsky continues to expand his role as well, with his usage mirroring that of Aidan Hutchinson. He saw reps on Friday on the edge and at the 3T with the second and third teams.
UDFA rookie Demetrius Taylor made some noise in the spring with some pass breakups and an interception, but had been relatively quiet through the first two days of training camp. On Friday, his first-step quickness showed up, and when James Houston collapsed the pocket with outside pressure, Taylor took advantage and knocked the ball out of the quarterback’s hands for the strip sack.
Charles Harris continues to look sharp and with Hutchinson drawing attention, Harris has found himself in multiple one-on-one situations and he has taken advantage. Harris put a move on Taylor Decker today that was a clean a win as I have seen from him since joining the Lions. His arrow continues to point up.
Harris wasn’t the only edge rusher to make plays today, as Julian Okwara and Houston found themselves within an arm’s length of the quarterback. Houston also stayed after practice with Harris to put in some bag work, and is looking more comfortable with his edge only role.
Anthony Pittman continues to be the biggest riser through three days of camp. His range of positions is impressive, and they continue to grow each day, but he is finding success at a consistent pace. On Friday, Pittman took reps at both edge rusher spots, at MIKE, WILL, as the single linebacker in subpackages (splitting time with Chris Board), and is winning his special teams battles. Get on board the Pittman hype train.
Malcolm Rodriguez got an opportunity to expand his role on Friday as well. He took snaps with the second and third teams, and showed the range to fill gaps, as well as travel with running backs out of the backfield. He spent some time with Board after practice working on the blocking sled (shedding drills).
The secondary got their hand on a couple balls today, most notably was AJ Parker’s practice-ending interception on Goff. Saivion Smith deflected a pass over the middle and the ball bounced off his hands into the air for Mike Hughes to intercept. Smith punished himself for the drop by doing push ups.
Chase Lucas was with the second team in slot on Friday, and while he didn’t make any standout plays, he looked very comfortable in the role. He is still learning, he gave up a touchdown to Swift, but he has promise.
The Lions continue to rotate their second team outside cornerback, looking for a outside CB4 to step up. On Wednesday, Smith held the job, Bobby Price had in on Thursday, and today, Mark Gilbert got his chance to impress coaches.
Ifeatu Melifonwu had been exclusively working behind DeShon Elliott at safety through the first two practices, but on Friday he got some looks on the third team at Tracy Walker’s spot. That shift opened up the opportunity for rookie Kerby Joseph to get second team reps.
Punt return was the focus of special teams on Friday and Jack Fox looked terrific, booming the ball for distance and hangtime. The punt returner competition continues to look like it’s only between Raymond and Kalil Pimpleton. The two of them continue to split reps, with the occasional rep from St. Brown.
At gunner, the same six that took reps on Wednesday took reps on Friday: Price and Melifonwu were the top pair, Trinity Benson and Parker were next, with Lucas and Okudah on the third team.
With Moore still on the NFI list, Tracy Walker and Brady Breeze split the personal protector (PP) role.
It’s difficult to gauge special teams because of the amount of players involved and the constant rotation, but a few players that stood out included Pittman, Houston, Derrick Barnes, and Godwin Igwebuike.