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Lions-Colts Day 2 joint practices observations: Detroit DBs fight back in a huge way

The Detroit Lions concluded their joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday and It was a huge rebound day for the defense for almost the entire practice.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Although Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was pleased with the effort and performance from his team on the first day of joint practices, he admitted he wanted to see a little more out of the secondary—who was, by most reports, burned by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan for most of the day.

“I want to see us compete a little bit more or be in the fight at the catch point with some of these receivers,” Campbell said prior to the second practice. “Because at the end of the day, look they made—there some real good throws on their end and they made some dang good catches. But at the same point, we got some of those where we’re in position to make a play and we just got to get some of those out.”

The Lions' defensive backs clearly heard this feedback, because on several occasions throughout the next practice on Thursday afternoon, they punched balls out of receivers’ hands or knocked the ball down before it even got there. It was a huge rebound day for the Lions' defense for almost the entire practice.

NOTE: Like the first practice, I spent the entire practice on one field, studying one side of the ball. Wednesday, it was the Lions’ offense. For these observations, I focused exclusively on the Lions’ defense.

Before we get into it, catch up on our previous observations here:

Attendance/Injury updates

Still no DT Levi Onwuzurike, EDGE Julian Okwara, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, and G Kevin Jarvis. Campbell said that Onwuzurike did not travel with the team down to Indy while he rehabs and rests his back/hip.

“Every day that he’s not in there it certainly is not helping,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t help him and it doesn’t help us as a team. However, it is what it is and it’s not his fault. And so, all we can ask him to do is just continue to treat it and our guys are working with him and he is getting better.”

After suffering a “stinger” during Wednesday practice TE Devin Funchess did not practice on Thursday, but Campbell said he should be fine.

“He’s good. We got him checked out last night, he’s good,” Campbell said. He’s got a little bit of a stinger, so we’re going to get him loose and just see how he feels, and play it by ear.”

Safety C.J. Moore did not practice on Thursday, but was on the field in a jersey—usually a sign he is not dealing with a serious injury.

Lastly, WR Quintez Cephus was suited up again on Thursday. Wednesday, he did not do any team drills, but according to Lions beat writers watching the offense on Thursday, he returned to team play for Day 2.

Opening red-zone 7-on-7 drills

The first set of team drills was evenly matched between the first-team Colts offense and the Lions defense. Repping from inside the 10-yard line, Matt Ryan threw four touchdowns on 11 plays. The first was a wheel route to running back Nyheim Hines on a perfectly placed by from Ryan over Chris Board’s head. The second, Ryan found tight end Mo Alie-Cox in between Tracy Walker and AJ Parker—Walker took an aggressive angle on the ball and just missed the tip. Next, Alie-Cox beat cornerback Mike Hughes cleanly, and on the final touchdown, a pick route made DeShone Elliott and Amani Oruwariye collide, leaving a receiver wide open.

Defensively, Jeff Okudah stood out. He stepped in front of Colts WR Mike Strachan for a near-pick and was all over his back on a short completion the next play. Additionally, coverage forced at least two checkdowns that Ryan completed, but they were stopped before the goal line.

The second-team defense was even better. In about half as many snaps, Nick Foles didn’t find the end zone once, but coverage forced two “sacks”—where the whistle was blown despite no pass rush because Foles held onto the ball too long.

OL/DL 1-on-1s

Much like the reports from Wednesday, Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill dominated one-on-one drills against the Colts offensive line. McNeill made quick work of starting right guard Danny Pinter with a devastatingly-fast first step. After slipping during his first rep, Hutchinson got back up and immediately beat the Colts tackle around the edge. Starting right tackle Braden Smith held him at bay for one rep, but Hutchinson came back on the next rep—albeit against reserve tackle Jordan Murray—and made quick work of him.

Just about every Lions reserve tallied at least one decisive win. Demetrius Taylor tossed backup center Wesley French to the ground, James Houston made reserve tackle Jordan Murray completely whiff, as did Bruce Hector against reserve guard Will Fries, and John Cominsky attacked French with a bull rush that had the center on skates.

