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Detroit Lions Week 1 OTA observations: Rookies being brought along slowly

Breaking down our observations from Detroit Lions Week 1 OTAs, position by position.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions opened up OTAs to the media on Thursday for a well-attended practice. You can see the full attendance and injury report here, but it sounds like the few absences were all accounted for, and the injury list remains relatively small.

As we’ve seen in previous years, the Lions were not in the business of handing any rookies a starting job. Of their eight drafted players, none of them started the day with the first team offense or defense. That’s no surprise, but at the same time, don’t expect that to last long. Detroit is expecting a lot out of this rookie class, and they’re already starting to flash, too.

With that being said, let’s get into my observations for Day 3 of Detroit Lions OTAs.


There was definitely some rust to shake off for Jared Goff, who didn’t have his most accurate day. There were a couple of opportunities for big plays during 11-on-11s and 7-on-7s, and he missed his connection—typically overthrowing his target. Most notably, he missed on a deep wheel route to Jahmyr Gibbs, a post to Jameson Williams, and a wide-open shot at Josh Reynolds during 7-on-7s.

Nate Sudfeld made a good first impression on Thursday. I thought he navigated the pocket well, stepping up several times to avoid pressure on the edges. He also has decent arm strength and showed decent accuracy. He actually had the best pass of the entire practice, throwing a dime up the middle of the field to Williams, who dropped it while well covered. Sudfeld did throw an interception, though. More on that in a bit.

Running backs

The Lions are taking it slow with Gibbs, so he often repped with the second and third teams and was often the last to go through a rep during positional drills. Coach Dan Campbell said he was dealing with a low ankle sprain, and this was his first day back.

The back who made the biggest impression on me was Jermar Jefferson. He got a lot of work with the first-team offense, and I had forgotten just how fast this kid is. He took one draw play the distance after eventually kicking it outside and (barely) outrunning Jack Campbell, who chased him at full speed the entire way.

Tight ends

Shane Zylstra had the biggest play of the day, flashing his athleticism with a speedy route up the seam of the defense.

Sam LaPorta didn’t quite pop like he did at training camp, but like every rookie, he is going to be forced to work his way up the depth chart. He started to flash at the end of the day, though, beating Anthony Pittman convincingly on a seam route during 7-on-7s.

Wide receiver

Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be the Lions’ best receiver on the field. He was getting open consistently during both 11-on-11s and 7-on-7s.

Before practice, Campbell noted that Williams has really progressed as a route runner. I don’t know if he put that in my head or not, but it was, indeed, very noticeable. His cuts looked sharp, and his speed is still unmissable.

That said, he did drop that deep ball, and could not pull down a contested catch that was thrown behind him. After the deep shot, St. Brown pulled him aside and had a short talk with him.

One surprise standout: undrafted rookie Dylan Drummond out of Eastern Michigan. For a stretch of three or four plays, he looked uncoverable—granted he was playing with third and fourth stringers.

Offensive line

Without pads, I don’t have any real observations for this group, other than the order in which they were used.

With no Frank Ragnow or Jonah Jackson, the first-team offensive line looked like this:

LT: Taylor Decker
LG: Kayode Awosika
C: Graham Glasgow/Ross Pierschbacher
RG: Halapoulivaati Vaitai/Matt Nelson
RT: Penei Sewell/ Obinna Eze

Vaitai told the media after practice that they are “being smart” with his workload now, but he expects to be fully ready by training camp.

From what I saw, Colby Sorsdal took all of his reps at the right guard position with the reserves. Also of note, Logan Stenberg continues to get some work at guard and center.

Defensive line

Again, it was hard to pull any meaningful observations out of a non-padded practice for linemen, but there were some interesting personnel choices. With no Benito Jones or Isaiah Buggs in the lineup, veteran Christian Covington played as the first-team nose tackle, with Alim McNeill playing mostly at the three-tech.

The most common five-man front they deployed looked like this, from left to right: Romeo Okwara, Christian Covington, Alim McNeill, John Cominsky, and Aidan Hutchinson.


The most notable observations from the linebacking corps was Derrick Barnes starting alongside Alex Anzalone. I asked Anzalone after practice about Barnes’ progression at the position now in Year 3.

“(He’s) really grown a ton,” Anzalone said. “I feel like mentally, I’ve never seen—I’m going into my seventh year—that big of a mental transition from a college to a pro level. He’s put in the work to really study the game and grow from an on-the-ball defender to a middle linebacker in the NFL. It’s way different. Yeah, it’s honestly remarkable how far he’s come.”

That said, this allowed rookie Jack Campbell to take reps at the MIKE position with the second team—which seems like the position he’s destined to eventually take. This way, however, they don’t have to unseat Anzalone right away. Meanwhile, Malcolm Rodriguez was at the WILL position for the second-team defense, and when he left with an injury, it was Jalen Reeves-Maybin who stepped in.

Defensive backs

As expected, Cameron Sutton and Jerry Jacobs manned the outside corner positions, while a rotation of Will Harris and C.J. Gardner-Johnson manned the slot. When Tracy Walker was practicing—he did not practice during full-speed 11-on-11s—Gardner-Johnson was in the nickel. When Walker was out, Gardner-Johnson dropped back to the safety position.

Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said before practice that they’re going to use Gardner-Johnson like they did when he was with the Saints—which was predominantly at nickel.

“He’s going to play nickel and safety, and he can do both,” Glenn said.

Rookie defensive back Brian Branch followed a similar progression, rotating between the two positions.

The play of the day came from safety Brady Breeze, on the aforementioned Sudfeld interception. Breeze patiently read Sudfeld’s eyes, and broke quick on the pass, jumping in front of Kalif Raymond for the pick.

Special teams

There was only one short special teams drill, and it was practicing pinning down the opponent on the punt team. Of note: St. Brown, Raymond, and Maurice Alexander were corralling punts as returners, while the following group of players were acting as gunners trying to down the ball: Khalil Dorsey, Jarren Williams, Chase Lucas, and Starling Thomas V.

Odds and ends

  • Khalil Dorsey had a couple of pass breakups on Thursday, and each time he let the receiver know it. That fire and energy were noticeable
  • From what I saw, Chase Lucas was taking the majority (if not all) of his reps at outside cornerback—a move from the nickel spot after the Lions added Gardner-Johnson and Branch this offseason
  • Tom Kennedy continues to beat up on second and third-team defenses
  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s leadership was on display, as he was teaching individualized handshakes to some members of the secondary, including Lucas.
  • I’m not sure if it was because they needed an extra body or something, but Jack McQuaide lent a helping hand with the linebacking corps during positional drills.

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