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Detroit Lions final OTA observations: Breaking down rookie progress

The Detroit Lions sent the veterans home for summer break, working almost exclusively with the younger players.

On Monday, the Detroit Lions held their last open-to-the-media OTA (organized training activity) of the 2023 spring.

As is commonplace under coach Dan Campbell, the Lions veterans/established players were allowed to get an early jump on their summer break following last week’s minicamp, only asking first and second-year players to stay in Allen Park for their final OTA practices. A few veterans hung around, but Monday’s practice only consisted of 36 players—14 offensive players, 13 on defense, four special teamers, and five injured players that were doing light work and rehabbing.

Beyond the expected players, the notable players who returned for practice included, Kalif Raymond (full participant), Chase Lucas (who returned from injury), James Houston (who is expanding his role), and Emmanuel Moseley (light work and rehab). Like Moseley, Michael Badgley was doing light work, while Trinity Benson, Hendon Hooker, and Connor Galvin (who had a brace on his leg) were in attendance but not participating.

It was a bit surprising to see Raymond, a seven-year vet, in attendance, but with him expected to take on a more significant role early on in the season, he was likely trying to get in as many reps as possible.

Lucas has been banged up most of the spring, but he returned to practice on Monday with a compression sleeve on his calf and was fully participating. Loud as ever, Lucas was calling out defensive adjustments and celebrating with his teammates both when he was on and off the field. Lucas saw time both on the outside and in the slot during Monday’s practice.

Houston is working toward becoming a complete linebacker, and that means putting in the extra work on the practice field, specifically at off-the-ball linebacker. Houston spent all of his individual drills with the OTB linebackers and played a mix of different positions during team drills.

“This week, it’s a week for the young guys, and he was a guy on the fence,” linebacker coach Kelvin Sheppard said Monday. “And I looked at him and gave him that look, and he knew what that look meant and you see him here today. He’s ready to work. It’s about time on task with that player.”

Moseley definitely didn’t need to be in attendance but, according to cornerbacks coach Dre Bly, the fifth-year corner is itching to get back on the field. As he has all spring, Moseley practiced during walkthroughs, then peeled off to work with trainers. He is running pretty smoothly now, even doing sprints up “The Hill,” and if he’s not ready to compete by the time fall camp opens, it likely won’t be long before he’s ready to go.

For the most part, the drafted rookies looked solid, while the UDFAs were fighting for their job, as expected.

Jahmyr Gibbs was smooth in individual and team drills, both passing and rushing as you’d expect from a running back selected high in the draft. Mohamed Ibrahim was fluid but there was a noticeable difference between the two. Again, unsurprising.

Jack Campbell can fly around the field and he looks like he is itching for contact. There were several times when he was in on a play and purposely threw his arms behind his back, almost restricting himself from making contact.

Sam LaPorta continues to look like he will be a weapon early in the season for this offense. He is silky smooth in his movements and possesses very sticky hands. Him catching another touchdown in red zone drills was predictable.

Brian Branch got a lot of attention from safeties coach Brian Duker, who deployed the Swiss army knife player all over the field. Branch blitzed off the edge (from the slot) at least three times, and every time, he was untouched to the quarterback. He sells coverage and blitzes like a missile, so well. He also had a nice pass breakup from a traditional safety role.

Hendon Hooker was the first player out on the practice field today—by almost 45 minutes to an hour ahead of the rest of the team—for an early throwing session. During practice, he is intensely focused on what's happening in front of him and looks dialed in.

It’s hard to ascertain trench work, so there’s not a ton to gain from Brodric Martin and Colby Sorsdal’s days. Both look to be fitting in nicely and should be a lot of fun to watch once the pads go on.

While there were only four wide receivers at practice, Antoine Green stood out for his smooth routes and string hands. He looks like he belongs on an NFL field and should be the favorite for one of the team’s final wide receiver roles.

As has become tradition, the Lions hosted a media skills Combine to wrap up camp. The event pitted Lions beat writers in a series of competitions, including passing accuracy, punt return (catching), field goals, punting for distance, and a water balloon toss (an NFL-sanctioned Pro Bowl event). Just like last season, the competition came down to the final event, with our own Jeremy Reisman winning the skills competition. Myself (Erik Schlitt) and Detroit News’ Justin Rogers finished tied for second, just a single point behind Reisman.

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