With the first week of training camp in the books, and the Detroit Lions having a day of rest on Sunday, now is a good time to reflect on the four practices thus far. As part of the team’s slow ramp-up period, the Lions haven’t put on full pads yet, and the practices early in the week were barely more than just glorified walk-throughs. However, camp intensified over the past couple days, with the pace picking up significantly and physicality amping up.
So to recap the first set of practices, myself (Jeremy Reisman) and Erik Schlitt picked out 10 players who have made the biggest impression in Week 1 of Detroit Lions training camp.
RB D’Andre Swift
Jeremy: This week, coach Dan Campbell called Swift “one of our most explosive players on offense,” and it’s impossible not to see that in training camp, even when the pads aren’t on. Swift’s acceleration is top-notch, as we saw during one rush in which he bounced the carry outside, and beat everyone in a footrace to the edge by several strides.
Swift also stood out during red zone drills as a near-impossible assignment in the receiving game. Of course, it always helps when your quarterback throws a dime like this:
.@JaredGoff16 @DAndreSwift #LionsCamp pic.twitter.com/I74ROaeCkU— Detroit Lions (@Lions) July 29, 2022
LB Anthony Pittman
Erik: I think the player who has made the biggest jump up the depth chart for me is Pittman. Entering camp he was a bit of an afterthought, that many of us at POD thought could be a sleeper if he took a developmental step or three. Through four days of camp, he looks like he made up ground quickly and is being used possibly more than any other player on the roster.
Pittman has worked with the first team as a sub-package single off-the-ball linebacker in DIME sets (splitting reps with Chris Board). He has also spent time as an EDGE/SAM hybrid with the second team, at times taking reps behind Julian Okwara (A role Jarrad Davis appears to have lost to him). Additionally, he has also taken third-string reps at MIKE/WILL, illustrating his range to play every linebacker spot. And then there’s special teams—remember he led the team in special teams snaps last season—where he is all over the field, pushing people around.
Here’s what coach Dan Campbell had to say about Pittman on Saturday:
I think the beauty of Pitt(man) is just that, man, if he can continue to get better as an inside backer, the MIKE in particular, then bump him out and play SAM linebacker, which is a little bit new for him in a sense. That’ll take a minute. But yet he’s got the physical attributes to be able to do that, and he’s got some length, and he’s got speed. He’s pretty explosive, so we like the fact for a guy that you’re looking for, that man, let’s see if he can play all the linebacker spots, oh and he can play special teams, that’s kind of exactly what you’re looking for.
Pittman isn’t in the top-3 linebacker rotation at this stage of his development, but when you can do as much as he does, a reserve linebacker role on the 53-man roster seems well within reach.
DL John Cominsky
Jeremy: Cominsky has been pretty consistently repping with the second and third team, but he’s making a case for him to get more—and earlier—reps. My Week 1 notebook is filled with “79 pressure,” “79 sack,” “79++,” as he continues to build on a solid offseason.
Now is an excellent time for Cominsky to make an impression, as second-round pick Josh Paschal remains sidelined with his sports hernia. The two are likely destined for similar roles—edge setters on the outside, but interior pass rush on passing downs. It’s entirely possible Cominsky, who once generated 21 pressures for the Falcons in 2020 in a non-starting role, makes this team if Paschal starts the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
CB Chase Lucas
Erik: Lucas enters camp as NB3, which seems like a difficult spot on the depth chart, considering the Lions only kept one nickelback last season. But for those who have been in attendance, the rookie continues to stand out in multiple areas and has started getting reps with the second team, which could be just the opportunity he needs to make the roster.
If you get a chance to get out to camp, keep an eye—and ear—on No. 36, who will likely be barking out orders to his fellow members of the secondary and matching up with anyone who travels into the slot. Lucas seems to already have a grasp of the defensive scheme, which gives him a significant advantage over most players.
Like most depth players, Lucas’ ticket to the roster will go beyond his contributions on defense, and his special teams work has already caught Campbell’s attention.
“I would say (Chase) Lucas—Lucas has caught my eye, and I would tell you—particularly in the special teams drills, that’s where I really see it,” Campbell unpromptedly said when discussing rookie standouts. “The compete drills and there’s an awareness about him, he’s pretty instinctive and he’s aggressive and you’ve got to have all of that to be a good special teams player.”