Full 11-on-11s

Midfield drills

Ryan kicked off this set of plays with a big gainer to Michael Pittman Jr. with Elliot behind in coverage. It was an impressive throw from the Colts quarterback considering McNeill had driven 4 yards into the backfield. Indy followed it up with a nice gain on the ground from Jonathan Taylor up the left side after Alex Anzalone was a tad late to the gap.

During the second set of reps for the first-team offense, Ryan found tight end Jelani Woods for a moderate gain after Woods had beaten Derrick Barnes. After that play, the Lions rotated Malcolm Rodriguez in for Barnes, and the sixth-round rookie immediately made a run stop for no gain.

Outside of a screen pass that caught the Lions off guard, Detroit essentially played shutdown ball for the rest of practice. Jeff Okudah logged another pass breakup by punching the ball out of Pittman’s hands, while several runs were stopped at the line of scrimmage.

Austin Bryant had a monster day with the second and third-team units. He had three sacks on the day, and was disruptive in the run game, as well.

“Made some plays,” Bryant said after practice. “It’s been good. Did a lot for my confidence, still got a long way to go though.”

Red zone

The Colts first and second-team offense each ran six plays in the red zone—starting at the 11-yard line, then slowly working their way closer—to 10, 7, 5, 4, and then the 1-yard line. The Lions defense kept the Colts out of the end zone for all 12 plays from the offense. Here’s the breakdown of plays from the first teams:

  • Crossing route to Pittman for about 4-5 yards — Rodriguez in decent coverage
  • Run for zero yards, but a flag on Lions defense for holding
  • Pass to Ashton Dulin for 3-4 yards—tackled by Oruwariye just a yard or two short.
  • Rodriguez tackle for loss on a Hines run
  • Another tackle for loss by a group of Lions defenders
  • Goal line run fumbled and recovered by Hutchinson

For the second-team defense, Cominsky recorded a sack, Jarrad Davis made a nice tackle on a tricky shovel pass, Saivion Smith had tight coverage that forced an incomplete pass (despite objections from Strachan for pass interference), and another team effort stymied a goal-line run from the 1-yard line.

1:10 minute drill

The teams closed practice with a simple end-of-game drill. The offense had the ball on their own 35-yard line with 1:10 left down three points. Neither the first nor second-team Colts offense even earned a first down. Here’s the play breakdown:

First team:

  • Ryan finds Pittman for 4-5 yards, tackled in bounds
  • Oruwariye punches the ball out of tight end Kyle Granson’s hands
  • Incomplete pass to Pittman with Oruwariye in coverage

The official initially threw a flag on Oruwariye—unclear if pass interference or holding—but either the officials decided to pick up the flag, or the Colts declined the penalty, wanting to try a fourth-down play anyways.

On fourth down, Ryan tried to find Parris Campbell for the first down, but Parker made a great play breaking up the pass for a turnover on downs.

Second team:

  • After feeling pressure from Austin Bryant, Nick Foles checked down for just a 1-yard gain, but the back got out of bounds.
  • Rodriguez makes a tackle after 1-2 yards, but they gave the receiver 5-6 yards, but he stayed in bounds.
  • Will Harris breaks up a pass over the back of Colts receiver Dezmon Patmon
  • A checkdown pass to DeMichael Harris was stopped by JuJu Hughes well short of the first down marker

Kicker report

It was field goal day for special team drills. Here’s how the Lions kickers fared in five attempts:

33-yard kick: Both kickers were good
38-yard kick: Austin Seibert make, Riley Patterson miss
43-yard kick: Seibert miss, Patterson make
47-yard kick: Both kickers were good
50-yard kick: Both kickers were good

I did not watch the offense’s two-minute drill, but overheard from other reporters that both kickers missed their one attempt during this period.

Onto the preseason game

Because the Lions were able to manufacture so many game-specific situations for their first stringers, it sounds like the Lions will rest many of their starters in Saturday’s preseason game against the Colts.

“There’ll be a number of these guys that will not play in this game,” Campbell said on Thursday. “A number of our starters, because they’re getting kind of the bulk of the reps—but there’ll a number of guys that have gotten the load here that will still play in this game.”

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