EDGE Austin Bryant
Jeremy: Like Cominsky, Bryant is taking advantage of the extra reps afforded to him by injury. With Romeo Okwara sidelined, Bryant is getting a lot of looks with the second-team defense. Admittedly, Bryant is also benefitting from a weak offensive tackle room. With Decker sidelined on Saturday, the second-team offensive tackles were undrafted rookies Obinna Eze and Darrin Paulo. Still, Bryant is doing what an NFL-caliber player should be doing in those situations: dominating. And he’s winning in more ways than one. I’ve seen him bend the edge, or crash inside and put the tackle on skates.
At one point during Saturday’s practice, he had Eze so frustrated that the one time the offensive tackle actually won a rep, he started talking smack to Bryant. It was clear the defensive end had gotten in his head.
CB Will Harris
Erik: We all knew Will Harris was in the mix at outside corner based on coaches' comments and usage in the spring, but I don’t think many of us knew how much in the mix that actually was until this week. The team still seems to be taking it slow with Jeff Okudah, who is coming off Achilles surgery, but that has created an opportunity to split starting reps with Harris, and the former safety has taken advantage.
Harris’ play on the field has been consistent and at times impactful. He is big and physical for the position, which coaches love, but he also has underrated athleticism, which allows him to match with outside receivers/tight ends very well.
Right now, Harris is in the mix to start, but even if Okudah passes him for the role, Harris has shown enough potential to give hope that the secondary could be deeper than anticipated.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
Jeremy: While St. Brown hasn’t made any explosive or eye-popping plays, he has caught my eye with the varying ways the Lions seem to be using him. I cannot divulge too many details about how the Lions are using him, but it’s fair to say he will be moved all over the place.
Sometimes he will serve as “eye candy”—a distraction to opposing defenses. We saw that on display Saturday during a red zone drill that found Swift wide open for the score. Sometimes, though, they’ll be actively moving him around to get him in a favorable matchup. And if you get a linebacker on St. Brown, it’s over.
Also, St. Brown gets extra credit for successfully blocking Aidan Hutchinson on a cheekily-designed running play.
EDGE Charles Harris
Erik: In 2021, Charles Harris went from presumed bubble player to one of the best on the Lions’ defense, and this year, he is out to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
“It’s still a prove-it mentality, Charles said after practice. “Without a doubt. Show it ain’t no fluke. Show it ain’t no one-hitter quitter, not like that. It’s no change in mentality. I’m going to approach every single day, every single practice like it’s my last. Came here to play like it’s my last. Play my heart out every day.”
While the Lions’ defensive front is changing to a more attacking approach, Harris’ role is still very similar to last season, with a bit more expansion of responsibilities, including dropping into coverage. As a pass rusher, Harris has surely benefited from the extra attention Hutchinson has required in camp, but he has found success against some really good starting offensive linemen through the first week.
DT Demetrius Taylor
Jeremy: This list features many defensive linemen, and that’s no coincidence. They have been the strongest unit in camp. Some of that likely has to do with poor offensive line depth, but it also speaks to the defensive line additions and the change in philosophy to a more aggressive front.
Taylor, an undrafted rookie, is continuing to build on a stellar spring, in which he notched several pass breakups, tackles for loss, and even an interception. This camp—working with the third team—Taylor has been beating flashing his pass rushing potential, regularly besting Ryan McCollum.
Taylor remains a long shot to make the roster, but he’s made one heck of an impression on Campbell.
“He’s just one of those guys that just – we could be sitting here at the end of camp and he just won’t go away, and I mean that in a great way, man. He just won’t go away because he just keeps getting better and better and better. And so, I know this, he’s been one of those guys that I’d be willing to bet that (Lions Defensive Line Coach Todd) Wash would tell you since spring, he’s had some of the best improvement, most improvement of any of those guys.”
EDGE Aidan Hutchinson
Erik: So, I want to be careful not to overhype the rookie, especially since pads haven’t come on yet, but so far he has been as advertised.
“Certainly Hutch, I mean, he just, he pops,” Campbell said of the rookie's ability to stand out. “To watch him just continue to work and go through it, I’m telling you every day he just gets a little bit better and that’s all you care about is that you just see a little bit of improvement every day.”
Hutchinson has indeed shown growth throughout camp, and Saturday was his best day, but it’s also easy to argue we have yet to see the best parts of his game. On Monday, the team will be in pads for the first time since camp opened, and after getting the better of Penei Sewell on Saturday, their highly anticipated one-on-one battles could have just ramped up a few more notches. My excitement level is palpable.